Vanguard Awards: Distinguished Leadership: Neil Smit

As president and CEO of Comcast Cable and executive vice president of Comcast Corp., Neil Smit is responsible for all business aspects of the company’s cable operations.

Smit joined Comcast in March 2010 from Charter Communications, where he had served as CEO and director since 2005. He is well-known for his technical prowess and currently serves as the chairman of CableLabs, the research and development consortium for the cable industry. During the past two years, Comcast has launched more than 40 new products.

Under Smit’s watch, Comcast reduced basic video subscriber losses for more than two years straight — and, in the fourth quarter, reported its first basic-video gain in more than six years. It has also reported industry-leading gains in high-speed-data customer additions and has consistently outperformed the industry in revenue and cash flow growth. Under his tutelage, Comcast has introduced new products every quarter, launched iPad apps and TV Everywhere, beefed up its video-on-demand library, launched a subscription-based VOD multiscreen service called Streampix and introduced its cloud-based user interface, the X1.

Prior to joining Charter, Smit was the president of Time Warner’s America Online Access Business, where he oversaw Internet access services, including America Online (AOL), CompuServe and Netscape. He also served at AOL as executive vice president, member services, and chief operating officer of MapQuest. Smit also served as a regional president with Nabisco and held a number of management positions at Pillsbury.

After being discharged from the Navy, Smit attended Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts, where he earned a master’s degree with a focus on international business. He didn’t exactly know what he wanted to do at that point but when he was scanning a list of Fletcher alumni, he noticed one had a crisis-management consulting business. Figuring that might correlate well with his Navy SEALS experience, he decided to check it out.

“Their primary business was kidnapping negotiations,” Smit told St. Louis Commerce Magazine in 2008 when the magazine interviewed him during his days at Charter. “You know, as a Navy SEAL when you parachute into a situation, you’ve got to figure it out pretty fast. This was no different. I had to make a quick assessment of a situation, plan action and communicate it to everyone involved.”

Eventually, Smit moved on to the food business with Nabisco and Pillsbury, where he held a number of executive positions. He credits his Navy SEAL training for giving him one of the most important lessons in leadership.

“The first thing you learn in SEAL team training is, it’s all about the team; it’s not about the individual,” Smit told Broadcasting & Cable when he was inducted into B&C’s Hall of Fame in 2013. “You learn that you play to win, there’s no alternative. You make decisions in the situation. You make a call, you go left or you go right, you can adjust later, but get out of the line of fire. You’ve always got to be developing your skills and your team capabilities. You’ve got to be better.”

In addition to his roles at Comcast and CableLabs, Smit is chairman of the NCTA’s board of directors and serves on the board of directors for C-SPAN and on the executive committee of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s board of trustees. He is also a member of the board of visitors for Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.

He resides in Philadelphia with his wife and sons.

Fun Fact:

For five and a half years, Smit served on active duty with the Navy SEAL Teams and retired from the service as a Lieutenant Commander.