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Risk Management?

Think about this: With AT&T Broadband's announcement of a reshuffling in its corporate ranks last Tuesday, three of the top four MSOs have now tapped new CEOs within the past 60 days.

Earlier, Charter Communications named Carl Vogel to replace CEO Jerry Kent. Time Warner Cable also has a new honcho — Glenn Britt is at the helm, picking up the baton from industry veteran Joe Collins.

And now there's William Schleyer — the former president and CEO of Continental Cablevision Inc. and MediaOne Group Inc. — hired to pick up the pieces from beleaguered former AT&T Broadband CEO Dan Somers, who is leaving the company. Schleyer brings along two of his old Continental cronies: Ron Cooper as chief operating officer and David Fellows as chief technology officer.

The timing of last week's announcement — which brings together many from the team that ran Continental Cablevision for AT&T Corp. non-executive chairman Amos Hostetter — is somewhat curious.

That's because some say AT&T Broadband — which had rebuffed Comcast Corp.'s bear hug of last July — is running on borrowed time. It's trying to convince institutional investors that its original plan to spin off the broadband unit into a separate tracking stock — and not a sale to another company, like Comcast or Cox Communications Inc. — is the way to go. And they're not at all convinced.

On the same day that AT&T announced its corporate overhaul, the company also released figures for the third quarter. Though the broadband unit showed some improvement, it still lags far behind what other MSOs report in their cash-flow margin statements.

Some industry observers look at the new appointments at Charter, Time Warner, and now AT&T as positive turns, "with the next generation of leadership being very strong, seasoned players." And that they clearly are.

But others wonder what is really going on at Broadband, given that the new cast of characters are all friends of Hostetter, the company's largest shareholder.

Some think that the appointments of Schleyer and Fellows, in particular, are "short term." They note several companies had tried to hire both executives, but neither would leave his cushy spot. Both Schleyer and Fellows were principals at Pilot House Ventures, LLC, the Boston-based investment arm run by Hostetter.

In other words, Hostetter appears to have activated his old cronies to help him out in a time of dire need.

Some question whether Schleyer, who has a son attending school in Boston, will even make the move to AT&T Broadband's headquarters in Denver. That remains to be seen.

Then there's Cooper, one of the few former Continental executives who actually made the move to Denver years ago. He still resides there and was president and COO of Relera Inc., a hosting-services company.

Schleyer, Fellows and Cooper are straddling an interesting fence here. AT&T Broadband — which until last week had seen its bench strength weakened considerably — could see its corporate towers bloated if a buyer like Comcast or Cox prevails.

If that were to happen, there would be too many chiefs and not enough Indians, and Hostetter's pals could easily go back to their old gigs at Pilot House.

It will be challenging for the trio to attract more executives to the camp, given the uncertainties that lie ahead if a new owner were indeed to take charge at year-end — the timeframe when most people think this matter will be resolved. Keep in mind that for whatever reasons, former Charter CEO Kent did not wind up at AT&T.

And things have also changed for Comcast, too. Broadband's executive appointments have raised the bar for the Philadelphia-based MSO, which has been trying to buy Broadband since last July.

Talk about risk management — there's plenty of it swirling around Denver and Philly.