Lovett Out at Charter

Charter Communications said Tuesday that its CEO Mike Lovett has decided to step down as of April 30, 2012, or earlier if a successor is named before that date.

Lovett became CEO of Charter, the fourh largest MSO in the country with about 4.5 million video customers, in April 2010, after then CEO Neil Smit left to join Comcast as president of its cable communications division.

Lovett joined Charter in 2003, serving as executive vice president and chief operating officer before being named CEO.

Charter's board of directors said it will beging the process of evaluating candidates and that Lovett will remain in his present positions during the transition period.

"Under Mike's leadership, Charter has established a solid foundation for customer growth through executing on its long-term strategic initiatives and assembling a high quality management team around a much improved financial position," Charter chairman Eric Zinterhofer said in a statement."We appreciate his many contributions to the success of the company and his willingness to assist in an orderly transition. On behalf of the board of directors, I thank Mike for his continued service during this transitional period."

In a statement, Lovett said that the MSO has made significant progress and that he leaves the company on strong footing.
"I believe this is the right time for me to move on to the next chapter of my career," Lovett said in the statement. " In the meantime, I remain fully committed to the Charter team in this succession period and am confident that our Board will select an exceptional business leader who will continue to build on the substantial progress we have made over the past several years."

Lovett's decision to resign is the third high profile departure at the company this year. In February executive vice president of operations Ted Schremp resigned and, in March, long-time chief technology officer Marwan Fawaz resigned.

Once known as the most highly leveraged large cable operator in the country, Charter emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 with a clean balance sheet and an eye toward improving operations.

In the past few years the company has focused on growing non-video customers and earlier this year trialed a program where it would sell its high-speed data and phone to video customers of Dish Network, the first such cable/satellite pairing in memory.

News of Lovett's departure should also fuel speculation that the MSO could be on the sale block, either as a whole or in pieces. Earlier this year Charter had placed its flagship Los Angeles system on the auction block, only to pull it off months later when it could not attract the price it wanted.

While the search for a replacement is in the early stages, some analysts have speculated that possible candidates could include former Time Warner Cable chief operating officer Landel Hobbs, Insight Communications COO Dinni Jain (Insight agreed to be sold to Time Warner Cable in August) and current Charter executive vice president of technology and president of commercial services Don Detampel.

According to an 8-K document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday, Lovett is eligible to receive about $8.4 million for his current service and for helping with the transition, including a $1 million cash incentive; an annual bonus worth as much as $2.1 million (165% of base salary); two years of his base salary valued at $2.6 million; 50,911 shares of stock valued at $2.5 million and a $172,985 in performance cash grants.