Amidst a takeover fight with Comcast Corp., AT&T Broadband Chairman Dan Somers is being replaced at the company by Bill Schleyer, a longtime lieutanant of former Continental Cablevision Chairman and major AT&T shareholder Amos Hostetter.
Schleyer was named president and CEO of AT&T Broadband. He has most recently been part of a team of ex-Continental executives pooling the millions they made cashing in on the repeated sale of those properties. Previously, he was president and chief operating officer of MediaOne and, of course president and COO of Continental.
Schleyer and his fellow ex-Continental executives were long considered one of the top two or three management teams in the cable industry before Continental sold to MediaOne in 1996. Two of those executives are coming with him. David Fellows will join as chief technology office and Ron Cooper joins as COO.
Somers is retiring, two years after replacing Leo Hindery at the cable division and after a total of five years at the company. "It's the revenge of Amos Hostetter," said one cable executive.
What does this mean for Comcast's attempt to buy AT&T Broadband? Armstrong's efforts to gin up a white knight or rival bidder have been futile. Some Wall Street and industy executives believe Armstrong is trying to signal that he's ready to keep the cable systems for the long-haul, hiring strong management. But Schleyer - already rich from the sale of Continental and executive of an entreprenurial company for two decades- is not widely seen as hungry to work in a bureaucracy like AT&T's for very long. "It's a favor to Amos," one Wall Street executive said.
Schleyer denied that in an interview. "My only contact with Amos was he brokered an initial meeting with Mike," he said. It was a meeting "that I asked for," Armstrong said.
Armstrong denied that Somers was paying the penalty for the cable unit's woeful cash flow in the past two years. "That's not the right reason," Armstrong said.
He said that Somers had successfully integrated systems from TCI and MediaOne plus engineered myriad trades with other companies into strong regional clusters. Somers "had taken the co through a a phase. It was time for someone to take it to the next phase." - John M. Higgins