Glenn Britt, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Time Warner Cable Inc. (TWC:US) who oversaw the 2009 spinoff from its parent company and boosted shareholder returns more than fivefold, has died. He was 65.
He died today at his home in New York, according to an e-mailed statement from Rob Marcus, his successor at Time Warner Cable. In October, Britt announced he had cancer.
Joining Time Inc. in 1972, Britt spent more than four decades at the company as it morphed through two megamergers and the decoupling of the cable unit. He almost doubled the profit of Time Warner Cable through the growth of its Internet business and delivered about $7 billion in stock buybacks.
“He was a key part of our industry’s growth and success and was a true leader in every respect,” Brian Roberts, the CEO of Philadelphia-based Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. cable company, said in an e-mailed statement. “His focus on helping others was heartwarming, and his competitive spirit was inspiring. He will be deeply missed.” In February, Comcast agreed to purchase Time Warner Cable.
While his career took him through some of the media industry’s biggest deals, Britt took a skeptical stance on the benefits of mergers. His perspective was shaped by Time’s 1990 fusion with Warner Communications, and the combined company’s takeover by America Online Inc. in 2000. The Time Warner AOL deal, valued at about $184 billion, was the largest-ever merger at the time and is now remembered as a debacle.
“Both deals were very lopsided in favor of one set of shareholders,” he said in his last conference call as CEO in October. “So you shouldn’t be surprised that we are focused on making money for you rather than just on some fuzzy notion of industry consolidation.”
Just weeks after his retirement on Dec. 31, Time Warner Cable agreed to be bought by Comcast Corp. in a deal valued at $45 billion. Britt and his successor as CEO, Rob Marcus, had fended off a rival takeover effort from Charter Communications Inc., backed by billionaire John Malone.
Britt wasn’t completely opposed to deals. In October, toward the end of his tenure, Time Warner Cable agreed to buy DukeNet Communications LLC for $600 million. The previous year, the company completed its largest acquisition since the 2009 spinoff: a $3 billion takeover of the Insight Communications Co. cable system in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Britt announced his retirement in July 2013.
Under Britt, the company boosted Internet subscriptions by almost a third. He wasn’t as successful with TV subscribers, who departed to new video services from competitors such as Verizon Communications Inc. Time Warner Cable, which posted 19 consecutive quarters of TV-customer defections through the end of Britt’s tenure, had the lowest customer-satisfaction score among all pay-TV operators and the second-lowest among all companies ranked in the American Customer Satisfaction Index for 2013, behind only the Long Island Power Authority.
Britt saw an even bigger competitive threat looming from online video, especially for entertainment that consumers can get without paying a dime.
“In the end, consumers will choose free content over paid content; that is simply a fact of life,” he said in a statement for his 2008 induction into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame. “If content creators are not careful, they run the risk of damaging the current ecosystem, which has produced arguably the most diverse array of content anywhere in the world.”
Glenn Alan Britt was born on March 6, 1949, in Hackensack, New Jersey, to parents Walter E. Britt and Helen Crupi, according to Marquis Who’s Who.
He earned a bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College in 1971 and a master’s in business administration at the same institution the following year.
“When I graduated from business school in 1972, I was attracted to the cable industry because I thought it represented a new industry with new technology that had a chance to challenge old incumbent ways,” he said on the October 2013 conference call.
Britt began his career at Time as a controller’s assistant and, two years later, as a vice president and treasurer at Manhattan Cable TV. He became chief financial officer at HBO Inc. in 1984, CFO at Time Inc. in 1988, and CEO of Time Warner Cable in 2001.
“Time Warner Cable has a history of innovation, as the company that revolutionized the way Americans watched TV and provided broadband Internet access for the mass market,” Margaret Honey, the president and CEO of the New York Hall of Science, said in a statement for Britt’s Distinguished Leadership Award for transformation, ingenuity and excellence in science in November 2013.
He married the former Barbara Jane Little in 1975. An avid skier, gardener and golfer, Britt was a member of the Woodway Country Club and the Cape Cod National Golf Club & Country Club.
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