Charter Communications went outside of the cable industry Tuesday to find a new CEO, naming an AOL executive with a background in consumer-goods marketing.
The fourth-largest cable operator tapped Neil Smit as president and and CEO, effective Aug. 22.
Smit was most recently president of Time Warner’s America Online Access business, putting him in charge of the Internet service provider's AOL, CompuServe and Netscape.
Those units generated $5 billion in 2004 and serve 21 million Internet customers, primarily dial-up subscribers.
Before joining AOL in 2000, Smit spent 10 years in the consumer packaged-goods industry at Nabisco and Pillsbury.
Outsiders have not always fared very well in senior positions at cable operators, partly because they don’t adapt well to the highly transactional nature of the business, where door-to-door sales can still be far more effective than advertising.
Smit says he’s up to the task, in large part because AOL faced many of the same challenges, selling monthly subscriptions and coping with high customer churn. “My most recent experience is very transactionally driven,” Smit said in an interview, adding that “AOL is a marketing machine. Hopefully I’ll be able to bring some of those lessons to Charter.”
Smit takes over a company whose operations are the weakest of any major operator--except bankrupt Adelphia Communications. Charter has been losing subscribers, is mired in debt and has a stock trading at
less than $1.50 per share.
Smit replaces Bob May, who has served as interim CEO since Carl Vogel was pushed out in January. Interviewed by B&C, May did not offer a direct answer when asked if he had wanted the CEO job on a permanent basis. He will remain on the Charter board of directors.