He loves challenges

It's not hard to see why Dallas Clement has spent virtually his entire career at Cox Communications. A math geek who soured on Wall Street after a brief stay, he interviewed for a job as a policy analyst at Cox in 1990. In a flurry of meetings in Atlanta, he met with several senior executives, even CEO James Robbins. The following Monday, he was offered a job and happily accepted.

On Friday, he broke his neck.

The Stanford MBA student had returned to California to wrap up classes. While riding his bicycle through a campus parking lot, he was struck by a car, flipped onto the hood and smashed his head into the windshield. He cracked two vertebrae.

As these things go, he seemed not to be terribly injured. When he called Cox, CFO Jimmy Hayes told him to take whatever time he needed. Clement said he planned to start in two weeks as scheduled.

Aided by his family, he moved in with a friend in Atlanta and showed up at work in full "halo"—his head immobilized by a metal ring bolted to his skull, the ring attached to a vest.

He could move but couldn't drive. "My first three months, someone from Cox picked me and drove me home every day," Clement recalls. They volunteered, even though they didn't really know the new hire. They did joke, however, that he created radio interference when entering the building.

That warm welcome, though, isn't even the biggest reason he stayed. The biggest has been the challenges Cox has let him face.

The threat of federal controls on cable rates he had been hired to assess didn't materialize until 1993. "For the first three years," Clement says, "I had no day-to-day responsibilities."

Instead, he helped on a flurry of deals that offered a much better education than he got structuring complicated bond derivatives at Merrill Lynch.

At the time, Cox was a major franchisee of Blockbuster video rental stores, buying and selling chunks of stores. Cox entered a British cable venture with telco Southwestern Bell, which ultimately led to a 1992 deal to sell Cox to what is now known as SBC. That deal was aborted after rate regulation finally kicked in.

In the SBC deal, "Jimmy did the 20% most important stuff," Clement says. "I did the other 80%."

That ensconced him firmly on Cox's financial staff, first at the cable company and then in the treasury department of controlling shareholder Cox Enterprises. There he worked on bond and bank deals and the financing of acquisitions and investments in ventures with such operators as Teleport and what is now Sprint PCS. When Cox Communications went public by acquiring the cable systems of publicly traded Times Mirror, Clement was put in charge of investor relations.

His skill, say industry colleagues, is that he has the problem-solving mindset of a mathematician but does not lose himself, the problem or others in minutiae. "Dallas has a unique capability to look at complex situations and boil them down to a very simple assessment," says Hayes.

He's now in charge of Cox's new-product development, an exercise that cable companies are just beginning to take seriously. "Six years ago," he says, "product development was upgrade your plant from 350 MHz to 550 MHz."

The most obvious products from increasing channel capacity ultimately to 860 MHz have proved successful: digital cable, high-speed Internet, cable telephone services. Figuring out the next round—personal video recorders both in the set-top and through the network, video-on-demand, home networking—is more difficult.

"I do need to introduce one thing: prioritization," he observes. "We don't have the capital and, more important, the human resources to chase it all at once."