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McSlarrow on Exit: This Wasn't Going To Be My Last Job

NCTA President & CEO Kyle McSlarrow, just announced Friday he is exiting the association next spring after more than five years. He says that, having turned 50 this year and anticipating resolution, at least in the short term, of the Title II fight, he felt ready, personally and professionally, to follow-through on his long-telegraphed plan--at least to the NCTA board--of getting into the business side of the cable business.

He says he has no job lined up, but has talked with enough operators and programmers to gauge their interest.

McSlarrow talked with B&C  for an exclusive interview from the airport Friday as he waited for a "long-standing commitment" to take his family to a University of Michigan/Wisconsin football game, which he concedes made it look like he "made his announcement and got the hell out of dodge."

But he suggests he has loved "dodge," and that his exit isn't about money or anything at NCTA that needs fixing.

You're one of the highest paid lobbyists in this town and have gotten high marks from the cable industry. Why are you leaving?

When I was at the Department of Energy [during the Bush administration], I assumed I would be moving into business from that point, and in fact I had had a couple of offers from midsized companies. When [the NCTA job] came over the transom, it sort of turned my eye and I got increasingly interested in it and, frankly, telecommunications is a lot more interesting than energy.

So, when I first met with the search committee, which basically is the executive committee, I said at the outset that my long-term goals were to be on the business side and I see this as a great transitional job, but I don't see this as a permanent job.

I turned 50 this year [in June] and that always makes you think. It reinforced in my mind that I still wanted to do that. And in order to start that transition, I actually have to leave. It has been a fantastic job, and I love it, but it wasn't my long-term goal to have this be my last job.

So, this was your decision?


Your contract renewal ran until 2012?

Yes. In 2008, my contract wasn't up, but they came to me and said we would like to extend you. But it was very clear it was more designed to give me comfort that they want me. It was one of the things I talked [with the board] about this fall. I said: 'I have a contract and obviously I'm not going to break the contract if people are very unhappy about it, but here's what I'm thinking.' The CEO's were like, "Look, this isn't bondage." Every single one of them was very supportive--"we want you in the industry, we're glad we had you for six years, and we support this decision."

Why leave now?

I arrived at that decision this fall and I have been thinking about it for a while. It is partly personal and partly timing for the organization. On the personal side, turning 50 and thinking where I want to be ten years down the road, it just seems like now is the right time. I felt like we have sort of gone through major challenges, and we are in the end game, even though it is not completely finished yet, on Title II.

From the organization's perspective: We'll conclude Title II, however we conclude it, and we have a new Congress. I'd rather leave now than, say, in the middle of a telecom rewrite.

Do you think Title II will be resolved by the time you leave in the spring?

I think so. My sense is that we are either going to have Title II, which I am actually increasingly dubious about, or we somehow, one way or another, we are going to figure out a Title II path. The issue may live on, but the immediate issue of what the FCC is going to do or what Congress is going to  do, I don't think that is going to be another six months.

What do you make of the buzz about something being placed on the December meeting agenda?

I don't know. I see the buzz. They are clearly interested in trying to move something, I don't know if it will be December or January. but I take him at his word. I don't think he is going to just sit on that.

Do you have another job lined up?

No. But I'm not a complete idiot. I have had a number of conversations with CEO's, operators and programmers alike, enough to give me comfort that there was real interest in having a discussion at the appropriate moment. But also as I worked through this over the past couple of months, we concluded that the best way to do it is, rather than skulking around in the dark, do it openly. Give myself an opportunity and time to look, and give the board time to start a search.

I have irons in the fire and people I will now have the opportunity to have conversations with.

Is Comcast one of those?

I am not going to say who I am talking with. I don't want to screw the pooch.

So, this announcement essentially lets everybody know you are available?

Yes. It is a pretty loud 'for sale' sign.

Will you help with the search for a replacement?


Does that mean you will be on the search committee?

No, I don't think that is appropriate. But, they have asked for my continued help and counsel on that, and I am happy to give it.

Any chance you will reconsider?

I'm not Hamlet. You don't want to waste CEO's time. I have thought through the decision a lot. It is not like there is anything to correct like more money. I love the job. It is not about NCTA it's about where I want to be over the next 10 years.

What has been your high point at NCTA?

I think the overarching high point was being able to unify the industry to fight off a lot of challenges on the Hill in the first couple of years, and then the next four years at the FCC on issues that could have been very divisive.

For instance?

From multicasting must-carry to a la carte to the 70/70 fight to net neutrality. These are all issues that have potentially different perspectives among operators large and small and programmers large and small. Our industry kind of checked parochial interests at the door to fight off all of these things together.

It is probably the thing I am most proud of. It is a pretty formidable thing when we are united. When we're not, it's a lot harder.