Charter Communications said Wednesday that it has named Christopher Winfrey president and CEO and that current chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge will become executive chairman effective December 1, ending a 10-year run as the chief architect of the cable giant’s strategy.
Rutledge joined Charter in 2012, after serving as chief operating officer of Cablevision Systems for about 10 years, and led the company through its biggest period of growth, engineering the 2016 purchase of Time Warner Cable that vaulted Charter into the No. 2 spot among cable operators in the country. Rutledge will serve as Charter’s executive chairman and serve on its board of directors through 2023, where he will maintain oversight of government affairs and help with a smooth transition. He then plans to retire after a 50-year career in the cable industry.
“It has been an honor and a pleasure to lead Charter and this incredible team over the past 10 years,” Rutledge said in a press release. “We have grown the company through innovation and strategic investments and have positioned Charter to provide the best-converged connectivity products and services available today. During my 50 years in this industry, I have witnessed first-hand its ability to continually evolve and change the world, and our opportunity today is greater than ever with ubiquitous connectivity being central to everything we do.”
Rutledge can trace his cable roots back to 1972, when he served as a technician for Eastern Telecom while still attending college. His first permanent job in the industry came in 1977, when he joined American Television and Communications (ATC), a predecessor of Time Warner Cable, as a manager trainee. He eventually became president of Time Warner Cable, and in 2002 left to head up operations for Cablevision, joining Charter a decade later and steering it to its greatest period of growth. Under Rutledge’s watch, Charter’s annual revenue rose more than 600% while its customer base has increased 500%. Rutledge also oversaw the launch of the Spectrum brand, the company’s forays into mobile and 1-gigabit per second broadband. Today Charter has more than 32 million customer relationships, second only to Comcast.
“When Tom was chosen to lead Charter in 2012, his reputation as a skilled operator was second to none, but we never anticipated the new heights to which he would take this company,” Charter’s lead independent director, Eric Zinterhofer, said in a press release. “He redefined and exceeded every measure of success, establishing Charter as a best-in-class U.S. connectivity provider. He grew the company both organically and through transformative acquisitions, which included Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks and Optimum West (Bresnan). In addition, Tom has skillfully developed the next generation of leaders at Charter, including Chris. We are pleased Tom will continue to serve Charter and its shareholders as Executive Chairman of the Company and its Board in 2023.”
Winfrey “has consistently demonstrated significant leadership and delivered an impressive track record of successes. He earned the respect and trust of his colleagues, the industry, the financial community and this Board,” Zinterhofer added.
Winfrey joined Charter in 2010 as chief financial officer and was named chief operating officer in 2021. He has nearly 25 years of experience in the cable business, and before Charter served as managing director for cable operations, broadcasting and satellite entities at Unitymedia GmbH, Germany's second-largest cable operator. Earlier in his career, he served as senior VP, corporate finance and development at Cablecom GmbH, and was previously a director of financial planning and analysis and director of operations services of NTL’s Continental Europe operations, and a senior associate in the private equity group at Communications Equity Associates.
“Chris’s leadership and expertise in both operations and finance have been pivotal to Charter’s growth and success,” Rutledge said in a press release. “He has repeatedly demonstrated innate strategic insight and keen market and industry awareness to drive an organization to perform at the highest level. Having worked closely with Chris for more than 10 years, he is the right choice to be our next CEO and will serve Charter’s customers, employees and shareholders with integrity and skill, leading the company to new and extraordinary heights.”
Currently, Winfrey is leading Charter’s rural construction initiative including its $5 billion investment associated with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), making gigabit broadband connectivity available to more than 1 million currently unserved locations. He also will lead the company’s path to a fully converged broadband offering with symmetrical and multi-gigabit speeds across its entire network. As CFO, he spearheaded Charter’s transformative M&A activity, played an integral role in the Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks integrations and managed Charter’s financial activities through a period of significant growth.
“I am grateful to Tom and the Board for entrusting me with this appointment and the incredible opportunity to lead this top-flight management team and company,” Winfrey said in the press release. “I am deeply committed to Charter’s success and will continue our track record of delivering the best connectivity products and service to our customers, investing in the careers of our employees and building long-term value for shareholders.” ■
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.