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Time Warner Cable Deck Gets Shuffled Once Again

Less than two months after its chairman left in a rumored dispute with top management, Time Warner Cable made more sweeping changes last Friday, replacing unit president Tom Rutledge with former Comcast Corp. president Tom Baxter.

The reshuffling came after former chairman Joseph Collins left to become chairman and CEO of AOL Time Warner Interactive Video on Aug. 16 and was replaced by former Time Warner Cable president Glenn Britt.

At the time, AOL Time Warner said that move was intended to jump-start interactive services, but analysts also believed Collins and AOL Time Warner co-chief operating officer Robert Pittman were not getting along. Collins now reports to AOL Time Warner CEO Gerald Levin.

Other changes announced last Friday include the elevation of John Billock to Time Warner Cable vice chairman and COO. Billock had been president of Home Box Office Inc.'s U.S. Network Group. The cable unit's last vice chairman was Jim Gray in 1995. Its last COO was Jimmy Doolittle, who retired in 1998, Britt said.

Billock reports to Britt; Baxter reports to Billock.

AOL Time Warner vice president of financial analysis and operations support Landel Hobbs was named Time Warner Cable's chief financial officer, replacing Tommy Harris, who moves over to Collins's Interactive Video unit as executive vice president.

Senior vice president of programming Fred Dressler was bumped up to executive vice president of programming. And Time Warner Cable Ventures president and CEO Christopher Bogart will add responsibilities for investments, new product development, human resources, Internet-protocol telephony and Road Runner commercial services.

Also, executive vice president Ted Cutler will retire, joining Ann Burr, another executive vice president who announced her retirement a few months ago. The retirements were not related to the restructuring, said Time Warner Cable vice president of corporate communications Michael Luftman.

TAKING 'DIFFERENT PATH'

Luftman said Rutledge's decision to leave resulted from the changes that took place after Collins moved out and Britt moved in.

"As Glenn in the intervening two months evolved his strategic vision and the organizational structure needed to implement it, as he and Tom [Rutledge] talked about it, it became clear to Tom that the role evolving for him was not the one he would have preferred," Luftman said. "He decided to take his career on a different path and Glenn reluctantly accepted his resignation."

Rutledge said as much in a memo that went out to employees last Friday.

"Those of you who know me will understand how much I would have liked to continue working with you to keep growing and building the company," Rutledge wrote. After long discussions regarding the new organizational structure I have decided to take my career on a different path."

Britt said that Time Warner Cable was at an important moment. Now that infrastructure upgrades have been largely completed, it's time to focus on marketing new services.

"Essentially what I'm doing is bringing in John Billock, who approaches problems from a consumer marketing perspective," Britt said. "I think that is an important thing. As Tom Rutledge and I talked about what we're doing with the company and various roles, he decided he wanted to take his career in a different direction. I think Tom is a fine executive, I'm close to him, and I'm very sorry to see him leaving. But that was what he thought was best for him."

HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson said Billock would not be replaced at HBO. His duties will be split among several current executives.

While Time Warner Cable now has a chairman/CEO, a vice-chairman/COO and a president, Luftman said the setup was not much different than the old one.

"No one used to describe the previous management structure as top-heavy before," Luftman said. "There was a three-person top management structure before."

Under the previous regime, Britt, then president, and Rutledge, then senior executive vice president, reported to chairman Collins.

BAXTER WANTED BACK IN

Baxter, a former president of Comcast Corp.'s cable unit, has a long history in the cable industry, serving at Warner Cable and Cablevision Systems Corp. prior to Comcast. He left Comcast in 1998 to become a partner in Evercore Partners, an investment firm, and then was CEO at Internet startup Audible Inc.

"He's a very strong operator who is very focused on subscribers and what subscribers want, and how to build penetration," NBC Cable president David Zaslav said of Baxter. "He's reasonable, level-headed and smart."

Regarding Dressler's promotion, Zaslav said: "It's a great recognition for Fred. He does a great job and is a great negotiator."

Zaslav sees Dressler's promotion as an acknowledgment on Time Warner Cable's part of how crucial programming is to cable operators these days.

"AT&T [Broadband], for example, always recognized the importance of the programming role and how key it was," said Zaslav. "The programming group has the connection to the consumer, and must understand what consumers want."

MSO sources said Baxter has been looking to get back into the cable industry for quite a while and had fielded some offers from European operators.

Becoming president of a 12.6-million subscriber MSO is a big step up for Baxter, who managed about 4.5 million customers as head of Comcast's cable business.

But it's a challenge one former Comcast colleague said Baxter is ready for.

"He's a very good, seasoned operator," said Comcast executive vice president and treasurer John Alchin. Linda Moss contributed to this story.