Interview Date: August 11, 2015
Interview Location: Denver, CO USA
Interviewer: Jana Henthorn
Collection: Cable Center Oral History Program
Henthorn: It’s August 11, 2015. I’m Jana Henthorn and we’re doing the oral history of Lela Cocoros here at the Cable Center in Denver. This is part of the Gus Hauser Oral and Video History Program.
Lela, you and I have known each other for a long time and I’m really pretty excited to do this interview with you.
Cocoros: Thank you, Jana. I am, too.
Henthorn: You grew up mostly in Connecticut. Where did you go to school?
Cocoros: I went to NYU Film School for my college education and it was a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree so it was all focused on liberal arts and a concentration in film production. So I learned a lot about film history and television but mainly production. I was on crews, I did production management and script writing and even a little acting. It was kind of a well-rounded film experience. I’m a big film buff…
Henthorn: Film to cable television.
Henthorn: So did you ever take a business class in college?
Cocoros: No, I did not. And I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I graduated but I knew it wasn’t going to be film production. It was one of those things where you did the whole program and while it was really, really valuable and it actually did come in handy throughout my career, being a film director wasn’t in my future. I knew it almost immediately.
Henthorn: So how did you get into the media space? What was your first job in the media space?
Cocoros: I always loved film and television and media and I wanted to be involved in it in some way. So my first job out of college was actually for the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau in New York. This was in 1982. The CAB was only about a year old, and it was a time when it was really just getting started because all the networks were just getting started with advertising and trying to compete against the broadcasters. It was really an exciting time because MTV was a year old and CNN was two years old and ESPN was three or four years old. All these big networks that needed to generate revenue through advertising needed an association to kind of lobby on their behalf to agencies. And it also was set up to help the local advertising teams that were just getting formed in the local systems—kind of getting them the tools to help sell local advertising.
Henthorn: And what was your job?
Cocoros: My job initially was the secretary to the CEO, which at the time was Bob Alter, and I was doing that for about two or three months when I got promoted to research and member services. So I started to work on helping build the kits to sell advertising at both the national level and at the local level to agencies. The whole concept of advertising was new to them. Some of the agencies wouldn’t even take a meeting in those days. It was challenging.
Henthorn: So you started out as the secretary to Bob Alter. That’s in a fine tradition. When I think of other people in the cable industry like June Travis, started out as a secretary and ended up as the president of Rifkin. George Bodenheimer started out in the mailroom at ESPN.
Cocoros: There you go. I’m in good company.
Henthorn: Indeed you are.
So then you decided to move from CAB in New York to TCI in Denver—or just to Denver. That’s a big change.
Cocoros: Yes. I was at the CAB for about two years and young person that I was, I thought, well, I’ve done about as much as I can with this job so I was ready for something else. There wasn’t really anything else at CAB so I promptly quit. And my parents always told me never to quit a job without having another job but of course I thought, well, I’ll see what’s around. And I was also kind of getting, not kind of, I was getting tired of living in New York. I was living in Brooklyn before Brooklyn was cool. I wasn’t making very much money. I was living with a roommate. And I thought, gee, there are all these companies that are on our database that are in Denver, all these operating companies. And I fell in love with the cable industry. I really thought it was a fascinating industry. So I thought, well, why not go out and see what’s out there. I went to Denver and I spent about three or four days in Denver, rented a car, stayed with a sister of a friend of mine and just kind of got the lay of the land. Then I came back. It was May, kind of around Memorial Day and I thought, if I don’t have a job by Labor Day, I think I’m going to move. I think I’m just going to go out to Denver and seek my fortune.
Henthorn: So you set a date.
Cocoros: I set a date. I said, by the end of the summer, if I don’t have the job that I want, I’m going to go to Denver. I’ll just go and see what happens.
I decided to kind of look around in the cable industry. I sent out resumes and again, back then it was all by mail or by phone. I had a couple of interviews at A&E; they were looking for a salesperson but they decided to hire a person who had actual sales experience. My experience was really more in writing and communications.
When that didn’t happen and I had sent a couple of other letters out, I had received a letter from Bob Pittman, who was running MTV, who had sent me a letter saying, “Here’s the name of the person you need to contact. We’re starting a new network.” Which turned out to be VH1. “Contact this person and send them your information and see if you can set up a meeting.” And it was Labor Day, 1984, and I had gone out to the movies with my friends and I had gone back to Brooklyn. It was about ten o’clock at night and I took the train, which I didn’t usually do that late by myself and I got mugged. And it was Labor Day so I took that as a sign that it was time to leave New York and to go to Denver and within a month, I was here in Denver. I just kind of worked from there. I started to work my network and eventually wound up at TCI.
Henthorn: At TCI. And your first job was at Cable Time at TCI and I think that’s where you and I met.
Cocoros: It was. We were doing a survey project of our customers, our subscribers.
Henthorn: Was that in…?
Cocoros: I think it was like, I want to say, in 1986, ’87, something like that?
Henthorn: That makes sense to me.
Cocoros: And at Cabletime, I did a lot of marketing work and I also did a lot of writing. We had an editorial that Peter Barton, the publisher of Cabletime—at the time it was one of his many jobs working for John Malone. I was kind of his ghostwriter for that and so he hired me on a permanent basis because he liked the way I wrote.
Henthorn: Writing is really turning out to be a fortunate skill at TCI.
Cocoros: It was. There weren’t a lot of business writers that did that. Actually there weren’t any that did that as their main job at TCI. So I actually traveled around to a lot of different departments, helping the executives with whatever communications they needed.
Henthorn: Peter hired you at TCI, is that right? Do you want to tell that story?
Cocoros: Yes. Peter hired me at TCI. As I said, I was working at TCI on a contract basis and I was doing his writing and I wrote one of his—the first one I wrote, one of his editorials—and I didn’t know him at all. I was called into his office one morning. He just kind of introduced himself and he sat down and the first thing he said to me was “So, you think you know cable?” And he started shooting me all these questions. “What’s the third largest MSO? What year did CNN launch?” Just all these kinds of questions. And I answered them—I think I answered most of them right—but I was thinking, “Who is this guy? Why am I here and why is he doing this?’ I had no idea I was being interviewed for an actual permanent position. So I left after he grilled me a little bit and went back to work and then the next day I was offered an opportunity to become permanent there by Warren Zeller, who was my first boss, my first direct boss at TCI. God bless Warren, he asked me what I wanted in terms of a salary and I gave him a number and he said, “That’s too low.” He actually gave me a little more than what I had asked for and I think that was probably the first and only time at TCI—
Henthorn: Probably in the whole industry.
Cocoros: —in the whole industry that that happened, but I was again pretty naïve. But I was learning along the way and I wound up staying there for a total of fifteen years after that.
Henthorn: After that department, where did you go next at TCI?
Cocoros: As I said, I did a lot of wandering around in different departments helping out, because my writing skills were called into duty several times. John Sie, who I had done some work for, kind of matched me up with Bob Thomson, who had just been hired as their head of government affairs. I didn’t know anything about politics or law or government affairs or lobbying but I did have communication skills so John Sie thought it was a good match. And it wound up being a very good match. I worked for Bob for many years and kind of took over or created actually the first public relations function at TCI, the formal public relations function—press releases, media relations and some employee communications and messaging and positioning and things like that that were all done ad hoc beforehand, but it wasn’t really a formal concentration at the company until I started working for Bob.
Henthorn: You talked about law and government relations and I’m sure there was some finance thrown in there. So it sounds to me like you were getting an MBA even though you never took a business class.
Cocoros: That’s right. I really feel that my years at TCI gave me an MBA in the best way, I think. Just a tremendous education.
Henthorn: Right. It was the kind of thing where you could just raise your hand and say, “Let me try that.” There was that opportunity.
Cocoros: That’s right. It was small enough where everybody got in a room together often and just started to brainstorm. Anything was possible. We had very, very limited resources and we had a lot of challenges. I mean, our reputation was always a challenge. As the PR person, it was on me to try to do everything I could to at least try to balance it the best I could or mitigate the negative. So there was a lot of activity going on in that area. But I also was able to say, “Gee, I’m interested in this area in the marketing department and can I help out?” Those types of things. It really expanded my abilities and my experience to hone my skills.
Henthorn: Adding classes to your MBA.
Cocoros: That’s right, that’s right. It’s “TCI-U.” And you learned on the job. Everybody worked really, really hard.
Henthorn: The “Malone School of Business.”
Cocoros: That’s correct. The John Malone School of Business at TCI-U.
Henthorn: What was the culture like at TCI back in the late Eighties?
Cocoros: It was very fast-moving, very fast-paced, and it was kind of like the Wild West. That’s been documented. But it really was. It was open territory, an opportunity to try some new things, and everybody contributed. Very smart people with different types of skills and different personalities. Very male at that time. I just found it very stimulating and energizing because it really stretched you in every which way.
Henthorn: Challenges? To the Wild West? What were the challenges?
Cocoros: The challenges obviously were that a lot of what we did, we were the largest cable company so we were the ones out front taking a lot of the arrows, some of which we truly deserved…
Henthorn: Arrows—nice; Wild West, yes.
Cocoros: And other ones we inherited or we were misunderstood. I think there were things that we did that we didn’t get credit for. There were things that we did that we shouldn’t have done, but overall I think it was a really fascinating company and a lot of fun to work there. A lot of people stayed a long time. I think the average tenure was something like nine years for a very long time. And for a company with 30,000 employees and a lot of people in a field where there’s a lot of attrition, that’s quite a feat, I think.
Henthorn: It is.
Cocoros: There was something going on there that was very positive for a lot of people.
Henthorn: In 1991, TCI created Liberty Media and Encore. How were you involved in that?
Cocoros: Again, I was involved in the communications behind the launches or the announcements, dealing with the media. Talking a lot to the employees about these changes and why they happened. I also was editor of our employee magazine at the time called “Communications Magazine,” so a lot of these stories were ones that we wanted to share with our employees. It was just all of the storytelling and the communications around the launch of Encore, which was in a major way to compete with HBO and Showtime and give the studios another place to negotiate, and keep our costs down if we had another competitive service. Liberty obviously was our company that we spun off and spun back in and it had very many iterations, but it was primarily our programming arm and had a lot of our assets and our interests in all the programming networks that we had. And some of the new technologies that were coming out.
Henthorn: So it sounds to me like at this point you’re working on your PhD at TCI-U. Then it got even more exciting in 1991—I don’t know if exciting is the right word—but more chaotic when Bell Atlantic tried to buy TCI.
Cocoros: That was actually 1993. For me personally, that was kind of an alarm that went off because I wasn’t tracking at all on TCI being bought by anybody because we were the largest cable company. So again it was a big lesson for me. It was the first time I had even thought about or heard anything about being bought out and the culture changing and everything kind of being different. I wasn’t alone. I saw a lot of grown men with tears in their eyes because it was one of those things where you recognize something was going to come to an end and change.
Henthorn: But the deal fell through.
Cocoros: That’s correct.
Henthorn: What was that like to be on the sales block?
Cocoros: It was jarring for me personally, but we had a job to do and I wanted to do the best I could and Bob Thomson actually was very supportive in trying to get me in front of the leadership at Bell Atlantic. I remember going to a Christmas event, holiday event, in Virginia I think it was, somewhere in the DC area…and Ray Smith, who was president, I was sitting at his table and I went with John Malone and I went with a couple other of our executives and we sat at the head table just to get to know some of the other people and other executives at Bell Atlantic. It was different. It was a kind of recognition that something is going to be different after this and maybe I’ll be part of it and maybe I won’t.
Henthorn: So let’s move away from TCI and talk a little bit about some of the other things you were involved in. In 1994, you were chosen to be part of the charter class of the Betsy Magness Leadership Institute. And I was in that class with you.
Cocoros: We were the guinea pigs, I think, for the very, very successful WICT program that is now—I don’t know how many classes there are now, but in the way double digits.
Henthorn: It’s class 32 and 33. 800 people have gone through it.
Cocoros: Oh my goodness.
Henthorn: I think WICT was really trying to figure that out back in 1994-1995. But that’s been 20 years.
Cocoros: I was very, very impressed with the class, too. I mean, the people in that class. I knew you. I didn’t know a whole lot of other people in the class. I knew a couple more. But it was a very awesome experience because I wasn’t really quite at the level of leadership that some of the people were, at least title-wise. So I felt like I was trying to step up and try to be in the big leagues. But it was very interesting, the whole program. I’m sure it’s changed now and evolved since we’ve been there but very, very helpful to my career.
Henthorn: So, Lela, in 1996, November, 1996, Bob Magness died and that seems like it was a turning point in the culture at TCI. You want to talk about that?
Cocoros: It was very sad. Bob was always very involved in the company. He wasn’t the person in the spotlight, like John was, but he and John were very, very close. They worked closely together and talked about the business all the time. They had their offices next to one another. So it was really the end of an era when he passed away. It was tough. At the time the company was going through some tough times, some challenges. Our stock was at a very low price and things were just in some disarray. So it came at a tough time, but in 1996, I was also offered—right after Bob passed away—I was offered a job at NBC.
Henthorn: So a turning point for you.
Cocoros: It was a turning point for me as well. I had a sense that…
Henthorn: It’s more like a U-turn. Tell me about that.
Cocoros: Yes, that’s true. At the time—and I really struggled with whether or not I should take the job and go to New York and work for NBC—but I decided to take the opportunity because it was for me an opportunity to have my own team in my own department. And it was a step up for me in that regard. So I went back to New York; very different situation from when I left, from when I was at CAB. It was a great experience at NBC. I was very happy there doing corporate communications and within four weeks I got a call from—
Henthorn: You were working with great people at NBC.
Cocoros: Yes, absolutely. I was working with great people: David Zaslav and Tom Rogers and I worked for Beth Comstock, who is now chief marketing officer of GE and she’s a very, very smart—
Henthorn: What a great team.
Cocoros: She was terrific. Everybody was terrific and she reported to Bob Wright and he was wonderful. I learned a lot. I call it my “semester abroad” because I was there for five months. And the reason I was there for five months was four weeks into my tenure there I came back here to close up my house and pack it up to leave to move everything. When I was packing my phone in the box but right before I unplugged it, because back then you had a plug in the phone…
Henthorn: I haven’t had one of those in awhile.
Cocoros: A lot of people don’t. Anyway I was about to put it in the box and the phone rang and it was Marty Flessner, John Malone’s assistant, who asked me to hold for Leo Hindery. So I held for Leo Hindery. I had known Leo; I had worked briefly with him when the Viacom systems were sold to various companies. And his company, Intermedia, took several of those systems and that was in partnership with TCI. So I was working with him on employee communications when that happened. That was several years before this call came but I got this phone call and he basically made me an offer I couldn’t refuse—to come back to TCI, work with him and the senior team.
Henthorn: That’s such a great story. You’re unplugging the phone and Leo called.
Cocoros: That’s right. And I had no clue. I was very happy at NBC. I was not real happy being back in New York again and I had a young son and my husband had to try to figure out his future because he worked for the state of Colorado when I upended him. So going back to TCI and going back to Colorado was very tempting. It took a few months because of various things but I wound up staying almost through Memorial Day. I actually started my new job, my “new-old” job, my new job at TCI on Memorial Day weekend, 1997. I do mean the weekend. Leo had us on a plane with Marvin Jones going around the country and working that weekend.
Henthorn: So that was Leo Hindery and the “Summer of Love.” What was that like?
Cocoros: We were just starting the Summer of Love.
Henthorn: How were you involved in that? The famous Summer of Love.
Cocoros: That’s right. The famous Summer of Love. I was working with Leo on helping to shore up the company from an image standpoint and from a constituent outreach standpoint. We started with the employees because Leo had done a lot for improving the employee benefits and he also wanted to visit several systems and really get to know the employees. He was very insistent on always going—Leo is always going, he’s always on the go—so you run and catch up and keep up, you’re trying to keep up. So we went to a lot of different towns and cities that we served. We visited a lot of franchise—government officials. We did a lot of work with the press and with our employees and just helping to bring more, you know, better relationships than we had in the past and more attention focused on that. Because I’m in public relations that was a lot of what I did in those early months when I worked with him. The other thing that he did was obviously that Summer of Love, which was to get all the cable companies together and look at our footprints—where we serve customers. And for efficiencies and for a lot of reasons, to make those footprints more concentrated around the markets that we served. So there was a lot of horse trading going around because there were certain systems that were outliers for our own company, and they were a perfect fit for another company and there was a lot of selling and trading going on. So that was what Leo coined the “Summer of Love,” because it strengthened everybody in the whole industry…
Henthorn: That’s a good way to put it: strengthened everybody.
Cocoros: Yes. So that really gave us the opportunity, I think, it gave Leo the opportunity to start the process of selling TCI.
Henthorn: So for you personally, though, that was a great time, I think, and you also got a huge award. You in 1998 got the Vanguard Award for Young Leadership. That’s a very big deal. Congratulations on that.
Cocoros: Thank you.
Henthorn: Tell me about Walter Cronkite and John Malone. That’s pretty cool.
Cocoros: This was during the AT&T-TCI—we had announced our merger and our intent to merge, if you will, in 1998. That was in June, and then later that year, during the Walter Kaitz week, Leo had joined the Museum of Broadcasting—I guess it was called the Museum of Television and Radio, which is now the Paley Center. We could rent the venue of the theater and he challenged me with, “Find something that we can do in that theater.” I remembered I had heard John talking a lot about the Sixties during the Space Race and during all of the NASA and the building of the Apollo Program and all of that and he was very interested in that and he really admired Walter Cronkite for how he covered all of that.
So it dawned on me that maybe since Walter Cronkite was working with John Hendricks at Discovery, and John Malone are both icons in their own right—they were both involved in television but from totally different perspectives. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put them together on stage? So from there I created kind of a concept called “Cronkite and Malone: On Television.” And I called John Hendricks and he thought it was a great idea. I obviously had to run it by Leo and by John. They liked the idea as well and it all came together. It was quite an evening. It was also telecast on C-SPAN or taped for later telecast. It had to go through the appropriate channels, which Brian Lamb definitely reminded me, saying, “I can’t approve this; it has to go through the editorial approval process.” So I submitted it for their consideration and it was taped and it was quite an evening, it was very interesting.
Henthorn: I’ll bet. I hope we have a copy of that here at The Cable Center. [available online at the C-SPAN Video Library: http://www.c-span.org/video/?111881-1/state-television-news]
So tell me about your work with Cable Positive. You were the board chair there.
Cocoros: I was the board chair there later on, but I was always involved in Cable Positive from the time it was created. Jeff Bernstein, one of the co-founders and I started to go out to lunch when he used to work at Request TV during his stint in Denver. We talked a lot about the organization and I was asked to join the board and eventually I was asked to become the board chair. During the time I was board chair, we were undergoing a lot of change. We had created the fundraiser, the dinner, that happened every spring in New York, and those were very successful, but we needed to take it to a new level and we did a job search for a president and that president was Steve Villano, who was such a wonderful advocate for the organization and for the cause. He was just a great person to watch at work. He worked for Mario Cuomo, Governor Cuomo, in New York and had a tremendous command of how to handle the media and how to handle political advocacy and all of those skills that we really needed to put Cable Positive on the map and make it a tremendous success. He created PSA’s with the cable networks that were really wonderful and really raised awareness and money.
Henthorn: I can’t even imagine how many millions and millions of dollars were raised to fight AIDS by Cable Positive.
Cocoros: It was also for education and advocacy. It was the whole research, education and advocacy. All of those areas really benefited from Cable Positive and the industry’s generosity.
Henthorn: While that was going on and you were volunteering there, there was also a lot of merger activity. So let’s go back and talk about the final, the big sale.
Cocoros: Although people may not remember this, but Comcast took their first big acquisition of Jones Intercable here in Denver. That was announced in 1998 and closed in 1999, but that was far overshadowed by what was going on at TCI and AT&T.
Henthorn: Wow, Lela. What are your memories of that?
Cocoros: That was huge. My memories of that were very little sleep especially as the deal was working. I remember going with Leo to New York and sitting in a lot of various rooms of various lawyers’ offices and legal offices. It was very exciting but it was also again, the end of an era. “Gee, I don’t know what is going to happen next.” I met a lot of people at AT&T and worked with them very closely, and had a good experience working with them. But obviously I knew I wasn’t going to stick around.
Henthorn: MediaOne was involved in there also.
Cocoros: Yes. The announcement for MediaOne came, I believe, shortly after we became AT&T Broadband. So AT&T Broadband announced the acquisition of MediaOne in probably 1999, I think it was.
Henthorn: Financially successful; culture clash? How did that all go?
Cocoros: It was announced as a $48 billion deal, I believe, and wound up being a $55 billion deal when it was closed. It was quite a huge news story, obviously. It was a challenge. The culture, it was like polar opposite cultures so that was challenging, but to everybody’s credit, our employees really did—they knew they had a job to do, they knew they had to keep the cable systems running. In the field it wasn’t as big a deal because “Oh, another owner.” Because they had several owners already over the years.
To the corporate group, we were no longer a corporate entity, we were a subsidiary and it was a different vibe going on. But everybody acted very professionally and I think a lot of people just realized that they feel like they’re part of the new organization or it’s time to do something else. And I was the latter.
Henthorn: You were in “the time to do something else.”
Cocoros: That’s correct.
Henthorn: So you became the brave entrepreneur and launched your own business, October Strategies.
Cocoros: I did. In 2000, I left AT&T Broadband and I pursued my own business as a 50-50 partnership with my colleague who worked with me at TCI, LaRae Marsik. She was my VP of media relations at AT&T Broadband and TCI before that. The two of us embarked on a new journey. It was quite a ride. We wound up lasting ten years and it was a very happy and productive ten years. We worked internationally.
Henthorn: Very successful.
Cocoros: We worked for a lot of different companies, a lot of different media-related technology-related—
Henthorn: What was your biggest success?
Cocoros: Probably the IPO for Jupiter Telecommunications, which was the largest MSO in Japan, and it had had a couple of rough goings-on on going out for an IPO and this was their third attempt. They brought us in to communicate more effectively with non-Japanese audiences. So we were reaching out to North America and Europe and trying to tell our story because at the time Jupiter Telecommunications was half-owned by Liberty. I believe it was called Liberty International instead of Liberty Global at the time. Then half-owned by Sumitomo. So it was a joint venture. It was a totally different world for me, but we worked on their website, we overhauled their English-language website, we overhauled all their press releases and we worked closely with their financial people and their operations people to tell their story.
Henthorn: Did you go to Japan?
Cocoros: Oh, yes. We went many times and it was really interesting. It was really a lot of fun, too.
Henthorn: October Strategies was a fun company. It was very fun. I still have my October Strategies oven mitt, which was one of your great party favors, but that wasn’t the best party favor. Tell me what was.
Cocoros: We had a party for six of the ten years. We decided to have these big parties in Denver and just invite everybody we knew. They were a lot of fun, and we had hundreds of people attending these parties, and we had a theme every year so; we tried to do something goofy for the invitation and something goofy for the little parting gift. One year we did salt and pepper shakers that emulated myself and LaRae. LaRae is blond. I’m brunette, so I was pepper and she was salt. And we handed them off to our guests and said, “From the seasoned professionals of October Strategies.” It caught a lot of attention. We got a little blurb in Multichannel News.
Henthorn: How did you get that name, October Strategies?
Cocoros: October Strategies reflects—both of us were born in October. We didn’t want to name the company after ourselves. We just wanted to do something that lended itself to a little bit more smart marketing. October is also the time that most companies plan for the year ahead: budgeting and strategy and things like that. We wanted to emphasize strategy. We wanted to be more than a publicity machine. We wanted to really talk through how you communicate and why you communicate and what you communicate based on what your business goals are, and what you want to accomplish. Not just getting attention. So October Strategies was the choice, and we branded ourselves and we also put out a newsletter called “As the Leaf Turns,” which got a lot of attention in the industry.
Henthorn: I remember that.
Cocoros: It was really a lot of fun. We had ten really good years, we were profitable within six months, and we paid ourselves well. We actually hired a couple of people that we paid well. We had an office in New York toward the end. Then we realized that we had to go bigger or go home. And we started looking around for a partner. We found a company here in Denver—a technology PR firm that we were doing due diligence with and they were interested in us and we were interested in them. Then we just decided, “You know what? If we do this we’re going to have two more partners. We’re going to have to go to an actual office, because we worked virtually.” And we just decided it was better to fold up tent and move on. So that’s what we did.
Henthorn: But you also worked for The Cable Center. I recall that. And then we lured you over to The Cable Center to work with us. You had some big successes.
Cocoros: I love the Cable Center. Even before the building was built I was at the groundbreaking of The Cable Center years ago, and I was a volunteer on a committee back in the day where we were trying to acquire more materials for the Barco Library. So it was coming home, and of course The Cable Center was also one of our clients at October Strategies. So it was a very natural fit for me to come in, and I had two great years here. We did a lot of work on the Cable Hall of Fame. It was the first time the Cable Hall of Fame hit a million dollars, and we also created the Customer Care Committee during that time, and got a sponsor for that. It was a really productive and fulfilling couple of years.
Henthorn: We were glad to have you with us. Now you’ve re-invented yourself as a digital media executive—very cool, Lela.
Cocoros: Yes, I’m working for a digital media company and learning a whole lot of new things about digital media and it was a part of my portfolio that I had not really touched…
Henthorn: Is this postdoctoral work or a PhD?
Cocoros: I guess so. It’s definitely a totally different world in many ways. But there are of course a lot of overlaps with what is going on in the industry. And I certainly keep up with what’s happening in the industry because I can’t just let go. A lot of these things obviously affect—digital compression technology in the early Nineties, the 500-channel universe was one of the announcements that we made back in the early Nineties, that John made, I believe, it was at the Western Show, and started everybody thinking about how could we fill 500 channels. So it really started that dialogue.
Henthorn: Tell me about the people that most influenced you in the industry.
Cocoros: There are very many to mention—
Henthorn: We don’t have time for you to mention all of them. How about doing the top six or seven?
Cocoros: Obviously John Malone. Just watching him. I was lucky to be around him for fifteen years and just absorb how he went about strategy in business. Leo Hindery, who not only did strategy but also executed brilliantly on a plan and just never stopped. And was always working and always trying to do things to move us forward. If the goal was there, he was always carrying the ball to move us forward. Bob Thomson, who was a mentor to me, taught me a lot about diplomacy and consensus-building and a lot of leadership skills. And he was really very adept at that, and nobody worked a room better.
Colleen Abdoulah. I was lucky enough to be a colleague of Colleen’s when she was at TCI and her standing up for the customer and standing up for the employees and the fact that she was able to take that and turn that into running her own company and doing things the way she always wanted to do them. At a place like TCI, it was not possible for her to do what she wanted to do there with customers. She just was an inspiration.
Then, in terms of people I didn’t really know, but I’ve always admired Ted Turner, because he was a risk taker and he was so darn interesting and entertaining and committed to the business and starting CNN. Brian Lamb of C-SPAN for the same reason – a different type of person but for the same reasons; he had a vision and he stuck to it. Then Bill Bresnan, who I was able to work with a little bit, who started The Cable Center and was so wonderful to be around. Also he just was an inspiration because he was very funny and very personable and very supportive.
Henthorn: Great jokes and great Minnesota accent.
So tell me, Lela, in your opinion, what’s the big story about the cable industry that needs to be told, that needs to be out there?
Cocoros: When you look back on all of what the industry has accomplished, it’s probably just simply that we really changed the way people communicate, the way people are entertained and educated. So all the infrastructure we put in place way back when has evolved into the communications and education and entertainment that we enjoy today and the ways in which we do it. The wireless, the mobile, all of that I think stemmed from our infrastructure. The broadband infrastructure and the satellite technology and how we shepherded it into the home. So I think you can point to all of what we did as an industry and you see it today—just in a different form.
Henthorn: This is probably too big of a question but what do you see as the major impact that the cable industry has had on society? Chop that down; tell me one or two.
Cocoros: What comes immediately to mind is Ted Turner said something and I am going to paraphrase it. I don’t really know exactly the quote but he said something to the effect that—
Henthorn: He said a lot of things.
Cocoros: Yes, he did. When he started CNN he said, “Now nowhere in the world will it be dark.” In other words, just the communication, the ability to inform and enlighten. If you kind of fast forward to the age of Twitter, when Twitter started to create for better or for worse, a lot of change in the world. That whole idea that we’ve changed the world through our ability to tell stories, to communicate with people and to educate so people who didn’t have a chance necessarily to go to the Library of Congress, right, and actually get some materials and see them there, can see them online. That’s true with museums, it’s true with libraries, it’s true with schools, that’s very powerful. If it weren’t for cable, that wouldn’t be happening.
Henthorn: Lela, it’s been delightful talking with you and I wanted to know if you have any final impressions or thoughts, comments, reminiscing?
Cocoros: Well, thirty years in the business there are a lot of stories.
Henthorn: Some of which you can’t tell.
Cocoros: Some of which we can share right here. I guess the parting thoughts are that the people in the industry that I have been lucky enough to have met and have worked with; I don’t think I could have asked for a better career, more better opportunity to meet so many wonderful and smart, talented people from all walks of life. And the pioneers of the industry have always fascinated me because they all have such incredible stories. Bill Bresnan, when he passed away, I was here at The Cable Center and we were working on the tribute video to him. It just really struck me when you hear these heartfelt stories about these people and what they’ve accomplished. And Glenn Jones passing away recently. I went to Bill Daniels’ memorial service, I went to Peter Barton’s memorial service. It just hits you how lucky you are when you’re in this business. And to have all of these people mentor you, support you, just work alongside. You can learn from them. You can’t ask for anything more out of a career because it’s more than just a career, it’s your life.
Henthorn: That’s right.
Cocoros: It’s connected in so many ways.
Henthorn: It’s in your bloodstream.
Cocoros: It is. You can never get it out. I never want to. I want to keep it as long as I can. I want to keep the memories because it was a great ride.
Henthorn: Amen to that, Lela.
END OF INTERVIEW