Jim Robbins Dies at 65

(Jim Robbins photo gallery) (Jim Robbins video)

News of the death of former Cox CEO Jim Robbins stunned the cable industry Thursday, with several cable industry leaders expressing their sadness at Robbins’ untimely passing.

Former Continental Cablevision chairman Amos Hostetter, who gave Robbins his first job in the cable industry running Continental’s central Ohio systems, remembers the late executive as a smart, savvy businessman who naturally stepped into the role of industry leader.

“This was truly a class act and the glue that held an awful lot of the collective efforts in the cable industry together,” Hostetter said.

Hostetter added that he recognized Robbins’ talent early on.

“I gave him his first job in the industry; he was a disc jockey at a radio station in Fitchburg, Mass.” Hostetter said. “I could tell right off that he was a talented guy, energetic, talented, good with people. It was an easy hire.”

Landmark Communications president and chief operating officer Decker Anstrom remembers Robbins as a visionary who saw the potential benefits of investing in customer service well before the rest of the industry. Cox under Robbins’ watch, won four J.D. Power Awards for Customer Service.

“He really understood more deeply and earlier than anyone the importance of excellent customer service to the future of the industry,” Anstrom said. “He was evangelical about preaching the importance of excellent customer service and he and Cox led by example. The pile of JD Power awards and their low churn rates and their ability to introduce new services, all of that are testament to that commitment.”

Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing president and CEO Char Beales said that Robbins’ focus on customer service wasn’t always appreciated by the rest of the industry.

“He was one of the only MSO CEOs who really put the customer first and paid for that,” Beales remembered. “I remember when I was on the NCTA staff in the 1980s and he was investing a lot of money in customer care, other [NCTA] board members made fun of him for wasting all of that money on the customer. He had the vision and he had the courage to carry it out.” 

Anstrom added that Robbins also bred loyalty among his employees by championing executive development, diversity and training.

“He really believed in investing in people and he spent personal time and he built a culture around that,” Anstrom said.

But Robbins wasn’t all business all the time, Anstrom added.

“Jim really lived a leadership style all of us could benefit from paying attention to,” Anstrom said. “He was as competitive and serious and tough as any CEO in the industry, but the other side of it was he had fun in life. He was irreverent, he made fun of himself, he didn’t take himself that seriously, he could let his hair down. He was happy to talk to you about his Labradors or about his daughters. He just had that nice practical people touch as well as all of the other attributes that come with being a great CEO.”

Bresnan Communications CEO Bill Bresnan said he first met Robbins in the 1970s, when Robbins was managing a cable system in Long Island, N.Y. for Viacom Cable. The two became fast friends.

“He was a tremendously optimistic guy and a related trait was his confidence,” Bresnan said of Robbins. “He was a very straight forward guy, no-nonsense; he was a Navy man through and through. He had that naval discipline that carried him throughout his life. He was a very, very unique, larger than life kind of person and always at the forefront.”

Bresnan also remembered a talk that Robbins held with college students as part of the Cable Center’s Cable Maverick program where the former Cox executive held the students in thrall.

“He had a presence that commanded attention,” Bresnan said.