Interview Date: April 29, 2014
Interviewer: Larry Satkowiak
Interview location: Los Angeles CA
Collection: Hauser Collection
Satkowiak: It’s April 29, 2014. We’re at the Los Angeles Cable Show. We are with Mark Dzuban. Mark, welcome.
Dzuban: Thank you, Larry.
Satkowiak: Let’s just get straight into it. Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up, what part of the country are you from?
Dzuban: Well, I appreciate I had a chance to think about it. It’s funny, we’re moving so fast it’s like I actually had to think about my childhood and it should be natural, right? So I was born in Somerville, New Jersey, a little hospital, about forty beds, and it was a farming community. My mother was a telephone operator and my father worked in a Union Carbide plant not too far away. He’d just got out of the Army, I guess, a couple of years prior to that.
If I look at it today and what the culture is today in our environment, it’s kind of interesting because it’s a little bit of a different world. My mother’s side, my grandmother was a Quaker. My grandfather on my mother’s side was an Irish coal miner family and they were from Pennsylvania. My grandmother was from Chester County. Actually we recently discovered that the barn that we live in—we live in a Revolutionary War-era barn—was on the 5,000 acre land grant that William Penn willed to my great-great-grandmother’s family.
Satkowiak: Didn’t know that.
Dzuban: Till we actually did the title search. On my father’s side, it’s interesting. They came over in, I guess, the turn of the century around World War I. My grandmother is Ukrainian and she’s actually related to the Tatars. Genghis Khan was a Tatar and Kubla Khan was a Tatar. It was during the occupation of the Ukraine in, I guess, between the year 1000 and 1300. My grandfather was Polish-Czech so the name Dzuban (an umlaut is missing) was from that era.
Satkowiak: You would have had the simple name in my neighborhood. You didn’t really have to buy a vowel in order to pronounce Dzuban.
You started off in electronics at a pretty early age. I know you had a real interest in tearing apart televisions. It’s one of the things we’ve talked about over time. How did you get an interest in the kind of career that you eventually ended up being in?
Dzuban: I kind of tried to trace that; I had a lot of influence by my father. I guess it was the Thirties, during the Depression, work was hard to find and his family was generally into welding and machinists. He said, “I don’t want to do that, I don’t want it.” Because it was almost like a caste system in Eastern Europe. You’re born and raised to work on a farm; that’s what you’re going to do. He said, “I don’t want to do that. I want to do something different.” He actually ran away and joined the CCC corps. They sent him to training to be a surveyor and I have a picture of him in a surveyor’s hut in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a radio in it that he used to check in as a surveyor while he was surveying the elk migration route and that became the Bureau of Land Management property.
So his affinity for the radio became something that when I grew up, there were radio parts and there was a laboratory in the basement, a workbench, an oscilloscope, and all that kind of stuff. He was working for Westinghouse as an engineer. And I kind of grew up with it. It may sound crazy, but on a Saturday morning, the whole Slovak neighborhood was at the dumps looking for stuff, right? And I was cutting resistors and parts out of TV sets and taking tubes and we were testing them. My father showed me how to use a tube tester, how to read resistors to help him. And that was kind of the genesis of the relationship with cable because some of the first amplifiers he built were in mailboxes with homemade chassis and hole punches building out the tube sockets and putting it together. I think there were channel 2 through 3 amplifiers. They were used in Easton, Pennsylvania, in a system that was being built by…what became Twin County Trans-Video.
Satkowiak: Your father was an electrical engineer.
Dzuban: No, he was somewhat self-taught. But he was a surveyor and he was a certified surveyor. But because he was good in math and science, he was one of these technicians who came up through the ranks, became a non-degree engineer. He worked on some projects relative to the Apollo Project and he worked on backpack communications. Energy, especially, was one of his subjects—energy management. That was all about efficient power consumption by radio equipment that was used on some of the space programs. So that was kind of the beginning of probably my energy interests.
Satkowiak: It’s interesting knowing your later history and I know that’s one of the areas that you’re very interested in as well. We also share a hobby together, both being ham radio operators and so you got into that, I know, as a youngster as well.
Dzuban: Ham radio is kind of interesting because it’s a manifestation of things that you think about that you can actually do that becomes really a career path because of the experience. My father was a nuts-and-bolts guy. He liked to build and he liked to experiment. We called it the “smoke test” when he plugged something in—“did you see smoke, or not? Did it actually work?” We did a lot of that. It was actually very helpful because it eliminated the whole fear of failing. Because we failed a lot. But yet we made things work and it was a great education, learning about what worked, what didn’t. And then the science of really the analytical side to prepare for designs and building something. So we actually had a pretty good idea if it was going to work or not. So it was the combination of the analytics and the empirical that was for me very attractive and I ended up getting my first class broadcast license, I guess, when I was sixteen or seventeen. When I went in the Army, they had asked me to go into the Signal Corps and I said, “I want to do something different.” I heard about data processing and IT so I had an organization I went to in the service. It was how to use a core processor and it was basically tracking weapons and ammunition and vehicles and tanks and that kind of stuff. It was the first data processing using card processors.
Satkowiak: Let’s talk about your military career. I know you were drafted, I believe? What year was that?
Dzuban: It was interesting because my mother didn’t believe it. She said to me, “Why do I have to go to the draft office?” I said, “Because I volunteered for the draft.” She thought it was a joke. “OK, OK, I’ll drop you off.” What happened was during the Vietnam War, there was an accelerated draft and the draft was for relatively large number of folks. February 14th, Valentine’s Day, 1966. So I looked at the date and I’m going, “Oh, that puts me in basic training. I’ll probably have to go in July or August and I volunteered to go on February 14th because it was cool. And I have this affinity for cold weather. I like it. Maybe it’s part of the Ukrainian DNA, I’m not sure. But I actually enjoyed it to an extent because I was eighteen years old, I was on my own, I was independent, I grew up with a family that military was a requirement for all the men. My father was in North Africa and Italy. My uncles were in Europe. One of them actually worked for the Nuremberg Trials, hunting Nazis. So it was something at the dinner table we talked about all the time.
I had to fill out the “dream sheet,” when the guy said to me, “I’ve got to check you out because nobody volunteers to go to Alaska and Greenland and Korea and Vietnam. They usually want to go to Germany or Japan. I said, “I want to go to someplace that’s interesting.”
Satkowiak: And you were in the Army. Where were you stationed?
Dzuban: First stationed in Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training. Then I went to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana which was kind of the data processing center but it was also around support for logistics, which was combat logistics. Then I went to Korea. I went to Eighth Army headquarters originally and they weren’t quite sure where to ship me so I was in the arriving depot for 24 hours. Now they only serve one kind of meal three times a day, but it’s chili. So I had three meals of chili and I said, “I’ve got to get out of here.” Although I love chili, but not that much. So the guy said to me, “We have a slot here at Eighth Army headquarters in Seoul. Would you like to try it out? But you take tours on the DMZ, they kind of rotate you out.” I was a private, but I was a private now getting combat pay and the combat pay was more than I was making as a private. So I enjoyed Korea, but it was an experience that I walked out, I had changed, I had grown up a lot. I was really managing some of the—people don’t realize the Korean War officially was a ceasefire in 1954. As far as I was concerned, they were still shooting.
Satkowiak: That was a dangerous place. I remember my military side of things. Korea was one of those places you really didn’t want to go because people didn’t understand what was going on over there, especially near the DMZ.
Dzuban: We had a lot of casualties. For me it was the first experience of carrying a loaded gun and actually going on patrol. My sergeant said to me, “Dzuban, you fall asleep on this outpost, I’m going to shoot you before the North Koreans get to you.” So it was pretty serious stuff and it was really my entrée to being responsible. When I got out at twenty—I was in Korea in a combat zone for sixteen months—I grew up a lot.
Satkowiak: You know, we’re both proud to be veterans. It’s kind of funny; just skipping ahead a little bit, I know you’re still involved with veterans in the cable industry and been involved with some of the initiatives with NCTA. While we’re talking about military service, can you talk about that for a minute?
Dzuban: Sure. I guess if I look at my experience with people who—and that’s men and women, not just men—who have gone through the military experience, it’s really a great education on priorities of life. It’s kind of interesting, the simple things—I mean, you see death, I mean you see things that occur that you’d never ever expect as a civilian. You really see what’s important and what’s not. And you really kind of sort of those that go in as paperboys, playing baseball with them, they come out as very responsible people. They sat with their back in a foxhole with you, covering your back and your life depended on it. And those people were not only responsible, they had a way of almost a look that became part of that experience. Even if you didn’t serve overseas, it was an experience around discipline, responsibility, taking commands and delivering and executing.
Satkowiak: Understanding a mission.
Dzuban: That’s very simply done. It’s understanding a mission. So the folks that I’ve worked with—and the proof is in the pudding—that have come out of the service and are looking for a job, they may have started as an installer, they may have had some good technical experience, we put them in the job and they just excel. It was a rate of success far greater than the folks that came out of the field with really no background, never had much experience in the workplace but really took the work seriously and the odds of success were very high when we used veterans.
Satkowiak: I definitely think that’s true today, maybe even more so.
You spent two years in the military, you spent time in Korea, you came back Stateside, got out of the military. Where did you go from there?
Dzuban: I looked at the GI Bill but the GI Bill is related to how many months you spent in service. So I said, “I’d like to start my own business, but let me run my GI Bill as far as I can go.” But I had been going to Rutgers before I was drafted and didn’t have enough credits so I was working fulltime. My father was of the notion that you have to figure out how to be responsible first, then you could go to college on top of that…I was going to school, but I couldn’t avoid the draft. Actually from a family perspective, I wasn’t going to avoid it. I was responsible, I was going to be a patriot, that my family’s tradition was to do it so I went in. And when I got out, I basically said, all right, what can I do, I started back at Westinghouse just to get back to work and then I went to Vikoa for a short stint but then I went back to school fulltime and got my associate’s degree in electrical engineering and I started another degree in civil engineering.
Satkowiak: I know you’re married so you must have gotten married somewhere around this time. Am I right on that?
Dzuban: You are right but there’s two parts to that. It was probably typical of getting out of the service when I hadn’t driven in a vehicle more than 25 miles an hour for almost a year-and-a-half. I felt like I was an old man. I had carried a gun for a long time and it was almost no law. And it was a place that was almost surreal. So I had to go through some conditioning when I got home.
I ended up marrying the first woman I met, who was a dental assistant. Actually we had a no-fault separation and it was actually one of those deals where I didn’t blame her, there was no issue, it was me coming out of the service and really needed to just get my head straight first. And then I met my lovely wife, Shirley, thereafter. We’ve been married for 33 years, going on 34. She’s a sweetheart. She accepted my early days of the bad dreams and not knowing where I was and any kind of bang was an issue. In fact my parents, when I first got home, took the door off the bedroom after I blew through it twice. And that’s part of your survival training; actually it’s something important.
Satkowiak: It is, and I understand that obviously, too. Do you have children?
Dzuban: I do. Two. One’s 27, the other one is 33 and I’m proud of them both, hardworking. My son is a manager of a new business around rental and storage; he’s a manager. My daughter went to Fairleigh Dickinson. They both went to school. The son graduated from Cordon Bleu as a chef but then also graduated with a business degree so he’s using the business degree. My daughter went to Fairleigh Dickinson and graduated there and worked and now I have a five-year old grandson and probably in October, maybe a new one.
Dzuban: I’m thrilled.
Satkowiak: Been there, done that, too. We’re up to six at this point so it’s a real joy.
Let’s pick it up from Vikoa career-wise. Where did you go from Vikoa?
Dzuban: Vikoa was interesting because it was really a very serious approach to cable when we were starting to mature when cable was really a method of filling in dead areas of coverage for large metro markets. Now it was really growing, had much more diversity, news was much more important. And then the whole notion of potentially delivering other services on top of it, not off-air. So at Vikoa I had a chance to build a lot of products—actually in the museum of the Cable Center, the Vikoa products, the 467 line extender, I worked on the Bullet and that’s a little amplifier device and I think there’s a bunch of other amplifiers and switching power supplies. But it’s really the transition from tube devices—which are mission type of amplifiers—to semiconductors. And I had the great privilege of really getting educated by some of the best in the business: TRW and Motorola and others, who were building silicon devices that would be applied to the problem-solving in the new equipment.
Satkowiak: And I know you eventually ended up at AT&T.
Dzuban: I actually started my own company for a short period of time, got that launched, we sold it. Then I started a company before I went to AT&T that lasted just a short period of time. I like starting companies, getting an idea, then selling it and then moving on. So what happened after Vikoa though is I had the notion that there were some other things I wanted to do and I went to a small operating company. I kind of went from manufacturing to operations out in the field. I ran a field technical force. I was equivalent to the field engineer for a little company in Toms River, New Jersey, called Clear Cable. In fact I met my wife there when I was on top of a 300-foot tower working on antennas and dropped, I think, either a wrench or screwdriver and it went through the hood of my boss’ car. That was memorable. But it just shows you wear a hardhat and stay clear of the bottom of the tower.
But it was a great experience. I loved it and because there actually was a lot of fishing, I carried a fishing pole in the back of the four-wheel drive and then I had a station wagon too. But what was important about going to AT&T was I worked with a company shortly thereafter that was affiliated with TCI. It was called Cross Country Cable. Cross County Cable did a lot of franchising that was imminent that it would be sold; most likely TCI had the first right of refusal. Then if TCI wanted to, it could be moved to another potential partner. So I got to know John Malone, I met a lot of the folks—Larry Romrell, the CTO at the time–Dave Willis. Remember Dave Willis?
Satkowiak: Dave helped us at the Cable Center a lot.
Dzuban: Just a great crew. Then it became interesting because I did a lot of the franchising work. What was interesting was I not only did the franchising I had to deliver what I sold. So I was very conscious about what you deliver because you actually have to build it out. And we had some futuristic things in there that were important.
I went to AT&T because it was a great opportunity to take the next step. I really implemented a lot of the thinking that I couldn’t do in the field in cable operations but the whole notion of putting voice on cable, of putting high-speed data on cable or putting a lot of other services—that was a notion of mine. Actually we did it in the franchising as conceptual. Then we could actually take a stab at working with Bell Labs and doing it.
Satkowiak: You were one of the pioneers in VOIP for the cable industry in a lot of ways.
Dzuban: I was and I actually have to share the value with Bob Stanzione. He was my partner at Bell Labs.
Satkowiak: I didn’t know that.
Dzuban: Yes, he was, and it was just a great story because they were working on the first laser distribution systems to drive optical networks. If you just look at the fundamental math and science, the very long cascades were problematic, they were part of the reliability and performance issues. The optical network that was being designed by Bell Labs for analog systems, which was to reduce the cascades, really improved our performance a lot, it improved our bandwidth.
Now it also put us in another category of service that allowed us to potentially carry carrier services that were traditional carriers, like telephone and data. So I kind of did a rough view of what this looked like and I presented it to a bunch of folks in the cable business. Apparently somebody from Bell Labs had heard about it. I was working in England, I was finishing work on a franchise that we had won in Brighton, England, and the AT&T cable was coming up out of the Channel to the train station, British Rail, where they were going to run a long distance throughout England. It was connecting England to France and AT&T’s typical international play, right?
So I was talking to the guys, I’m going, “This is great. Tell me more about it.” I was learning a lot from them, and that’s what I like to do, ask a lot of questions. “So what do you do?” I said, “Here’s what I do.” And we actually drew a schematic of how you could put telephone on cable and how we could do it. And they were going, “Oh, this will probably work.” It was one of these, have you heard the atomic bomb was on a napkin? This was on a napkin, too. But it was great because it was the concept that said, “This is feasible. This is really feasible.” Therefore there was investment in a number of areas that not only AT&T and Bell Labs—to be a member of the technical staff of Bell Labs and MTS when I was working with folks like Penzias, discoverer of the black hole, sat at our lunch table. Of course the draw was on Friday, all the macaroni and cheese you could eat for $1.99. I mean it was just brilliant to sit at the table with these folks and learn a lot from them. That really inspired me to really think about what we could do in these cable networks and it turned into real products. I worked with CableLabs for about five years as the AT&T representative to the industry and I knew everybody. So it was very friendly.
Satkowiak: What years?
Dzuban: Probably 1991 to 1996. We did the deal in 1997 which was the, 1996-1997, which was the telecomm bill I worked on with AT&T, which was to allow the cable industry to deliver informational services and telephone was one of them and high-speed data and some other things. That was the gateway; we had the technology and now the legal/regulatory part to be able to launch it.
Satkowiak: And your title when you were there?
Dzuban: I was the SVP of engineering at AT&T.
Satkowiak: So you were there for the merger with MediaOne, TCI, those days?
Dzuban: Absolutely. In fact, when we did the TCI deal, it was kind of funny because in the book by Leslie Cauley, “The End of the Line,” Mike Armstrong, who was the chairman and CEO at the time, said, “I think we have a cable guy here. Where is he?”
So I met him on the elevator and he said, “Are you the cable guy?” And I said, “I am proud to be the cable guy.” The term ‘cable guy’ at AT&T was not always a very distinguished title. In fact somebody said to me, “If we ever have a nuclear disaster, we’ll send Dzuban in to do the repairs.” Only because it was like I was dispensable. But that was a little bit of humor.
But anyway, it was a great experience and he said to me, “Can we do this?” It’s all captured in the book by Leslie Cauley. Tony Warner is in there…
Satkowiak: We have it in our library. I know that for a fact.
Dzuban: It was a great experience and I’m very fortunate to have that opportunity.
Satkowiak: When you left, where did you go from there?
Dzuban: I had a company, it was called Hatteras Consulting, and it was actually a company that was designed to look at a few projects that I wanted to launch when I left AT&T, which I was there for probably close to ten years. Which was amazing because the work I usually do is to start a company and then turn it over in about three years. So this was a little bit longer than I’d normally done but I liked the environment. It was great people, great education. As long as there is value and I enjoy it…it’s not all about the money, either. I would say that if somebody said, “What about all these deals? You had opportunities.” I guess I was more interested in learning and the experience of things that I was doing that was of personal interest and the money kind of came with it. So I guess I’m like a lot of technical people, that’s not my primary interest in life, but it’s been part of a success. I’ve been very fortunate.
Satkowiak: Always one of those pieces of advice we give students. First find something you enjoy doing and if you’re good at it, hopefully the money will follow. I think that’s good for anybody.
Dzuban: But Hatteras Consulting was a way to sort through a couple of projects I wanted to do. And then I got a call from some of the folks who had actually worked at Bell Labs. They said to me, “So we know about your idea about IP networking which is the next generation of network…from a technology perspective, all IP networks.” It was moving from the analog to the digital domain. And I said, “Yes, and here are a couple of concepts.” So I looked at three or four projects at Hatteras Consulting I had. I think this is interesting. There’s a company called Net2Phone that Tony Werner and I and some others and I said, “Hey, let’s look at this, see what we can do to get them a step up from a technology perspective.” So we did that for a year. That was IP networking. We learned a lot with those guys. They were very good partners to work with.
Then I moved on as vice-chairman of Cedar Point. That was the first IP switch to really deliver to the cable industry IP voice and at that point in time, Motorola and Comcast were my stakeholders to launch it.
Satkowiak: Did the cable industry embrace VOIP right away or is this one of these things that had to evolve through the contacts and persistence?
Dzuban: It had to evolve. But what was most important in the evolution was analog telephone and the NIU in the side of the house that used more traditional 64-kilobit voice channels, but it was a way to get the application into the marketplace that technologically had to evolve. In fact one of the things we did at AT&T was important. It was moving to a digital network and that the decision to go IP was instrumental because they were looking at ATM and some other solutions. But the whole notion of going IP was important for the solution to be effective—the kind of service we were looking for at the right price point. The technology was evolving so everybody looked at IP as a toy. It wasn’t a toy. In fact, there are some great folks we had—I think one of them was out of the CTO of the FCC on IP, who was an expert that I worked with at Bell Labs at the time. So we had great subject matter experts on the technology.
Satkowiak: Did you ever think it would evolve to where we are nowadays? The prominence it has in the cable industry.
Dzuban: I wasn’t sure, but I guess I’m fortunate in—somebody says to me, “What’s the legacy you want to leave in life?” I said, “Having started something that most people argued with me that it would never fly and now it’s a billion dollar business.” And that’s happened in a couple of cases. I mean, I didn’t do it by myself. I felt that I was an enabler, one that was able to show that it would work and then as a team, we all pulled together to make it a business. In fact, when I left AT&T Broadband, we had 500,000 phone lines on and a concept two years earlier that it would never fly.
Satkowiak: There was always a good feeling amongst the engineers working on cable and working on these projects to help each other. When one person has an idea, you would build upon somebody else’s idea. It was a curiosity that you probably developed early on in life that helped you through this stage, I would imagine. You know, everything leads up to that point.
You were still at Cedar Point, I think, when the SCTE job came open. Tell me a little bit about that process.
Dzuban: Sure. This had a lot to do with people that I know that I feel responsible for, too. SCTE was at a point where if I looked at SCTE, it wasn’t of interest to me like I had an interest in SCTE earlier. From a technology perspective, I was interested in IP networking. I think SCTE was more the fundamental of the front end customer experience with installers and maybe some of the field techs. I was very interested in the science and technology around deploying voice. What are the other perspectives of the science? What are some of the other things I can look at to help solve problems? I mean, it’s really a puzzle you need to put together with a lot of minds putting together these solutions. I think SCTE was prime for evolving. This outfit wasn’t bad, it was a great organization, it was founded by folks that were really hands-on applied scientists from an empirical perspective. They launched cable, they evolved it, got it to a point. But to get to the next level, I think it was no longer just potentially an entertainment system. The entertainment was actually in time going to be the secondary value, I think, in the future. It’s going to be around—we’ll talk about it probably a little later. There was a lot of value that we, I think, our networks were…
Satkowiak: What year did you come to head SCTE?
Dzuban: It was 2009. I had pretty much done my work at Cedar Point. We had deployed 6, 7, 8,000,000 lines and it was mature and the interest is all about the cutting edge, about the experience of doing something exciting and innovative and really being able to move. And I think that was the time of the business that it would normally be sold. So I figured I need a new challenge. Tony Werner and Mike LeJoie said to me, “We have a mission for you.” They are two guys I’ve known for a very long time, I feel very obligated to. They fool around with me all the time. They said, “We’ve got this mission for you and here’s what we think we need to do to really create a material opportunity for SCTE in a very optimistic way as far as its future.” And that was my mission.
Satkowiak: You know there can’t be two other better people in your line of work than Tony Werner and Mike LeJoie to work with on these things and I know they helped shape the mission of SCTE and kind of where you’re at now. What were the bigger challenges when you first came to SCTE that you had to overcome? What was the biggest, maybe?
Dzuban: So I did approximately six to eight months of assessment and the assessment was around what is it today? Because I wasn’t that close to it. I didn’t even know the previous CEO; I had never met him before. I understood some of the history, but I was more interested in ET, Expo and not necessarily the inner workings of SCTE from an administrator perspective. So I really didn’t know much about it.
I got some great coaching from Tony and Mike. Here’s a vision. The vision was to be material in the marketplace. Think of it as a workforce as a pyramid. I’ve got the sweeet seat at say the top of the pyramid and if you just do the volume of the workforce, then you have the front liners, really the customer ambassadors, from the installer and service and maintenance folks. The discussion was how do we create a holistic value proposition that can not only enhance the value and step it up but create a value proposition for the senior technical folks so that the portfolio value was right across the board. And it took me awhile to do that. What was important about it is soliciting the feedback from these folks and looking at the marketplace, looking at our chapters. The thing about channels of training and development, does it happen in one? No, it’s actually many channels that create the value because to get to people’s minds and to alter the way they think and to provide them alternative thinking, it comes in a lot of different directions. So we looked at direct training, we looked at training in chapters, we looked at training at Expo from a potential…and what you see is that vision of 2009-2010 manifesting itself as real products and the discipline of how do we make material change. It’s always easy to migrate back to where you’re comfortable because you did it for ten or twenty years, but the change is the most difficult part.
And I have a great staff. I have folks that are willing to probably put up with me, pushing hard. Things don’t happen by themselves. I think the whole notion of a vision and then everyday looking at it: where are we, and how much progress have we made, and making some tough calls. People align or are we doing the work right? Working with people to get things done.
Satkowiak: The industry is changing so much at this time. You’re in the training business and really Comcast, Time Warner Cable, a number of cable companies depend on what you’re doing. You have to do your job well in order for them to do their job well. You’re concerned about your constituency and your members; the technology is changing and so it’s not just a television service anymore. You’ve got all these other technologies plus new things. You get right in the middle of that and so it must have been times when you sat there doing your evaluation and saying, “Gee”—you not only look at the present, but you have to look at the future and where the changes are going to be. Nothing happens overnight with these things. So in the time that you’ve been there, I’ve definitely seen an evolution of SCTE moving in a very definite direction to give your members a better experience. So the SCTE that you have now is certainly much different than when you got there.
I remember one of the first things we talked about was a thing you used to call the business of engineering. Can you tell us what that is and what does that mean?
Dzuban: Sure. Let me frame it too because the business of engineering is the product of a relationship that I wanted to build. When I came on board in 2009, if I looked at NCTA and CableLabs and ourselves, and other members of the industry, it was a rather loose relationship. There was a mission and a navigational direction that I think SCTE thought was right for them, but not necessarily aligned with the bigger picture. The MSO influence was minimal although it was there. We also had a few things we needed to solve. One was that our board…our bylaws require all board members to be elected, but if you want to get Tony Werner or Mike LeJoie or John Schantz. Cordova may have won but some of the others it was more difficult because you had to run, you had to promote the election. These guys are noses to the grindstone but they’re very influential and they’re visionaries. So we went through a bylaws change that basically organized it with the great insight of the folks that were in 2009 the original board members. We basically said, “We have to make change.” And working with me, we changed the bylaws to have eight elected and seven appointed members. Now we have a governance organization, we have a nominations organization to look for best in class to work with us, to really position us in the marketplace. But they frame it even better—you have to have a vision, right? The vision is, how do we become a partner of NCTA, CableLabs and SCTE? Because actually a very logical progression of a position at SCTE could really focus on and build value. Think about it in the notion of fundamental business. NCTA legal regulatory policy. Michael Powell is a great ally of mine, the whole team over there, Barbara York. I love Dave Snowden and Bill _____________ is a great partner of mine. We built that relationship. We still have more to go, but we’re building it.
So you look at that. That’s the front end. Then you look at CableLabs, which is the next generation of science and technology to allow our industry to provide tools and direction for the sciences to build new revenue and new applications so that in the marketplace we’re not only relevant, we actually have a forward-looking view of what a constant wave of new revenue would look like and we’re the applied science side. We’re the side of the partnership that, kind of the triple-play that says, once you have a notion or an idea of a specification of a new product and maybe associated revenue from a high level, how do you launch it? So we’re partnered with CableLabs and it manifested itself at the pre-conference expo last year as a trial of DOCSIS 3.1, and actually how do you deploy it? And how do you launch it so that your customer experience is optimal? You’re not really using the customer as kind of the guinea pig, which is problematic, but how do you do it in a way that optimizes customer experience? Then how do you deploy technology and reduce the time to half that it would take if we didn’t do it? So think about a methodology that delivers to the marketplace not only the vision but how do you do it in shorter timetable, higher quality, and sustain it to be optimal in the marketplace? That’s our job.
Satkowiak: One of the other things that you worked on an awful lot is energy management and I think a lot of people don’t understand that if you can reduce the power consumption in a headend by a certain percentage, that you’re actually saving money on something as simple as utility bills. So tell me about your efforts in energy management and what you’re doing at SCTE.
Dzuban: It started again with some thinking that was a motivator. $1.2 billion dollar electric bill or energy bill by the industry, which is a relatively high number. Now some circles are going, well, it’s a small percentage of my expenses and this and that but the problem is if I looked at the trends, the trends were pretty clear that the cost of energy was going to increase. It was probably the largest element of unreliability in all networks, not just ours, in carrier networks and just about all forms of telecommunications. The bottom line is it is movement of the electron in a reliable way. And in an efficient way.
There were some other things that I learned from my experiences at the labs and elsewhere that as the core temperature of our systems decreased, the mean time between failure doubled, which means it was more reliable. So the lower the energy consumption, the less heat you develop, the more reliable the facilities were. And it you looked at the problems you need to solve is how do we improve the reliability because there are some applications coming down the road that could be a huge opportunity for us. It was like high-speed data and voice, there’s more. There’s a queue of great opportunity that I think we’re going to be in a catbird seat to deliver and we’re paving the way for that.
Satkowiak: I think a lot of people don’t think about—when they think about SCTE, they think about education and training and they don’t think about the practical side of the business. There are efficiencies that you can wring out of the system and actually helps the environment and everything else along the way.
Dzuban: We have a program we started. It was called “SEMI,” in 2009, and it really started to open up the whole view of different energy alternatives, what was economically viable, what was not. Carbon footprinting, which was an efficient use of energy in our facilities. There is a consumer view of the use of energy and I know that carbon footprinting is something that they look to see if they’re going to buy a product, are you energy-efficient, and what’s that story. When we launched it we had a lot of good ideas and I guess my experience in the venture capital world building ideas from scratch—you probably have the 80-20 rule. When you take risk, you have the 80-20 rule in one direction, you find 20% of mistakes but that’s what you need to learn to get to the objective, right? That’s part of the learning process. On the venture capital side, it was the 20-80 rule which meant about 20% of the things you looked at were going to be viable business cases and that it was just part of I guess the law of nature in opportunity, right?
So when we looked at all of those things that can make material change, there was a few. Certainly energy reduction was one because it was an immediate expense line benefit as simple as most people got their electric bill and just threw it into be paid and never actually checked. “Is that power supply we’re being charged for actually exist?” Many of them didn’t. Power supply loading: they were never loaded to efficiency and saturable core technology requires more than 60, they like 80% utilization to be energy efficient. They’re not energy efficient if they’re well below that. There’s a lot of power supply sitting on poles we’re paying for that didn’t have anything on them. Or just a small number of devices.
So we started with that. We actually explored the use of hydrogen, which is one of the most common elements on Earth. I believe that’s the longterm energy source. We actually have a fuel cell in our facility that runs; we have photovoltaic; we sell 17 kilowatts of energy back to the utility everyday as long as there is wonderful sun. If you notice on our emails, it says, “Powered by the Sun”—because we have a 7 kw system of photovoltaic with batteries and fuel cells that can run our IT system for five to seven days. And we’re going to lengthen that with a projected view of looking at how do we generate our own hydrogen from water because the fuel cell—what’s the output of the fuel cell? Water. So it’s one of the cleanest and one of the most effective longterm fuels.
So the applied science piece says, “We’re not going to be visionaries out to the year 2050, we’re going to be visionaries out five to ten years.” So when you’re purchasing products or you’re thinking about what’s the next step, we can help you with that decision on not just doing what you do but what you do better, right?
Satkowiak: Let’s talk about some of the educational initiatives at SCTE and let’s just start with kind of the basics. What’s your vision for the members and certification for your membership in the cable industry itself?
Dzuban: There are a couple of parts to it. The traditional focus was on the front liners, mostly installer/field technicians. Let’s call the definition of a broader scope looking at advanced engineering. I hired the first CTO, Daniel Howard. Daniel Howard I’m very proud of. He’s from Georgia Tech. He’s one of the patent holders for DOCSIS and he was CTO of a company that was bought by Broadcom called Digital Furnace. They design compression, all kinds of things our industry is very interested in and he was going to help me define some of the new products. But what’s interesting is a lot of the products that we’ve built have not been through the origin of saying to the marketplace, what do you need? Because they’re tactical folks. Daniel brought strategic thinking. One of those problems that looked like we need to solve that may just not be obvious and that kind of content that would follow to build it. So we’ve grown significantly in revenue and our portfolio to include different levels of training as an example. A lot of things you look at you’ll see a word or a formula. And it’s almost like Pavlovian training, right? To pull the lever to get your biscuit kind of thing for the dog, which I have a cat that does that. But what’s important about it is training comes in all kinds of channels and one statistic that even may be older now is that twenty years ago when our technical force was developing, many of those folks are ham radio operators so they had good technical skills themselves. They knew signal levels, they knew carriers, they could measure stuff, they knew how to use a voltmeter, hone stuff out. They understood coax and connectors. Today that’s not the case. It takes four times the remedial training to develop an associate’s degree than it did twenty years ago.
Satkowial: That’s amazing.
Dzuban: And if we look at our intent, an associate’s degree in the next couple of years you’ll see SCTE partnerships that we’re working on with colleges and universities that will be accredited. For now our certification is important because you don’t want to go to a formal degree. It is a benchmark that we hold in high regard because it’s a level of competency. It’s a level of skills that you could be reassured that you’ll see the benefit. In fact, SouthernLINC, I have to give Jerry Canton and Terry Cordova and that whole team kudos because they’ve got the SCTE benefits literally aligned to the customer experience. And you can see a few points of benefit by the SCTE certification training. You can actually see it manifest itself in business. That’s what we’re here for. This is really about how do we help the business community which ultimately helps careers, it helps fund people’s paychecks, and helps do a lot of things that we need to sustain but it’s all around business and how do we do it effectively. And the whole notion of business and cable, especially the technology was when I did a lot of this franchising, when I did a lot of capital budgets for operations, the engineers were two-thirds of the operations budgets and two-thirds of the capital budgets and I’m going, “You want to lock this guy up and not talk to him? That’s crazy. How do we get him in play?” And that was the whole notion of the first program under Dartmouth. How do we find the best in class, some of the top schools in the country. There are a lot of good schools. I originally went to Wharton. You know, here’s our MBA program and some others, there was some resistance to change and I’m going, “Here’s what I need to do.” When I had other jobs and functions and I was bringing kids in from school. They wanted to go for an MBA or their master’s. I’d help them with that; when I was at the labs, I’d fund it. The problem is you ended up with a master’s degree or an MBA. It took a couple of years to become really effective in applying it. I said, “Now the day they leave, they have to be effective. That’s the deal.” And Glenn Britt helped me.
Satkowiak: That’s his alma mater.
Dzuban: That’s his alma mater. I’m not sure what class it was—1976 or 1977? But I’m going, “Dartmouth. I’m from New Hampshire; I lived there for a long time.” And he said, “Let me make a call.” The clouds opened, the music and the angels and what a nice guy because he understood the problem because he had that problem and helped me fix it. And it was all around leadership by saying, “All right, you may have technical skills but now how do you become a force multiplier?” Think of this from a business perspective.You have somebody who has a knowledge base that is rare but highly valued to the business. How do you be a force multiplier by managing others to develop those skills and manage them through their career growth so there’s one individual who can help five, six, eight, ten others. Now that’s manifesting those skills to expand the value in the organization so that competency now is expanded. A lot of it had to do with how do you manage people? Things you need to consider. I mean, one of the things we kind of looked at that was really important to us was why smart executives fail. So think about it as a situation where you didn’t have an experience that we ran into and you’re in a crisis mode. So it’s kind of one of these deals where you say, “Let me go for the best because I’ve never done it before. Why not take a preemptive strike to work with these folks to educate them when you’re in trouble? Here are things you need to think about.” By the way, there are billion dollar mistakes that hopefully you can learn by and not repeat them. You and I have seen a lot of billion dollar mistakes. And what I’m trying to do is head them off. And if we have one success, I’m way ahead of the game, right?
But I think it’s important and Georgia Tech was launched the same way. Most of them were—I’d say most of the work I’ve done in my career has been an objection in the beginning but a notion that had merit and it was highly potential as far as success and sticking with it.
Satkowiak: You know I can’t leave the education area without asking you—I know you’ve got an interest in young people, too. Can you tell me a little bit about the U.S. FIRST initiative?
Dzuban: Yes, and it has to do with Dean Kamen. I don’t know if you’ve ever met Dean. He was a speaker going back at Expo I guess two years ago. Here’s a man that has committed a good portion of his life and his wealth to the education of young folks. How I ran into it was I was working with Dean Kamen on a project around energy, actually. It was a unique science that I think he still holds pretty proprietary but it’s actually a huge problem solver and it will burn anything from African musk ox fuel or something similar to it—kind of a natural methane fuel—all the way to propane and natural gas and gasoline and diesel. We’re talking one day and he said, “I’m having a dinner and I want you to come with me and it’s our U.S. FIRST event.” One of the speakers was from NASA and told the story of the—I guess it’s the Mars Rover that they completed—that probably about 80% of the staff were FIRST graduates. And he said, “It’s a method of getting the understanding of the fundamental sciences at a young age and developing it because you find a natural passion.” I mean to work in a job that is just a job and you get a paycheck is not optimal from a position of perspective. You want folks that eat, sleep and breathe it.
Satkowiak: These are high school students?
Dzuban: High school and younger. I know my grandson is five…I think they’re starting a program under the LEGO League that’s very similar. And what’s important is not only the science team, organization, project management—the things you need to do to optimize results. Think about it as a whole army of kids and how do we help foster that? Because our industry is really not well known as a career path. We need to germinate. We need to plant seeds. We need to be the Johnny Appleseeds of technologists and future executives and leaders for our industry and I think that’s the benefit. We’re not going to be around forever. I’d like to live to 110 because I have a lot of projects I’d like to complete but the reality is I don’t see the technological skills evolving like they need to. We have to take a proactive position to get that done. U.S. FIRST and the military are both parts of it.
Satkowiak: Oh, sure, and I know that they had an active role last year at the Expo. And I enjoyed the robotic part of that. That was an interesting thing on stage.
Dzuban: There’s a point I want to make about that, too, because somebody said “Robotics. What is this?” It’s actually all IP networking. It’s wireless, it’s RF communications, it’s remote control. It’s actually all of the fundamental elements of our business that were embodied in the robots and it just manifested itself in the robots.
Satkowiak: How many members do you have right now?
Dzuban: So this year—going back about two years ago, there were about 12,000, going on 13. Today it’s in the 20s. The reason I say the 20s are the hard number is because there are so many in the queue—to get them as a committed number versus actually on a list (I want to be factual about it)—but our corporate alliance program has really been very instrumental.
Satkowiak: That’s where I’m going next. I know that your model now is more of a corporate model rather than an individual model. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Dzuban: Sure. Look at our partners at Comcast, Time Warner and SouthernLINC and others. It really worked its way to the top of the projects list by saying, “Every year we have to make sure we renew folks. How do we get the MSOs more engaged with us and how do we evolve a product that is very much aligned with problem solving. Not that we weren’t doing it, but what is a better mousetrap? I have to give the credit to Patrick O’Hara. I don’t know if you remember Patrick.
Dzuban: He’s a good guy. And we actually worked together going back to Castro Valley when he was at Viacom and the first pay-per-view programs that were experimental. What I liked about it, he said, “So there’s probably a deal we can do by the whole notion that we’ve proven by the SouthernLINC data that to be a member and to have an employee that’s associated with you has clear benefits to our business.” So that was the notion of corporate alliance and it was framed by the Comcast folks—I have to give Tony Werner, John Schanz, Martha Soehren kudos in the crew. Martha spoke at the WICT event today. Time Warner joined and SouthernLINC joined and probably—well, you also have, let’s see, Arris and Commscope and Alpha on the vendors’ side and I think the framework is constantly being fine-tuned to how do we help the whole cross-section of operators to include the operators who are in NCTC who may have probably more value than most in some of the training that brings really the most contemporary technology into the hands of the technician to be able to deliver and optimize performance to the customer.
Satkowiak: A lot of people concentrate on the large corporations in our business and they forget there are a lot of small players, almost family-owned businesses all across America that are providing service to their constituency and it’s sometimes a shame. We almost forget about these folks.
Dzuban: We do and where I think it was beneficial for me, it goes back to as a kid, seeing the evolution of cable start when you were nailing the coax to the trees, where it was twin lead before the coax, it was TV lead, and it was very basic but it was to solve a problem of shadowed areas from metro area TV stations and bring in some kind of signal by the antenna on top of the hill. So it was really community antenna. We’ve evolved. And seeing that whole evolution for me has been a catbird seat because it’s very appreciative where we started but then I look at the other direction where we’re going and it is just great opportunity.
Satkowiak: I know we’re getting close to the end of our time but put on your future-think cap—what do you think the future for SCTE is going to hold? What are the kind of new technologies and stuff that you guys are looking at now?
Dzuban: If I just look at our standards body where we’re going, since we are the standards body for our industry—we’re an ANSI-certified standards body but we do work with CableLabs on ITU, on ETSI and some other standards bodies. We have a relationship with CableLabs. They’re kind of the frontier where you get a white piece of paper, turn it into a standard that looks like it’s mature that we manage it through its life cycle, make the modifications and changes, but we see the vision. So there are a couple things coming down the pike. Let me talk about the energy first. If you look at our network, we’re going to launch a program called “2020;” John Schanz is leading that. What do our networks look like out in the year 2020? What do we need to do to evolve those networks to beat what would naturally occur? Now if you look at the evolution of technology and each vendor’s contribution, how do we do it as an industry and very specific to our networks and not dependent upon others? You have to remember a lot of our science comes from other businesses, right? It may come from the wireless industry, it may come from the computer industry, it may come from—I think it’s funny because somebody said to me, “Ah, you’re a forensic science guy.” And I said, “Old Marconi may be dead, but his antennas are not.” They manifest themselves in everything we do in wireless, the Marconi antenna principles, right? So we do forensic science looking back actually applied to problem solving in the future. People don’t realize that there are a lot of things we did that people have kind of forgotten about. Why recreate the wheel when you got one that works? So we’re looking to solve problems.
On the energy side, think of a world where our networks are alive. Think of a network that is transactionally based where why burn a watt of energy if you’re not conducting a transaction? Or it’s energy consumption is based on the amount of transactions. And this is being used in aerospace, being used in military, it’s how do you as an example when you’re a forward-looking observer and you’re calling in airstrikes? You want to be sure that radio is on the air and you don’t have to drain your batteries when you’re not saying anything. I’ve experienced that myself so I’m very critical about energy consumption applied to use. It’s like when my kids would run around the woods with a flashlight. So you burn out the batteries, but Dad, we’re having fun. Yeah, but when you need it, they’re not there.
But I think APSIS—it’s called “Adaptive Power Systems Interface Standards”—is similar to DOCSIS but actually is the principles of a system that is able to look at the transactions operating in its technology and then being able to manage the technology efficiently by either shutting it down or putting it into modes that can handle the capacity but do it in a very energy-efficient way. And even do it in a way that if we have a crisis, I mean, what if there’s terrorism on our secondary power grids, which is real? How do we hierarchically manage our priority traffic and reduce the energy consumption so our fuel can run in lieu of three to four days can run a week or two weeks or whatever that is?
Satkowiak: Before we leave, too, I need to ask you about how do you think DOCSIS 3.1 is going to change our world?
Dzuban: I think it’s going to change our world a lot and there’s more behind it. If you look at the future applications, let’s talk about e-medicine. Let’s talk about a really competitive environment for business; that our industry is going to start taking over some of that market share. Reliability of our networks, driving ?glass deeper but having bandwidth that has the kind of tools we need to succeed. DOCSIS 3.1—and there’s more coming down the road—is part of our evolution and we’re going to look back on it, but it’s a stepping stone. There’s more to come but if you look at some of the forward-looking applications that we’re going to need to serve—especially e-medicine—think of outpatient care where the cost of hospitalization is very expensive, that we have science and technology that can evolve in the next five to ten years to extend human life and our quality of life significantly and the cable network can play a role in that.
Satkowiak: It’s amazing to me when I talk to people about health care management and different systems, people don’t even think about the cable industry and obviously that’s where we see a big part of our future. Let me ask you just one last question. What do you hope your legacy in the cable industry will be?
Dzuban: I hope that some of the challenges I’ve had with people saying, “I don’t think it will ever fly,” that the bottom line will be the things we worked on. There will be clear successes when you have an industry that, even here today that we’re a different industry than we were with high-speed data, especially voice, which was one I had a very clear hand in and that I enjoyed as a team member of launching that. And also some of the new products. Launching all-IP networks, some of those standards. Looking at the energy program from a way that was never thought of five years ago and having material change. But you know something? I think in life things fade so my expectation is not to have a granite monument. It’s to be able to say, hey, in my own brain, I made a contribution and as long as most folks in an ideal world are happy with the results, I’m a happy camper.
Satkowiak: Fantastic. Mark, I appreciate you spending some time with us in going through our oral history project at the Cable Center, and best of luck. Thanks.
Dzuban: Larry, thank you. And I very much appreciate you doing this. This archive is important for our future and to tell the story of cable.
Satkowiak: Wonderful. Thanks.
Dzuban: Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW