Interview Date: December 1, 2016
Interview Location: New York City, NY USA
Interviewer: Seth Arenstein
Collection: Hauser Collection
SETH ARENSTEIN: Hi, I’m Seth Arenstein here for the Hauser Oral History Project, for The Cable Center. It’s December 1st, 2016. We are in New York City and we’re here with Leo Hindery, who is the former chairman and president and CEO of TCI. Did I get that right?
LEO HINDERY: Never chairman.
ARENSTEIN: Never chairman, sorry.
HINDERY: Just president and CEO.
ARENSTEIN: President and CEO of TCI. And he’s now Managing Partner of InterMedia Partners, but those are just your titles. I mean, just — they’re great titles. But Leo is an author. He’s a humanist. He’s an activist, he’s a philanthropist. He’s one of the cable legends and we are so, so honored to have you here and this is part two of your oral history. Part one ended in 2001, so we’re so happy that you’re here, Leo.
HINDERY: A little more gray hair, Seth.
ARENSTEIN: (laughs) But you have hair. I mean, I’ll take any color hair.
HINDERY: Well, it’s nice to be back and it’s particularly a privilege, as I said to some of your associates, that it’s part of the Hauser Initiative. Gus is also one of the great ones of this industry, and for those of us who are privileged to have our histories recorded, we owe a debt of gratitude certainly to Gus and Rita.
ARENSTEIN: Well, I have to tell you, Leo, we’ve been doing some other histories the last three days here and your name has come up so many times, so it’s great to have you in this chair.
HINDERY: Well, thank you.
ARENSTEIN: Sure, yeah. One of the first questions that The Cable Center wanted me to ask you about actually goes back, pre-dates the — pre-dates your first, or the ending of your first oral history. They wanted me to ask about the Summer of Love in 1997 and specifically how it relates to the current media industry and consolidation.
HINDERY: The “Summer of Love” was a coined phrase, Seth. It took a life of its own and has become somewhat of a seminal part of our history. This wonderful industry created in 1948 for 30 years just re-transmitted bad broadcast signals, and then in ’78 we went through that phase where we began to introduce programming that was aligned specifically with our systems. But what we forgot to do was look to the future. We woke up in the ’90s and we had started to wire well most of the United States. The franchise wars were over. And yet we owned, disparately and with little market aggregation, our respective cable systems. We shared markets. There was only a handful, literally only a handful, of wholly-owned markets in the United States. Yet we were confronting a competitive environment into the future where there was going to be the satellites which have nationwide footprints; the public utilities which have regionally ubiquitous footprints, or the phone companies which have similar regional footprints.
The Summer of Love was an effort on my part, after I became president of TCI, to change the ownership of many of the industry systems, and in the course of about 24 months — it was a long summer! – two-thirds of the cable systems in America changed hands. At the end of the day, only five markets in the entire United States were still shared with other operators. And that completely changed our competitive profile. It made us more efficient by a factor. It made us much more customer and consumer responsive. It put us in a position to introduce the new technologies that we knew we had to, but in the fractured environment we couldn’t have afforded.
My premise coming in at the invitation of John [Malone] to help him out at TCI was to make certain that all of our industry’s boats lifted at the same time. Those of us who had distribution platforms should improve our capabilities and our values. The programmers should have this same privilege as should the people who lent us the money and supplied us with hardware. None of this was possible without changing the market environment.
The Summer of Love became very, very important, and as we sit here in 2016, Seththe cable industry is now wholly-owned in nearly every market with the best technology. We have access to the entirety of the market. And as a consequence, we’re very efficient and very customer-responsive – and it all started back there in the period of 1997-1999.
ARENSTEIN: However, and based on your, on what I’m reading in your book, It Takes a CEO, and we’ll talk about your two books, that also brings responsibility. It also brings a situation where a cable operator or maybe just a — we call it a media company, now owns the production and owns the programming, owns up and down the chain and can have a lot of influence on public opinion and I know that’s something that you talk about in your book.
HINDERY: Well, I digress for a minute because some of that premise is actually not correct. Being a monopolist is a privilege and it’s not an opportunity without responsibility.
And what we found too often in the industry is that we had a degree of arrogance. We were the only cable operator in a given franchise, and we often acted too arrogantly. And the fact that we were the only operator didn’t give us a particular license to abuse customers.
I had thought for a long time that we had several obligations. We had to live in our communities respectfully. We had to look like our communities. We had to have women and people of color and gays and lesbians throughout our companies, and however our society looked, that’s how our companies needed to look at every level, from management at the very top to the entry level. We also had a responsibility because we were the only cable operator in the market to be about customer service first and foremost. We were not allowed to be arrogant in our pricing. And we were not allowed to be arrogant in the quality of our customer service. .
Added to this, starting in 1978 when the industry largely stopped being able to sell cable subscriptions only to people who had bad television reception and we had introduced ESPN and CNN and HBO in the same 24-month period, at the top of our industry we became vertically-integrated. Those of us at the top in distribution owned some content, and those who were very large in content ownership owned some distribution.
That era is now largely over, and we have pretty much cleaved the distribution community from the content community. But in those decades when we owned both at the top, I agree with you.
I think our third responsibility – beyond living well in our communities and beyond delivering premium quality customer service – was to assure that our content was similarly respectful of all of society.
One of the things I’m proud of is that when we finished that era, we had programming for people of color, we had programming for the faith community, and we had more programming for women, having been very derelict in that single area for a long time.
Our bundle suddenly looked more like society as a whole, and I’m very proud of that as I had something to do with parts of that.
I have said to your colleagues at the Center several times, “Don’t remember us for what we did, as much as remember us for how we did it – and if at the end of the day we walked gracefully through the industry and we left society at large better served and more fully served, then be proud of that. But also be proud of the fact that, hopefully, you’ve integrated your companies with more women, with more people of color and with more gays and lesbians, all in proportion to our society.
ARENSTEIN: Let’s talk about your books, because a lot of the ideas that you just voiced are parts of your books or in your two books, “The Biggest Game of All” and “It Takes a CEO, It’s Time to Lead with Integrity, both of which we have right here. Why don’t you walk us through The Biggest Game of All or some of the main arguments of that and then go into It Takes a CEO. Why did you write these books?
HINDERY: I wrote the first book, “The Biggest Game of All”, because the industry had gone through a decade of monumental transactions. When John [Malone] and I had the privilege of handing TCI over to AT&T, that was at that time the biggest media merger ever, but there had been countless others below it and around it. And one of the aspects of the industry that’s always intrigued me and gratified me is that it’s always been dominated by bigger-than-life people – and I thought it would be helpful to the following generation to understand how Rupert Murdoch and John Malone and Sumner Redstone and Brian Roberts and Leo Hindery approached the transaction side of deal-making. And since historically some mistakes had been made, I also tried to point out where I thought they had occurred. Of course, there were some enormous successes, and I especially tried to point those out.
I wrote that first book mostly for the classroom, so to speak. I didn’t write it so that John and Rupert and Sumner and Barry Diller and I could pick it up and read about the deals we had done. I wrote it more so that the youth generation in our industry could appreciate how we got to where we were and how they could emulate the best of us and avoid the actions of the worst of us.
The second book was actually born the day I got out of Business School at Stanford in 1971. My first boss was one of the genuine captains of industry, and he introduced me to other genuine captains of industry – he also gave me two pieces of advice in my very first few weeks.
He was the chairman and CEO of what at the time was the world’s largest natural resource company, and I was his assistant, fresh out of the Business School at Stanford. I had no role models growing up, and I had left home in difficult circumstances from time to time. What he said to me was, “Always have your career be pushed up from the bottom, even though as CEO I can pull you up anytime I want. But I want to know that the women and men around you and below you want you to succeed as much as I do.”
I thought that we’d lost a lot of what prompted this advice, and that
we’d elevated, as time progressed, CEOs to gods. In fact, CEOs are just employees, just managers, no more or less important than other employees, although we have certain unique skills for sure.
For example, while there had been a massive turnaround at TCI, I didn’t do it alone. Women and men that I had the privilege of working with did it. And I felt that at TCI we had also been able to successfully inculcate the “push-up perspective” into our company values. Both of these results added to my interest in writing the second book.
The other piece of advice that I learned from the amazing individual who was my first boss was his sense of concurrent responsibility. That is that as you rise to the top of an organization, your responsibility is far more than to just the shareholders – it’s concurrently to your employees, to your customers, and to your communities, which responsibility we in the cable industry know firsthand. And, if your company is large, then you have responsibility also to the nation.
I thought at the time that we’d also lost quite a bit of this concurrent sense of responsibility in the country – and I still think so.
As a consequence of these failings, we sit here in the year 2016, Seth, with more income inequality than at any time in our nation since the Great Depression. 1927, 1928 and 1929 – that three-year period – was the last time we had this degree of income inequality. We also sit here in the year 2016 with women on average earning 77 cents on the dollar for the same employment that a man has.
None of this is satisfactory to me, and so the second book was written for the whole of business, including for the women and men who already have the privilege of running companies and for the women and men who aspire to run them.
I’m actually prouder of the second book, as it’s got some rules of conduct and behavior that I hope survive. The first book dated itself after a while, but I think in its moment some of our younger people got something out of it.
ARENSTEIN: Leo, let me just go back to your mentor you just mentioned. You didn’t mention his name. Do you want to put that on the record?
HINDERY: He was something special. His name was Edmund Littlefield, and as I said, he was the chairman and CEO of the largest national resource company in the world. He was also on the boards of Pan Am, Chrysler, GE and Wells Fargo, and he was chairman of the Business Roundtable.
Ed was a god in American industry, and nearly coinciding with his national business leadership and with my own employment with Ed in June of 1971 was a September 1970 article by Milton Friedman called “Shareholder Primacy” in the New York Times Magazine. In it, Friedman said that the only responsibility of business is to maximize the wealth of shareholders.
Ed and Reginald Jones from General Electric Company – Reg was on our board and Ed was on the GE board, and I had the privilege of interfacing with both of them regularly – said, “This is just not right.” And to their eternal credit, for about a decade they poo-pooed the declaration made by Milton Friedman, and they very successfully got most of corporate America to buy into the concurrent multiple responsibility perspective.
However, when President Reagan came in and initiated what’s called “trickle-down economics”, it manifested itself in business as shareholder primacy. This was another motivation for writing my second book. But I didn’t invent this issue, rather I just followed up on it.
Ed Littlefield and Reginald Jones were the architects and the dreamers, and it was a great privilege of mine coming right out of graduate school to work for Ed and indirectly for Reg.
ARENSTEIN: Now today, 2016, are you optimistic by what you see? For example, we see studies, one after the other it seems, that millennials choose companies, choose the brands that they buy in part and a larger part now, by the values the companies hold and by the corporate social responsibility that they embed in their companies. Does this give you any feel– does this give you a reason to be more optimistic?
HINDERY: I don’t like generalizing around generations, millennials being one of them. I think there are some very informed young people who wear their values on their sleeves and I’m proud of that for this nation. But I think we’re very materialistic as a society and that we’ve partitioned ourselves between the haves and the have-nots, and so I’m very proud of every young woman or man who has values and lives them vocally and publicly.
But I think we’ve lived too long with the legacy of trickle-down. When half the nation’s income resides in the top three percent of wage earners, I don’t think that’s offensive, I think it’s sinful. When a woman can have a job, the exact same job as a man and make 77 cents on the dollar to the man, I think that’s sinful. And if you’re a woman of color, you’re probably making 60 cents to the dollar, and I think that’s sinful.
I worry about companies that haven’t heeded the advice of Ed Littlefield and Reginald Jones. When CEOs make hundreds of times what their average employee makes, that’s sinful. It’s just a job. Ed and Reg thought that something around 20 times your average employee’s earnings was a good ratio. JP Morgan at the beginning of the last century thought the same, exactly. And Peter Drucker, at the end of that same century, used that same number.
Well, the average today is 435 times. The average public company chief executive in America makes 435 times what his or her average employee makes, and that’s not just wrong, it’s also sinful.
And it imbues such anger in me that if I were younger, I wouldn’t be sitting talking to you, instead I’d be on the ramparts.
I can’t believe that we tolerate real unemployment rates that approach 11 percent. Tomorrow we’re going to do another official jobs report, and it will be about 4.9 percent officially, but if I count all the women and men who are un- and under-employed, it’s about 11 percent. That’s also sinful.
It’s sinful, as I said, that three percent of wage earners earn half the nation’s income. And for all kinds of historic reasons in my own life, I’m especially distressed that 51 years after we first addressed the issue of wage inequality for women, when the equivalent number, Seth, was 72 cents on the dollar, here in 2016it’s still only 77 cents on the dollar.
We just tried to elect a woman president and she didn’t win, in part because of misogyny, and that’s wrong. I don’t want to fully get into the election because that’s not fair, but these pervasive impositions on the middle class, on the American dream, continue to be very disturbing to me.
ARENSTEIN: So I guess the next question though, Leo, is what is to be done? What can business do? What can a CEO, a thoughtful CEO do? Or is that not part of the remit of a CEO? Is that for the political arena to deal with?
HINDERY: No, the CEO responsibility is absolute – Ed and Reg were correct in that it’s a pervasive demand. Don’t ever come and tell me that that’s not your obligation. I will take it hard. As long as we have unlimited money in politics, as long as we retard the vote in this country, as long as we have an anachronistic electoral college, it’s hard to do those things, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not your mandate. The mandate is clear. There’s no equivocation on my part of Ed [Littlefield’s] and Reginald Jones’s perspective.
ARENSTEIN: Okay. So what are some of the things that you’ve done over the years that address these issues? I know you’ve done a whole bunch of things. You’ve been in many different federations and associations, gifts to various — you have causes, Seattle University, etc. What are some of the things that you’ve done?
HINDERY: Well, I started with nothing. I’ve been very blessed, but I’m very honest about the fact that I was white, male and smart and that gave me tremendous advantages back in the ’50s and the ’60s. Society is not as fair today as it was then.
I’ve always tried to give back more than I took out. I don’t want to die with any wealth. I’ve tried to be very philanthropic. But I’ve also tried to be very political. I’ve never asked for anything politically. But I think that contributions which advance in politics women and men who share the values I have is no less philanthropy than giving to an educational institution or a health agency or a school in need. So about 70 percent of what I give is pure philanthropy and about 30 percent of what I give is to make sure there are women and men in Congress and in governorships and in city councils who share my concern about income inequality and wage inequality.
ARENSTEIN: So sort of back to my point, or one of my earlier questions, are you optimistic? Can things change?
HINDERY: No, I’m not particularly optimistic. I’m very saddened by the state we’re in. I thought we missed some opportunities in the Obama administration because of the contretemps between the two houses of Congress and the president – we didn’t accomplish as much as we should have. In the old days when you didn’t accomplish something, you just waited until you could. Now when you fail to accomplish good things, the hole gets deeper. It doesn’t stay unfilled; it actually digs itself deeper, and it gets harder and harder to fix it.
I’m very concerned about the next Supreme Court. We have a vacancy to fill, and we have as many as four vacancies to fill in the first term of this next administration. They need to be women and men committed to civil rights – and while I can elaborate on what I would like the court to do, I can very succinctly say they need to be committed to civil rights.
Whether you’re of color, whether you’re a woman, whether you’re gay, whether you believe in the health and safety of your children, whether you believe in healthcare for all, it’s all just about “civil rights”.
I’m of an age where I was involved in the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60s, and I recall vividly that for every bit of anger in the ’60s there was equal or more optimism. There wasn’t a woman or man of color, there wasn’t a gay or lesbian, and there wasn’t an environmentalist who didn’t think that by 1975 their concerns wouldn’t have been addressed.
I proudly live in New York City now, and in 1967, in the five Boroughs, unemployment among African American males 18 and over was 17 percent, and because of that we had several years of civil disturbance, here in New York and in Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago. Today that number equally calculated is 50 percent – one out of two African American males over the age of 18 in New York is unemployed.
That’s just wrong, and I’m angry. I hope that other people get angry, and while I’m not ever condoning violence of any sort, I think we have to tell this government and this country that we’re tired of this and that it’s time to re-energize as we did in the ’60s and address some of these wrongs.
ARENSTEIN: So Leo, one of the things — I’m a sports fan. I want to know what was going on with the YES Network and the jobs there that, I don’t know, as an outsider, seemed to me to be a sort of a left-hand turn of, didn’t think that Leo Hindery would be running a sports network in New York, but tell me why I’m wrong.
HINDERY: I didn’t so much run the YES Network as I created it, as there was a vacuum here in the biggest city in the country around regional sports networks. When John and I were together at TCI we lived off of the legacy of Bill Daniels, who deserves most of the credit for starting the concept of regional sports networks. Under our stewardship we grew it dramatically and ultimately sold them to Fox, Rupert Murdoch. For a variety of historic reasons, not altogether good reasons, New York was left out of that mix – whether it was the Mets or the Yankees, they were both carried on broadcast signals, and there was not an opportunity for a full season of coverage, which is the predicate of a regional sports network, whether it be coverage of a basketball team or of a baseball team.
Through a shared friend I got to know George Steinbrenner, and I thought that I could overcome the challenges here in New York and in doing so make it clear that those of us in the industry who own distribution should never use that distribution to retard other people’s programming.
One of the things I’m proudest of is that when I went to TCI to help out John, I can honestly say that no programmer in America was ill-treated or mistreated while I ran TCI. If you had a great programming idea, our door was open.
We had in the past a history of favoring stuff we had an economic interest in or which a friend of ours had an economic interest in, and that was wrong. It had left us short of women’s programming, for example, and it had left us short of faith, ethnic and orientation programming – in essence, the whole gamut. In part because of this I wanted to test out at YES whether some players in our industrystill practiced programmer discrimination.
So we launched YES, and Cablevision immediately said “no” because it owned its own sports networks. That was just wrong, and I felt we needed to prove that the industry could comfortably prosper being vertically-integrated, but it would be derelict if it ever used parts of its vertical integration to retard the success of others. If you had good programming, it should be carried.
Now I’m back as Managing Partner of InterMedia Partners which I first created out of whole cloth in January of 1988 and wherein we had a series of private equity funds devoted to cable.
When Bob Magness passed in late 1996 and John so generously asked me to come aboard at TCI, we merged InterMedia into TCI so that I could do both, and then after YES I resurrected InterMedia. It’s still, Seth, a private equity fund that invests in cable-related assets.
ARENSTEIN: And some of the things that you’ve done at InterMedia, can you talk about some of those? Some channels and programming, things like that?
HINDERY: Well, on all sorts of levels, both intellectual and emotional, we remain committed to serving the entirety of the audience. So our orientation has been pieces of programming that serve the niches of our society and “niche” doesn’t mean small, it just means ‘not necessarily white’. And so we’ve done Hispanic, African American, faith and sports programming, and we’ve have enjoyed every part of it.
I hope people think we brought value to these communities, since it’s highly important that we not, in the next evolutionary phase of our industry, default to the least common denominator among us. Every woman or man wakes up in the morning seeing themselves by their gender, their ethnicity, their faith, their vocation, their avocation and their orientation – that’s who they are.
And if they wake up one morning and this industry has evolved to mostly just sex and violence and common, generalized programming, I’ll be highly disappointed. In fact, I’ll be profoundly disappointed.
One of the things I’m somewhat remembered for is that I killed mixed martial arts when I was at TCI. I hated it then and I hate it today. [So called] extreme fighting is a sin and it’s a blot on our society. And by being the CEO of TCI, we had enough throw weight that I could tell the rest of the industry, we’re not carrying it. We’re just not carrying this. This is a travesty, and an insult to humanity. Ruleless fighting, I just can’t believe we should have it.
But then I left TCI and AT&T, and extreme fighting migrated almost instantly to pay-per-view and now I can find it on general broadcast television. I can go home tonight and watch on broadcast television a man or a woman beating another man or a woman until they holler “uncle,” with no significant restrictions on their behavior , even blood flowing.
But I can also go home tonight and watch general entertainment that trivializes young women and makes them sex objects, shows like The Bachelor with the gall of a young man choosing a woman as if she’s something on a shelf, and so we don’t do that sort of stuff. We also don’t do movies and we don’t do general programming. We like serving the niches of society based on again those five factors.
ARENSTEIN: Rob Kennedy was here yesterday and he was talking about C-SPAN and creation of C-SPAN and where it is today and he mentioned you, I think more than once. You want to talk about the importance of C-SPAN? And what your role has been with that.
HINDERY: A handful of weeks ago we went to a memorial service, those of us who live in New York, of Bob Rosencrans, and I was moved to tears. Brian Lamb gave a eulogy for our beloved Bob Rosencrans and Amos Hostetter wasn’t there, but he should have been only because C-SPAN was the creation of Bob, Amos, and Brian. It’s probably the most democratic thing we’ve ever done in our society, and we let Americans of all ages look at their Congress, real time. I didn’t do anything special – I was just chairman for quite a while.
All I did was perpetuate the legacy of Bob and Amos and Brian, although I was in a position that I could help force the creation of C-SPAN 2 and the creation of things like Booknotes and speeches by non-political people as part of the programming agenda. We also made sure that Brian had the resources to grow C-SPAN.
But I think all of this comes back to the comment of a bit ago. If you, as a CEO, really do think your responsibility is to your communities and to your nation, concurrently with your shareholders, well then when Bob and Amos and Briancreate something for their communities and their nation like C-SPAN, that is invaluable.
It was easy for me to later step into their shoes because all I was doing was living my own dream, which calls for an orientation at the top of companies to the nation and to their communities.
Bill Clinton says he became president of the United States because he watched C-SPAN as a poor kid in Arkansas growing up. And I think if you talk to [Senator] Cory Booker you’ll hear the same thing, or to [Senator] Kirsten Gillibrand or to some of the other up and comers in American politics who grew committed to it because of C-SPAN.
However, is C-SPAN going to survive the mini bundles, the a la carte environment, that’s seemingly every bit of conversations today? I don’t know. I worry that it might not. Who’s going to pay for it? Does C-SPAN fit in anybody’s mini bundle?
And if it’s not there, it’s obviously not going to be watched, while the beauty of the bundle is that it’s there now. You may not watch it, but if you want to, you can. We have to be very careful now, as we impinge on the bundle and move toward OTT or over the top, that we still serve all of society: intellectually, emotionally, racially, ethnicity-wise, gender-wise, orientation-wise and faith-wise. And if we aren’t, we won’t like this place.
ARENSTEIN: Good point. You talked about — you’ve mentioned John Malone a number of times. You’ve mentioned, I guess Bob Rosencrans, Amos Hostetter — Bill Bresnan is a name that a lot of people like to talk about. Did you work a lot with Bill? And what are your remembrances of him? I mean, talk about integrity, there was a CEO with great integrity.
HINDERY: Profound integrity. You know, all of the people you’ve named are special individuals: Amos Hostetter, Bob Rosencrans, Gus Hauser and Bill Bresnan.
ARENSTEIN: We mentioned Bob Magness as well.
HINDERY: Bill Bresnan lived for his children’s adulation, as I’ve tried to. All I ever wanted in my career was for people to say, “Wow, kind of special and done with grace.”
I use the word “grace” a lot, and I used it in the book a lot. Bill Bresnan was full of grace. He could go to a franchise hearing in the Iron Range, snowing outside, and he could look those people in the eye and know that his primary responsibility was to serve them honestly and well. And he would go home and he could know that he had lived with grace. Gus [Hauser] is the same way. And again, as I said at the onset, it’s a privilege sitting here being interviewed for something that Gus Hauser sponsored – I mean that’s just emotionally tough to swallow.
Bob Rosencrans, Amos Hostetter and John [Malone], the greatest intellect and visionary that will ever walk through any industry. And of course Bill Daniels.
I remember when John invited me to come aboard, I made two flights. I flew to the little town in California where Bill [Daniels] was living, and I said, “Should I do this?” – and then I flew to San Francisco and I saw Ed Littlefield, and I said, “Should I do this?” And if either one of them had said “no”, then I wouldn’t have done it.
I dedicated my first book to Ed and to Bill because they were like fathers to me. And John is like my older brother. These three relationships really transcend my time in the industry. And over time [Bill] Bresnan, who we talked about, and Gus Hauser have moved into very special places in my heart.
I love Gus Hauser, as I loved Bill Bresnan. Sadly I wasn’t well physically when Bill passed, but God, I loved Bill Bresnan.
ARENSTEIN: I think one of the — if you’d allow me, one of the things that got me so excited about this today was, I worked with Paul Maxwell for many, many years at CableFAX. And all these people that you talk about Paul was always telling me about and of course, he talked about you all the time and he made them very real, but one of the lessons that I took from Paul and I’ll always be in debt to him, was that you can use journalism and media as you all use cable to give back. And the things that we did with Cable Positive and all those charitable things that the cable industry did in diversity, that was a lesson that Paul taught me and I always thank him for it.
HINDERY: Oh, I think it was not the third estate. The collegial years were just magical. The analysts, the journalists, the lenders, the programmers, the distributors and the suppliers – God but we loved each other. The good thing of being a monopoly is we were never forced to be highly competitive, one to the other. So while I didn’t like some of the behaviors we adopted as monopolists, I was grateful for the collegial result.
My great story of the beloved Paul Maxwell is that when I took over TCI for John I had had a very bad accident — my arm was just a complete wreck and it had this metal contraption on the outside of my skin, and in the pictures of the day I was announced as coming in, I’m wearing a short-sleeved white shirt and a vest sweater. Over time I got rid of the short-sleeved shirts and the vest sweater, but my corporate background was such that I wore suits and it really freaked out TCI for a while.
Suddenly the wonderful people who worked for me, both the women and men, began dressing more formally because they thought I would approve that, which I did.
But Paul finally came in one day and he said, “This isn’t working for me,” and I said, “So what does that mean?” And he said, “It’s just not working for me. This is a western, Denver company, and you’re no cowboy. You work for the Cable Cowboy John [Malone] and Bob [Magness] was a cowboy, and you’re just no cowboy.”
I said, “Well, what if I buy a ranch?” He said, “That’s not good enough,” although later I did buy a ranch, but for Paul that wasn’t good enough. So one Sunday he picked me up early and took me to his boot maker and he made me buy — and they weren’t cheap — five different sets of cowboy boots, since Paul would only take comfort in the fact that if I was now running TCI for John I at least had on cowboy boots with my suits.
But I still wore the white shirts and the ties, and the only reason, Seth, that I have a blue shirt on today is that I was also a pretty good car racer.
ARENSTEIN: I remember that.
HINDERY: And when I won the 24 hours of Le Mans [in 2005 as a driver], the protocol is that you get a tattoo on your back, celebrating your win, but it shows through white shirts. And since my beloved wife says, “No way on the white shirts,” I now wear blue shirts. But for a while there, it was Paul Maxwell’s cowboy boots plus my white shirts and my ties.
ARENSTEIN: Well, it’s funny, the first time I saw Paul Maxwell not wearing cowboy boots, I didn’t know who he was.
HINDERY: Well, TSA and air travel have really screwed up old Paul because they make you take off —
ARENSTEIN: Take off your shoes, yeah.
HINDERY: Take your boots off and that’s hard on a cowboy. You want to die with them on, not take them off for the TSA guy.
ARENSTEIN: Leo, we like to ask a legacy question. What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to say Leo Hindery stood for? People who work for you, what do you want them to say?
HINDERY: For me, it goes back to those first weeks out of grad school, a hundred years ago. I hope when I look back that I was in fact pushed up, and that I deserved to be pushed up. That I was fair to my employees in every sense, although I wasn’t their best friend since that’s not a prerogative chief executives have.
You’re not supposed to be their best friend, even though you want to be – you are, however, supposed to be their mentor, and you’re supposed to provide for them fairly and treat them fairly. I hope people will say that I did.
I also hope that people will say that I never lost my commitment to balance in society, whether it be political or industry-wise.
I’m going to close this by saying I’m sitting here today because I’m alleged to have had some success in this industry, and I’m not denying that. It’s been fun and I think I have had some success.
But there are thousands of women and men who deserve the credit. There were 25 people at TCI – I was number 26 – to whom I give all the credit in the world for that turnaround. They did it; I didn’t do it. I just guided them.
They’re too numerous to name today, but when I was invited into the Cable Hall of Fame a few years ago I did use that speech to name them all, and they know who they are. They deserve it – the accolade – because they embraced the same sense of fairness that I tried to imbue.
And so I hope that’s my legacy – that I was fair, that I was pushed up and not pulled up, and that I respected the diversity of society and tried to give back to it as much as I took out.
END OF INTERVIEW