Clayton Dishes

With a little more than a month before he takes over as CEO of Dish Network on June 20, Joe Clayton said in an interview that his top priority will be in helping chairman and founder Charlie Ergen realize the vision he has for the company.
Clayton, who had served as CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio from 2001 to 2004 and as chairman of the subscription radio service from 2004 to 2008, has been semi-retired for the past three years. The native Kentuckian has served on some boards since then - including EchoStar Corp., the equipment arm of Dish - but said what lured him back into the business fray was Dish's collection of assets.
"I've been watching what Charlie has been doing, putting this amalgamation of assets together," Clayton said. "I'm here to help run the day to day operations. My job and my challenge is to improve the financial and commercial performance and save some time for Charlie to help put the grand vision together and complete the puzzle."
Dish has been on a buying spree of late - in March it purchased hybrid satellite and terrestrial communications company DBSD North America and last month it closed on its $320 million purchase of video rental chain Blockbuster. Sister equipment company EchoStar also purchased broadband service provider Hughes Network Systems in February. Some analysts have speculated that Ergen's ultimate vision - which the chairman has jokingly called his "Seinfeld strategy" - is to utilize the wireless spectrum for a broadband play and transform Blockbuster into a Netflix rival.
Clayton wasn't giving specifics or making any new product announcements. But he said as CEO he will look at developing a broadband offering and investigate ways to capitalize on Blockbuster.
"At the end, we want something that makes all of our businesses better," Clayton said. "That chapter is still evolving. A lot depends on the technology landscape, the financial landscape and the availability of assets. That's what Charlie's charter will be as chairman, as owner, as the largest shareholder and founder. We don't want him worrying about cutting the grass around here."
That could include investigating the possibility of a video and data pairing, the potential of which he said attracted him to Dish in the first place.
"We'll look at digital distribution and we'll look at physical distribution," Clayton said "You'd be remiss if you didn't. Hughes Networks has broadband services. Obviously we'll look at that as part of our offering. Maybe I'm being too simplistic, but when I look at the pieces, I can quickly come up with an offering."
Clayton said this is his third turn as CEO of a subscription-based revenue company - he was CEO of Frontier Communications before joining Sirius - so he is no stranger to the business.
After a rough couple of quarters last year - Dish lost subscribers in three of four quarters in 2010 - the satellite giant gained 58,000 customers in the first quarter and showed stronger than expected financials. Clayton said he hoped to be able to continue that momentum.
"This for sure is not a turnaround," Clayton said. "This is a growth story."
As for his top priorities, Clayton said he would concentrate on branding, commercializing technology, maximizing distribution and looking for alternative distribution models that will drive subscribers.
"I'm also big on market segmentation," Clayton said. "That's how you find the nuggets sometime."
Ergen has tried to hand off responsibility before only to pull it back in. Although his boss has a strong reputation in the industry as being involved in virtually every detail of the business, Clayton does not foresee any problems.
"If he spends all of his time on that, the grand strategy will not take place," Clayton said. "Charlie is a smart guy; he's one of the smartest people I have ever met. He knows that, otherwise I wouldn't be here."
Clayton also intends to step up Dish Nework's profile, which has been decidedly low key over the years.
"If you're proud of what you're doing and if you're doing good things, you'd better be out telling people," Clayton said. "Not just Wall Street but the press, all of our constituencies, shareholders, the government. Hell, I'm going to tell the competition what we're doing so they can get ready. This will be a driven team; it's the only pace I know how to run. I'm pretty excited about the opportunity."
Clayton also dismissed speculation that his hiring signals a desire for Ergen to sell the company.
"Charlie Ergen's soul is in this company; it precludes money, it is part of his very DNA make-up," Clayton said. "I've sold companies before if it was in the best interest of the shareholders. And this is what you have to remember, he is the major shareholder."