Jim Robbins, former president and CEO of Cox Communications, died Wednesday at his home in Westport, Mass., after a battle with cancer, the company reported Thursday morning. He was 65.
Robbins led Cox Communications for two decades, building it into the third-largest operator in the country before retiring in 2005. In an interview with B&C's John M. Higgins, he left successor Pat Esser with two pieces of parting advice: Watch out for the telcos and "don't screw it up."
Robbins helped to turn Cox from a cable company into a broadband and telecommunications company that pioneered the so-called triple-play option of voice, video and data that has become the model for cable's future.
“The passing of our dear friend and valued colleague is a sad event for me, my family and all of the employees of Cox,” Cox chairman and CEO Jim Kennedy said. “Jim embodied the spirit of our company -- to do the right thing by the people the company touches – employees, customers, vendors, partners and the communities Cox serves. We will miss him terribly.”
"Jim was a relentlessly positive force in the cable industry for nearly four decades and touched the lives of tens of thousands of cable employees," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Kyle McSlarrow. "His commitment to excellence benefited every Cox customer and community and served as an inspiration to the entire industry. He served with distinction as one of the industry's great ambassadors to policymakers at all levels of government. We will deeply miss his humor, compassion, and guidance ... On behalf of all of us at NCTA, we express our deepest sympathies to Jim's family and many friends."
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Jim Robbins,” said Bill Bresnan, chairman/CEO of Bresnan Communications, in a statement on behalf of The Cable Center and its board of directors. “Jim’s longtime leadership of Cox Communications, his personal commitment to customer service and diversity, and his devoted service to our industry in so many ways, serve as an example of excellence for all of us in cable today, and for all those who follow in the future.”
Bresnan recalled Robbins’ recent address to the inaugural class of The Cable Center’s Cox Customer Experience Management MBA Program at the University of Denver. “It is this generosity of spirit that we’ll always remember and appreciate,” he said. “We wish to extend Jim’s family our condolences. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
James O. Robbins, born on the Fourth of July, 1942, in Mount Kisco, N.Y., was never one to walk away from a tough job. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam, the second bringing him into the TV business. After his first tour aboard a destroyer, he was assigned as a deputy public-affairs officer stationed on the Mekong River, dealing with the major media and top generals. "It taught me a lot about the news business," he once told B&C.
After the war, Robbins had the choice of a beat at KOTV-TV Tulsa, Okla., or the Harvard MBA program. He chose Harvard, but still kept his hand in TV, working at WBZ-TV while in school. After graduating in 1972, Robbins stayed with the station, prompted, he once said, by an offer from General Mills. "Wouldn't you like to be the head man for Jello in Yonkers?" the recruiter asked. "That saved me hours of painful interviews," he said in a 1988 interview with the magazine.
Robbins went on to become the managing editor of news at the station, eventually finding the balance between his business degree and TV running a small cable system, Massachusetts Cable Television, in the mid 1970s.
He moved to Continental Cablevision to run its Dayton, Ohio, franchises, then moved to Viacom to run one of its Long Island, N.Y., systems. When Viacom wanted him to move west, Robbins instead moved to Cox's Staten Island/Queens operation in 1982, moving one year later to its Atlanta headquarters and starting the rise to the top of that company. He was named president in 1985 and CEO when Cox went public in 1995.
In April 2006, Robbins was elected a member of the Cox Enterprises board of directors following his 2005 retirement.
Robbins is survived by his wife, Debby, and three daughters, Jane, Payson and Hilary.