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The Cable Industry’s Mr. Fix-It

Tom Rutledge, Chief Operating Officer, Cablevision Systems

Tom Rutledge’s first cable job was as a lineman with Eastern Telecom. He worked there summers to help pay for college.

He was an economics major and hadn’t planned on cable as a career. But he liked the business and when he graduated in 1977, he saw an ad in the paper for a management trainee job with American Television & Communications — a predecessor company of Time Warner Cable —in the Pittsburgh area. He took it and hasn’t looked back since.

Rutledge spent 24 years with the organization, moving up the ranks locally, then regionally. He eventually became president of Time Warner Cable.

Rutledge was considered a turnaround artist and would be assigned to troubled systems. He’d fix them — typically keeping the existing staff in place — and then move on to the next, bigger challenge.

He joined Cablevision Systems in 2002 as president of the cable unit. At the time, Cablevision suffered from a tarnished customer service reputation, and its plant was in dire need of an upgrade.

Rutledge was charged with fixing the MSO’s problems and preparing it for the next wave of new products. He oversaw the company’s $5 billion fiber-optic network upgrade and lived up to his Mr. Fix-It reputation.

Within three years, the Bethpage, N.Y.-based MSO had the highest U.S. penetration rates for video, voice and data. It became the nation’s first operator to offer high-definition video on demand and deployed phone service throughout its entire footprint.

Cablevision also recently launched the nation’s first Wi-Fi mesh wireless/cable broadband network.

“I’ve never had a bad year or even a bad week,” Rutledge said when he received the Grand Tam award from the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing last year. “Every experience has been gratifying and enlightening. One of the best things about the cable industry is its future. … We’re always looking ahead.”

In 2004, Rutledge was promoted to chief operating officer of the entire company and now oversees the cable television business; programming unit Rainbow Media; business telco provider Optimum Lightpath; Clearview Cinemas; News 12 Networks; Rainbow Advertising Sales; and Newsday.

Rutledge sees some future challenges for the industry, including customer relations, technology and regulations.

“Balancing all those issues is always a challenge,” he said. “The interplay between them continues to change, but overall the challenges remain the same.

“When I got into the industry, it was a reception-only business, but those three challenges were as relevant then as they are today as we offer video, voice, data and now wireless services.”

Rutledge is chairman of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and serves on the boards of CableLabs, C-SPAN and the CTAM Educational Foundation.

“He is a calm, very involved student of the cable industry, very aware of the technology, very enthusiastic about it,” Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan said. “Also, he has that wonderful managerial skill of being able to relate well to people and to motivate them.”

Rutledge attributes his success to knowing the business from the ground up. His early experiences as a lineman and technician, as well as all the systems he has managed over the years, have helped prepare him for the job he has today.

“I have been able to bring all the knowledge and experience into all the plans I have been involved in,” he said, “and I have been lucky to work with the people in those places and get good results.”