The first family David Scott worked for in the cable business was the Horvitzes: Harry, Bill and Leonard Horvitz, who spent 10 years fighting in court until a judge ordered the breakup of their $800 million cable and newspaper fortune.
Then he went to work for the Rigases, whose patriarch, John, is under indictment for abusing his control of Adelphia Communications.
Now Scott is working for the Roberts clan, running Comcast Corp.'s Midwest division, with a portfolio of cable systems serving 4 million subscribers in Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Mo., and St. Paul, Minn. He faces the massive task of reviving systems serving 2.4 million Midwest subscribers that came with Comcast's takeover of the troubled AT&T Broadband, properties that had stopped system upgrades and were focusing on the cable-telephone business while neglecting to attract and keep basic subscribers.
Scott finds a common thread among the three companies, and it has nothing to do with scandal (notably, because there isn't any at Comcast). It's that the financial slots that he started out in at each allowed him broader reach into operations than he would expect at a more "corporate" company. "You get involved in a lot of parts of the business," he says.
Comcast Cable President Steve Burke jokes that the company is investing in the Raellian cult "so we can clone Dave Scott," calling him an "activist" manager.
Despite being a vice president of finance at Adelphia, Scott saw no signs of the family's financial extravagance of later years. When he left in 1992, his anxiety was centered on the company's heavy debt load at a time when federal regulators were poised to roll back cable rates. "They were different people back then," Scott said of the Rigases.
The Horvitzes were far more tense than the other families. After college, Scott got a job as a controller for one of Horvitz Enterprises' newspapers and quickly moved up to corporate, working directly for Harry on both the papers and the cable systems. That put him in "The Bunker," the family's offices in a concrete building atop a hill in suburban Cleveland. Both Harry and Leonard had offices there (and lived next door to each other) even though they loathed each other.
"You really just tried to put it aside," Scott says. Although he liked publishing, he decided to concentrate on cable because there wasn't much turnover among the old-line newspaper managers. "There weren't a lot of great people in cable at the time. I saw the chance to move ahead quickly."
That was a good instinct. Scott helped lead that court-ordered auction of the Horvitz family businesses, since a judge barred the feuding brothers from participating. In the process, he impressed John Rigas, who wanted him to move to Adelphia. Scott worked on projects for Rigas before edging into son Tim Rigas's finance department. Eventually, he got involved in the operations of some of the smaller systems.
But, with the advent of rate regulation and his wife's tiring of Coudersport, Pa., Scott jumped at a headhunter's call to move to Florida for Comcast.
In 1999, Comcast moved Scott to the Detroit market, which presented big problems, Burke says, primarily because a local telco was overbuilding Comcast in the suburbs and the MSO was about to acquire properties from MediaOne and AT&T Broadband.
Scott faces the same kind of digestion issues now that Comcast has bought the remainder of AT&T Broadband. Local management was not the problem, he says, noting that his senior-management ranks are a blend of Comcast and former AT&T staffers. "The task is shifting the focus, [emphasizing] that basic-sub losses are really unacceptable. It was a big cultural shift. These guys were all phone, phone, phone."