Diversity’s Part of the Deal For Charter CEO Rutledge

As Charter Communications waits for the Federal Communications Commission to approve its deal to acquire Time Warner Cable, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge, is already preparing for life as head of the No. 2 U.S. pay TV provider. Last Friday (Jan. 15), Rutledge met with leaders of national civil rights organizations, including National Action Network president the Rev. Al Sharpton, to sign a memorandum of understanding pledging its support for fostering a more inclusive post-merger company.

The MOU was symbolically signed on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual birth date. In it, Charter committed to appointing one African- American, one Asian-American/Pacific-Islander and one Hispanic-American to its newly formed board of directors within two years of the close of the transaction, and to appoint a chief diversity officer to head its diversity and inclusion efforts. After a New York press conference to announce it, Rutledge spoke with Multichannel News programming editor R. Thomas Umstead about those efforts, and the merger’s progress. An edited transcript follows.

MCN:How important is the memorandum of understanding to Charter’s overall plans in merging with Time Warner Cable?

Tom Rutledge: I think it’s important. We’re going to be a brand new company, and a much bigger, more high-profile company, and our commitment to diversity, I think, is an important part of being a leadership company. While we are committed to it today, we will be a much bigger, more high-profile kind of organization, so we will make a public commitment to diversity with binding obligations on us, which is all well and good and shows what kind of corporate citizens we really are.

MCN:Among those binding obligations within the MOU, will you add more diverse programming to your lineups?

TR: Yes. It’s not just a commitment to hiring people and procuring new sources of vendors from a diverse community, but it’s a new board of directors; it’s a raising of our overall commitment throughout the whole organization to be diverse.

MCN:How would you rate Charter’s current diversity efforts?

TR: I think in the last four years, we’ve hired 7,000 people net, and we’ve done a very good job incrementally with who’ve we hired, and we do reflect the communities that we operate in. Our commitment as a company is to hire locally, and we’ve been insourcing jobs and bringing jobs back from overseas. We believe that having a high quality, local workforce is actually better in terms of customer service than the alternative. So we’ve done a good job. What we need to do better going forward, being a bigger company, is to make sure that the very highest levels of the company also represent the nation’s diversity, and I think we can do better.

MCN:How do you see the Charter-TWC deal progressing, and when do you think it will close?

TR: I don’t know when it will be done, and my predictions thus far have been wrong. [Laughs.] We are doing well — most all of the states have approved the deal, and we’re working our way through the federal approval process, and I think that’s going well. We haven’t attracted that much opposition, so we’re actually pleased at where we are.

MCN:Are you confident that the deal could be completed by the end of Q1?

TR: I hope so.

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.