Exec Shuffle at Dish Network

Maybe the third time really is the charm.

Dish Network shook up the management ranks last week, making a trio of moves, naming its third chief operating officer in less than three years, hiring a former AT&T executive as its chief financial officer and adding sales and marketing responsibilities to a longtime executive's duties.

Former chief financial officer Bernard Han was named chief operating officer, the third person to hold that position since 2006. Replacing Han as CFO is a new hire, former Trane Commercial Systems CFO and AT&T Consumer Services division executive Robert Olson. And in a separate move, long-time executive vice president Tom Cullen was given added sales and marketing responsibilities.

Han has been an up and coming executive since joining then-EchoStar Communications in 2006 from Northwest Airlines. But his appointment as essentially chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen's No. 2 executive does not come without its perils.

Ergen is a notorious hands-on manager and his last two COOs — Carl Vogel and Michael Neuman — left after a short time in the position. Neuman, a former Bell Canada Enterprises executive, left in 2006 after about eight months on the job. Vogel, who had been vice chairman of the satellite-TV provider, assumed Neuman's duties along with chief technology officer Michael Dugan in September 2006. Vogel scaled back his responsibilities earlier this year to spend more time with family.

While Vogel scaled back his duties for personal reasons, Ergen and Neuman were said to have clashed during their brief time together.

In a statement, Ergen said the changes are based on merit and his trust in his team.

“The management changes announced today recognize the contributions that Bernie and Tom have made and express my confidence in them to lead Dish Network's efforts to improve subscriber growth and customer satisfaction,” Ergen said in a statement.

Cullen added sales and marketing responsibilities, tasks that had apparently been the bailiwick of Dish co-founder and executive vice president James DeFranco. Whether DeFranco is still performing those duties could not be immediately determined.

Dish did not return calls for comment.

Dish has been plagued by poor marketing in the past but recently stepped up efforts with a new promotion giving new customers more than 100 channels for $9.99 per month for six months. Perhaps the shift in responsibilities was made to place more emphasis on that effort and others.

Cullen has been executive vice president of corporate development at Dish since December 2006. According to a statement, effective April 27 Cullen will oversee all of Dish's sales and marketing functions, in addition to his existing management of programming operations.

Olson will report to Han in his new position. Han and Cullen will report directly to Ergen.

Dish has struggled of late — it reported its first-ever subscriber loss in the second quarter last year and ended 2008 down 102,000 customers. Dish stock, once one of the high flyers in the satellite industry, was pummeled last year; it finished 2008 down 66.5%. And in contrast to its chief rival DirecTV Group — which arguably had one of its best years ever in 2008 — things don't look like they will get better anytime soon.

Several analysts expect the satellite giant to shed even more subscribers in the first quarter, in part because of the loss of its distribution agreement with AT&T this year. In a research note, Credit Suisse media analyst Spencer Wang predicted Dish would lose about 130,000 subscribers in the period, fueled by indications that its $9.99 promotion has only modestly increased gross additions, a dwindling dealer base, strained relations with existing dealers, complicated installations and repairs and inconsistent marketing.

“Our research finds that it is too early to call a turnaround at Dish,” Wang wrote in a research note.

Dish is expected to release first-quarter results on May 11.