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Charter urges calm

Paul Allen points to new pacts with Barford, Kalkwarf to allay investor fears 10/07/2001 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Charter Communications' remaining senior executives scrambled to calm investors' fears about the company, saying operations are stable and will exceed goals for new product sales this year.

COO David Barford and CFO Kent Kalkwarf went to New York last week, holding a dinner for institutional investors and appearing at a conference to convince financial players that St. Louis-based Charter is in steady hands despite the abrupt exit of Kent two weeks ago.

Controlling shareholder and Chairman Paul Allen was so intent on exuding confidence that he announced that the executives had signed long-term employment agreements, signaling that, even if Charter's leader is gone, some of the best soldiers are staying.

The two executives' employment agreements call for four-year commitments, with raises from their current annual $500,000 or so cash compensations plus a load of options (not cash, as had been reported earlier).

Barford declined to give much detail. But he did say they've locked in an exercise price for the load of options they're to get: $11.99 per share. Charter's stock had been trading around $18 the week before Kent's exit but dropped 40% before rebounding last week to around $14. As recently as July, the stock traded for $24.

As previously reported, the company named former Falcon Cable Chairman Marc Nathanson to an executive committee of Charter's board. Industry executives say his role is to give some additional management weight at the top of the company.

Although he won't have day-to-day say in the company's operations, Nathanson is to have a more direct role than the largely passive one he has held as vice chairman and director since Charter bought Falcon. Instead of being in St. Louis four times a year for board meetings, Los Angeles-based Nathanson "will be there once or twice a month."

The executive committee will oversee Kent's replacement, but Charter gave no further information on who that will be. Industry executives point to Liberty Media Senior Vice President Carl Vogel, who has, over the past decade, threaded through MSO Jones Intercable, DBS operator EchoStar, failed DBS service PrimeStar, briefly through flameout telephone company ICG, and largely dormant Liberty Satellite.

Barford and Kalkwarf weren't talking about Kent's replacement. "We'd like to do it as soon as possible," Barford offered but cautioned against anyone expecting a "rush to judgment."

Liberty Chairman Dobb Bennett, however, joked that, with the Vogel reports buzzing, "we think of ourselves as the General Electric of the industry, with people raiding us."

In brief
Charter Communications
No. 4 MSO St. Louis
Major clusters: Los Angeles; St. Louis;
Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C.; Madison, Wis.;
Atlanta; Charlestown, W.Va.; Fort Worth, Texas
Stock price 52-week range: $10.49-$24.45
Friday price: $14.32
Homes passed: 10.3M
Basic subscribers: 6.4M
Basic penetration: 61.9%
Digital-ready homes: 8.8M
Digital subs: 1.6M
Digital penetration: 17%
High-speed Internet-ready homes: 5.69M
High-speed Internet subs: 419,300
Internet penetration: 7%


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