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The Cable Operator Out To Fix Los Angeles

Lee Perron is in charge of one of the cable industry's great problem children: Adelphia Communications' Los Angeles operation. Well before Adelphia plunged into financial scandal, and even long before the MSO actually owned the properties, the metro Los Angeles systems were in the hands of owners who starved them for capital, delivered famously poor customer service and battled with local regulators. Right in the heart of show biz.

Now, as senior vice president of Adelphia's Southern California region, Perron aims to make Los Angeles an example of what the industry can offer.

Working under the protection—and shadow—of Adelphia's Chapter 11 filing, Perron is responsible for 1.2 million subscribers across Los Angeles, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Redondo Beach and Ventura County. It's a high-demographic customer base that has an unusually heavy appetite for entertainment product.

"There are problems, but it's also a huge opportunity," Perron said. The big change is the ouster of the control-hungry Rigas family and the hiring of Bill Schleyer and Ron Cooper, both veterans of Continental Cablevision and, briefly, AT&T Broadband. "From my position, I've got the opportunity from the significant cultural and operational changes that have been made by Schleyer and Cooper," Perron said.

He certainly has the experience. His résumé is a roadmap of the consolidation of the merger-happy cable industry. Since 1981, Perron has worked for eight cable operators. But he has actually jumped ship only three times. His four changes of companies in the 1990s were the result of mergers.

"My whole career has been influenced by the mergers and acquisitions in this industry," Perron said. "I used to jokingly say I've worked at 13 different companies and changed jobs once."

After college, he took a job as an assistant producer at Oklahoma City CBS affiliate KWTV(TV), working on, among other things, local segments for PM Magazine
and "this horrible talk show," called DannysDay,
which primarily featured local writers and musicians.

But Perron figured "broadcasting was a pretty set industry. You need to spend your time and work your way through local markets. I looked at that and saw it would be a very long haul."

A college buddy tipped him to a management intern program at ATC, then owned by Time Inc. Perron applied and six months later was offered a slot at a small, 12,000-subscriber Oklahoma system and began cycling through door-to-door sales, telephone sales and service installation.

While Perron was working for TCI, the MSO pushed its Los Angeles systems into a joint venture with Century Communications, which was acquired by Adelphia in 1999. Perron found that company terribly centralized and unwieldy and working for it frustrating.

Adelphia's financial scandal and bankruptcy filing meant Perron had to shut down all system upgrades, axing 2,000 contractors in the span of a five days. "It was not only maddening, it was incredibly stressful. For the front-line people, it was frightening. We weren't paying bills; vendors were pulling service."

Schleyer and Cooper run a very different shop, decentralizing much decision-making and putting it in the hands of division executives like Perron. He's settling Adelphia's many fights with local regulators, paying $2.6 million in franchise fees over disputes going back years. He expects to complete a system rebuild by June, up from 80% today and 50% earlier this year. That means new products—such as high-def TV, video-on-demand and digital video recorders— and new revenues. "We are a totally different company after 11 months."