Derek Chang went into fast-track mode in 1994 when he was hired by cable luminary, Leo Hindery, at operator Intermedia Partners LLC in San Francisco. Three years later, Chang followed Hindery to his new gig running Tele-Communications Inc.
Chang found himself in the middle of some major deals, gaining more responsibility when TCI merged with AT&T Broadband and engineered several other cable transactions. Though he was barely 30 at the time, Chang was meeting with industry legends. “In that situation, you have to produce,” says the 36-year-old Chang. He's clearly still in high-production mode in his current role as executive vice president of finance and strategy at Charter Communications Inc. He was on the front lines when the beleaguered MSO renegotiated its debts recently.
“A lot of it is luck,” says Chang of his high-profile gigs. “I was lucky to be in the position I was in.” But other Charter executives point to more concrete reasons for his success.
“Derek is the straightest-shooting guy I have ever met,” says Michael Willner, president and co-founder of Insight Communications. “He's not a pontificator. He cuts through all the crap to find a way to get the deal done.” Bresnan Communications CEO Bill Bresnan, who worked with Chang on several deals in the late 1990s, says Chang has a knack for understanding complex transactions. “He's very wise for his age. He has very good judgment for a guy as young as he was.”
Just ask Charter CEO Carl Vogel, who is relying on Chang to help shore up the MSO's balance sheet. “My philosophy is that you keep loading people up until they say they can't handle it,” he says. “I have yet to reach that threshold with Derek.”
Indeed, Chang's focus remains steadfast. Asked about his future plans, he easily prioritizes, “My immediate goal is to get [Charter] back on good financial footing.”
Despite that focus, Chang brushes off any suggestion that he is a workaholic. “I still goof off,” he says. “You have to strike a balance in life.” Chang also seems to know what's important. David Krone, executive vice president at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and a good friend, recalls the time in 2002 when Krone's mother was ill and Chang drove to Philadelphia to support him at the hospital. “Derek was sleeping on the floor,” Krone says. “He's one of the most decent people I've ever met.”
On a lighter note, Krone also recalls Chang's 1998 nuptials, “It was hysterical to see all the CEOs at his wedding.”
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