Interview date: July 10, 2023
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Tom Monaghan’s oral history centers around field operations for Charter Communications. He begins by describing about his start in telecommunications as a technician climbing poles for Verizon right after high school graduation. After his rose through the ranks he worked for NET 2000 and Teligent (network services) before moving into the cable industry with Cablevision Systems as a field operations executive. Monaghan started at Charter in 2014 and describes the process of managing the field operations of 33,000 internal employees and 15,000 contractors, from scheduling to training and retention strategies. He touches on effective leadership and on how the company’s network and people were prepared and resilient when the pandemic occurred in 2020.
STEWART SCHLEY: Greetings. Thank you for pressing play on this iteration of the Hauser Oral History Series curated by the Syndeo Institute at the Cable Center. I’m Stewart Schley coming to you from Stamford, Connecticut, and I’m with Tom Monaghan who later this year will be inducted into the Cable Television Pioneers organization. Tom is the Executive Vice President of field operations for a sprawling operation maintained by Charter Communications. I think 41 states, Tom, and 11 divisions or regions? And has spent a long time making cable work. We’re pleased to have you with us today to recount some stories and some observations about this business so thank you for being here.
TOM MONAGHAN: Thank you for the opportunity.
SCHLEY: I want to just start at the start. Tell me about your upbringing as a kiddo, where you were raised, and how you got into this business in the first place.
MONAGHAN: So I was born in Manhattan, raised early on in my life in the Bronx. I lived on basically the border of upper Manhattan and the Bronx and we ultimately moved out to Long Island with our family. I’m one of five. I’ve got four sisters, my mom, and dad. And then we trekked our way out to Long Island.
SCHLEY: When you were a kid was television in your life? Were you a TV person?
MONAGHAN: There wasn’t a lot going on with TV back when I was a kid. Comparative to today obviously. But yeah, sports was always big for me growing up so getting to watch any type of game on TV was kind of big.
SCHLEY: You confessed that you’re a Yankees fan. And then take me to — I think in late ‘80s you began your career with Verizon, is that correct?
MONAGHAN: That is correct.
SCHLEY: What was the gig? What were you doing?
MONAGHAN: So I graduated high school in 1986 and had plans to go off to college and actually go play some college football, but I got burned in a fire the day after I graduated high school and so that kind of got put on pause a little bit. So as part of the rehab, when you do that — I was in the hospital for a little less than a month — it was like you’ve got to go do some type of rehab. So subsequent summer, actually my brother-in-law said, “Hey, there’s summer opportunities to be a technician in the phone company, what do you think?” So I was like hey, it’s outdoors, sounds like it’s pretty cool, and that’s how my journey started. I started as a summer hire technician at Verizon on Long Island.
SCHLEY: You’re shimmying up utility poles and messing with wires and cables?
MONAGHAN: 100%, yeah.
SCHLEY: What was that like? Was it — I always wonder, is it terrifying to first climb a pole?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, it was actually. You know, you get very much used to it over time, but the first couple times you do it. It’s interesting, probably the second or third job I was on, on Long Island, I was working on a cliff and I was working on the back side of a cliff and usually you’re up in the 18 to 20 feet kind of range of where your body will be, but when you — looking down it looks a lot different in that scenario. So it was quite frightening early on, but you get used to it.
SCHLEY: I always wondered, who got the bucket truck versus who had to physically climb up the pole? Like how did you make that delineation?
MONAGHAN: It’s very similar to our company. People who work in the plant, so the stuff on the poles, the actual — the big cables on the pole usually go to maintenance techs is what they call them. And anybody who knocks on a door, an installer or a service tech, we call a field tech at Charter, they’re the ones who actually get the vans.
SCHLEY: What did you learn up on the pole? I mean what did you begin to appreciate or — just give us one sort of takeaway from that life if you will.
MONAGHAN: It’s a hard job, that’s the first thing I’ll tell you. Through that process, I was a technician for a pretty good period of time, and you see all the good you do for people, you know, making sure the services are correct, but you see the bad. I’ve seen some pretty bad things relative to people falling off a pole or getting really injured and unfortunately people passing away, people getting electrocuted, things like that, that you don’t think of in those scenarios, but when you live it every day that unfortunately comes to fruition.
SCHLEY: Right, but it has to imbue this pretty tremendous respect for the people who do the work, I would presume. What happened after that? What was your progression after Verizon?
MONAGHAN: So I was a technician for just about eight years, almost to the day, and I had somebody in leadership who — I got involved in committees. Somebody had tapped me for a committee for kind of a VP area and I thought I did a relatively pretty good job on the committee and one day I was in the office and you usually come in at the end of the day and you hand your timesheet in and you’re off to go home and my boss said, “Such and such VP is on the phone waiting for you.”
SCHLEY: Oh, thanks.
MONAGHAN: I went, “Yeah, right” and I kept walking away and he like dove at me to get me back in the office. He’s like, “No, I’m serious.” And I picked up the phone and he said, “I want you to become a leader.” At that time, I was a supervisor.
SCHLEY: It’s an interesting story. Is it because of your committee presence and work you had some visibility or some notice in the organization, is that how it happened?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, that was definitely it. I think I had the opportunity to show a different side. When you’re a tech you’re kind of – in today’s environment, you’re called an individual contributor. I think in that environment I had an opportunity to show potentially more.
SCHLEY: Where from there? What was next?
MONAGHAN: I became what’s called an area operations manager which means is you manage more people. Actually, I was one in the field and then I learned very early on what leadership is. Somebody said to me, “Hey, I want you to go to dispatch” and I said, “Absolutely not. I’m a field guy. I don’t want to do that.” And then somebody said, “Welcome to leadership. I’m not asking, you’re going.” And that’s, you know, unfortunately how it happened and it ended up being probably one of the best things that happened in my career.
SCHLEY: Yeah, I mean it’s a funny story, but what began to circulate in your brain about leadership and how to be present and motivate people?
MONAGHAN: I think that’s where you get your early opportunities is as you grow to a supervisor or some people might call it a first level super, you’re managing people the way you kind of know the job and you’re the expert. As you go up further in the organization you have to have more influence on people to get things fixed or moved in the right direction and that’s where I felt like I could potentially help there because you have a broader perspective on not just affecting a small group of people, but larger groups of people.
SCHLEY: And you liked it? You liked sort of being able to influence career paths and people’s livelihoods and occupations and job performance?
MONAGHAN: I didn’t like it, I loved it.
MONAGHAN: Quite candidly, to this day, I hired somebody I knew probably in the last year and a half that I knew over 20 years ago and those kind of relationships you develop over time and keep in touch with people, I think they’re really important. Because you could make quite a difference in somebody’s not only career, but their life.
SCHLEY: Tom, was it then that you moved on to Telegent?
SCHLEY: So please just talk a little bit about that.
MONAGHAN: So that was the go-go days of CLECs.
SCHLEY: Competitive local exchange carrier.
MONAGHAN: Correct. They were kind of the new — they had broken up all the phone companies at that point, AT&T and then the RBOCs is what they called them, regional Bell operating companies, and trying to create — I was still young at the time, my little entrepreneurial spirit. I wanted to go off and try something new and I kind of was at a higher level in a much smaller company and I learned a boatload. I learned quite candidly over time of things you can do. How you come to a kind of maybe a fork in the road of things you don’t know and really learning things because you’re forced to learn them in a smaller company. All the way through the influence you make on an organization and watch it grow.
SCHLEY: And just sort of for historical purposes, CLECs were able to sort of ride on the architecture and the plant of an incumbent phone company?
SCHLEY: It was ironic because you’re competing with the same company and you’re using their facilities. So how did you guys do? Like was the business successful or?
MONAGHAN: It ended up dissolving.
SCHLEY: Most of them did, right? Or a lot of them did.
MONAGHAN: Yeah. I think people — companies like that got ahead of their skis relative to what they were building and it was a lot of “build it and they will come” and it didn’t come as fast, and then you kind of had a major crash, not only with just technology in general, but obviously that followed.
SCHLEY: I mean I should explain. So what you were building was an alternative means of high-speed internet connectivity?
MONAGHAN: It was that and telephone services as well, those two.
SCHLEY: And was Net 2000 in the same space?
MONAGHAN: It was. Telegent kind of worked — it was a different technology. Telegent really was a primary service, but really looked to be a secondary service. They did wireless kind of RF as backup so where you might have a failure in traditional landline. Cable — cables, I should say, whether they be telephony or other — you’d actually have an alternative path up in the air. Net 2000 worked for different customers. They were more what we’d call SMB, small medium business type customers to some big ones. Net 2000 had a niche for enterprise type customers, really large customers so they were a better space there, but they ended up fizzling out for very similar reasons too.
SCHLEY: And were you at the time brushing up against the cable company as a competitive force in the marketplace?
MONAGHAN: Not at that time — because they weren’t really into telephony yet, to the degree they are certainly are today.
SCHLEY: This was in late ‘90s?
MONAGHAN: This was early 2000s, very early 2000s, so like 2000, 2001.
SCHLEY: So really the CLECs were kind of the force of energy on the block at the time.
MONAGHAN: They were the upstart competitor and I think a lot of it came down to funding. They weren’t able to be funded long enough to make a dent.
SCHLEY: So then the question I always have fun asking is how did the cable — we did call it the cable television industry then, how did it find you, how did you find it?
MONAGHAN: Talk about a stroke of luck, I’m sitting at Net 2000, they’re just about to announce within the next couple of weeks that they’re heading to chapter 11 and there’s obviously a process for that and I get a phone call from a recruiter that said, “Hey, would you be interested in a job running the field?” Yes. “Would you be interested in — the job is on Long Island.” Yes. And the job is in cable which very much kind of looked like what I grew up in, similar in Verizon. I kind of called it a green apple and a red apple. They were different, but they had tons of similarities. And that’s how the process started for me to get into cable.
SCHLEY: And at the time the cable guys, this was Cablevision Systems you ended up working for obviously on Long Island.
SCHLEY: But were they beginning to get into the telephony and broadband delivery picture at the time?
MONAGHAN: They had just kicked off broadband and actually had some pretty decent momentum at this point, but they were just about to kick off telephony.
SCHLEY: In your life, in your life as a consumer, were you online at the time? Did you experience the frustrations we all experienced with slow downloads and the whole worldwide wait?
MONAGHAN: AOL. Where you had dialup and that was kind of what you had at that point. So getting real high-speed internet made a game changer for the communities that we served.
SCHLEY: And it was magical, right? I mean suddenly you really saw the potential, I think, of what a broadband always on connection could do.
MONAGHAN: Yeah, I don’t think it was better. It was dramatically better than what the incumbent was.
SCHLEY: And game changing in its own right. What did you do for Cablevision? What was the early role there?
MONAGHAN: So I ran what was called field service which is basically installers and service techs.
SCHLEY: And a word that’s in your current title years later, okay.
MONAGHAN: And it was a centralized role to kind of run that environment and there were some back-office functions that went with that. And then actually I got there — Tom Rutledge came probably two or three months after I did and he had a whole decentralized model so I actually moved out to the field to run field operations, but more in its entirety. Plant maintenance, other functions that kind of went with that where anything that was out in the field that had to do with trucks for that particular region was where I went.
SCHLEY: Tom, what did you observe about the good and the bad of the way you guys were going about field work at the time? What needed fixing, what was not broken?
MONAGHAN: I think cable at the time was a little bit known as the wild west and for great reasons and for probably not so great reasons. The not-so-great reasons were probably had a little bit of a reputation of being unsafe. So I kind of came in right away and just said —
SCHLEY: From an employee —
MONAGHAN: From an employee perspective. And I think one of the things I wanted to do right away was to say look, our job as leaders is to send you home the same way you got here and you don’t want the worst of the worst to happen. So we changed the culture there a little bit and once you change culture on things like that other things fall in line operationally.
SCHLEY: People notice what you’re doing. The message you’re sending is hey, I kind of care about you and —
SCHLEY: Do you believe that the field tech staff is sort of the face of the cable company or is that an analogy taken too far? What’s your view of that?
MONAGHAN: No, I totally agree with that. At the end of the day that’s the face-to-face interaction you have with people.
SCHLEY: Literally who you see.
MONAGHAN: Yeah. I mean you knock on somebody’s door and you’re going to make a connection with them and sometimes that goes wonderfully and sometimes it doesn’t. You know, the vast, vast, vast majority of time it’s well done, but you actually have the opportunity to put the company in a different light which I think is really important to what we do every day.
SCHLEY: Can you describe a day in the life of a maybe like I guess you’d call it a tier one or an entry level field — what am I doing, what is my job?
MONAGHAN: So as a new hire? As a new hire you come on and obviously, we have structured training where you’re in an office environment and you learn all the safety components, you learn all the technical components, you learn all the customer service components, and then you do some time mentoring in the field. You’ll go with somebody and go ride with them so to speak and learn that. And then what we usually do is wean you into the process. We’ll kind of start you slow and gear you up until we think you’re ready.
SCHLEY: And is that the way you’re doing it now and was it the way you were doing it then at Cablevision?
MONAGHAN: I’ll go back to my days as a tech. You got two weeks of training and they threw you into the deep end of the pool which probably wasn’t the best way to go about it, but compared to when I started to now, the world is a lot more complex. There was one product. Now there’s multiple products obviously and multiple complex products. You have wired products, you have wireless products, you got different things that connect wirelessly, you’ve got video, you’ve got IP video, you’ve got QAM video, you’ve got landline voice. It’s completely a different business today than even when I started at Cablevision, forget about when I started all the way back early in my career.
SCHLEY: To get hired today what do I have to be good at?
MONAGHAN: I think if you like the outdoors, number one, and you like the opportunity to interact with people. So if you have a pretty good personality, I think you’ll hit a home run in our individual because you’ve got to get along with people. You’re out there servicing people every day. I think that in itself in conjunction with having a good personality and if you like working outdoors that’s — now you’ve hit the grand slam instead of the home run.
SCHLEY: Even in the cold of winter or like how does the seasonality affect your work?
MONAGHAN: It does. Some people think they like it until you’ve actually got to work in 10 below or 115-degree weather in some areas of the country. Like I said, if you — I give you my opinion. You kind of you love it or you don’t love it right away. And I fell in love with it right away and I always like to say people like me, God put us on the earth to do it.
SCHLEY: You’re in your element. And the early training aspect, you mentioned the contrast between Verizon, two weeks and you’re off alone, kid, go do a good job, that’s progressed over time to the point where these are pretty, I guess, sophisticated training regimens today. What are the tools that I would use to be trained? Is it all face to face? Are there booklets? Are there videos? What do —
MONAGHAN: There’s a whole bunch of different variations. So you do a lot of — you have to do some hands-on because the job is hands-on, but there is lots of — we use virtual reality even to this day.
MONAGHAN: Oh, yeah. We’re early on in that, but I love the technology because think about the younger generation that you’re trying to attract, and even beyond that, people who like gaming and stuff like that, they embrace that from a training perspective. But we have the hands-on virtual piece that you can kind of learn online. Again, more of the hands-on piece that you actually have to — you can’t really teach somebody how to climb a ladder virtually. You’ve actually got to get on a ladder and actually got to get in a truck or —
SCHLEY: Fair point.
MONAGHAN: — to actually go out and do those types of things.
SCHLEY: Why, I can’t tell you, but I’ve always been sort of interested in this notion of dispatch. Remember the show Taxi?
SCHLEY: That used to be in the dispatch operation. What does a dispatch operation look like in a modern cable environment?
MONAGHAN: So there’s three main things that they do. They do what we call quota which is scheduling. So they’ll set up schedules for customers to pick, hours of the day, days of the week, they do all the math that’s associated with that. And then they take all that work that comes from customers and they route it out to technicians. Hey, we’re going to put Tom in that area, we’re going to give him X amount of jobs, we need two people over here, 10 people over there. So they kind of do all that math and then the last piece is they do all the administrative work that kind of goes in conjunction with supporting technicians and making sure the information that’s on the work order is correct all the way through if a tech has a problem when they’re out on the job that they can help them and resolve an issue.
SCHLEY: If I do have a problem how do I notify the organization that something is up? Is it a tool, an interactive device, or how do you communicate that?
MONAGHAN: You could make a phone call. You could do a chat. We have handheld technology for technicians right now so they can self-service a lot in a lot of those scenarios. I always say if you can pick up the phone and find something you could probably do it through a device of some kind. So we’ve set up multiple ways to communicate.
SCHLEY: But we’ve gotten much better at it, right? At just managing the dispatch function?
MONAGHAN: Oh, yeah.
SCHLEY: Because remember the bane of — the joke about the cable guy was he’d show up sometime Tuesday. That was the — was that ever real? Was that like the way it really was?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, again, going back to kind of the wild west, I mean we had all day appointment timeframes. Maybe you got to half day appointment time. We are 100% in one-hour timeframes today.
MONAGHAN: And to the vast, vast majority we show up on time and we do the job as intended for the customers. So dramatically different from a customer experience perspective. I actually think customers will tell you we’re dramatically better in that space.
SCHLEY: Can you give us — just jumping around a little bit. Can you give us a sense of the scope and size of your operation today in terms of people and how they’re kind of broken down?
MONAGHAN: I have about 33,000 internal employees. We have about another 15,000 contractors that help us there. So internally think of installers, field techs, service techs. I also have design that actually design the plant. I’ve got dispatch, we call that the RC. We have the regional operations center that support maintenance techs who actually go out and maintain the plant. I have day of job support for the techs if they have something going on right now. And I also run supply chain for the company.
SCHLEY: So one issue that I know you’re passionate about and is important to the industry is I think in the olden days there wasn’t always a sense of progression, personal progression in career path. How have you addressed that issue? If you think of field techs, for instance.
MONAGHAN: Yeah, 100%. Actually, this started when I kind of got into my role. Chris Winfrey, our CEO, he comes on every regional trip that we go do out in the field.
SCHLEY: With your employees?
MONAGHAN: With our employees. And we do a town hall in literally every location we go to. We go to some big location —
SCHLEY: The CEO of a pretty big communications company.
MONAGHAN: Yeah. And he comes on every one of them with us, as does our entire executive leadership team. And one of the things that we found is we had some churn with technicians and with the amount of work that we have to accomplish over the next three to five years we have a lot do. Having the merry-go-round didn’t really work for us so —
SCHLEY: You’re just always refilling the bucket, right?
MONAGHAN: Exactly. With inexperienced employees. You know, your best employees are those who are with you the longest, have good tenure. Generally, they have better quality, they have better productivity, they have better everything.
SCHLEY: They know more.
MONAGHAN: They just know what they’re doing. So we made a concerted effort to make the career progression model very predictable of what they’ll get in pay in terms of increase, what it takes to go do it. For us it’s self-progression. So the days of hey, you’re picking that person over me because you like them better, all that’s gone. It’s you can go as fast as you want and it’s very predictable all the way up.
SCHLEY: And knowing that is kind of what matters, right?
MONAGHAN: I think that’s resonated.
SCHLEY: How long have you been working on that front?
MONAGHAN: We made it official actually at the end of last year, the end of ’22, and as we’ve been going around on these — because that came from all the town halls we did last year, and the feedback of the town halls we’ve done this year have been — it’s been exceptional.
SCHLEY: Do we know yet whether it’s working or doing what you intended to do?
MONAGHAN: It’s working better than we thought because the churn numbers that we looked at, which is the amount of employees that leave the organization, it’s down — it’s not down, it’s down dramatically.
SCHLEY: And I’ve even heard personal anecdotes about you getting on the phone with some of your techs in I don’t know where, but you do have some personal relationships with people out in the field, you do.
MONAGHAN: I mean usually when you do a big program like this how you go communicate it out, in a lot of circumstances it may start with an email from me out to everybody and then we’ll cascade out a different way. So I’ll tell you a funny story. I got an email from an employee that said, “This is probably a fake account, nobody probably ever looks at this.” And he wrote a little bit of War and Peace about —
SCHLEY: This comes to you?
MONAGHAN: Came right directly to me. So soon as I read the email, I looked him up, got his phone number, and I called him. He wasn’t expecting that.
SCHLEY: I suspect not.
MONAGHAN: But we ended up having not a good conversation, it was a fantastic conversation. And just really explaining why we did what we did and what was our intention. I think intention is very big in leadership. You’ve got to tell people what your intentions are so they know that your intentions are good. In this scenario they weren’t good, they were really good. And he’s been not only a success story for us, a dramatic success story for us because now he took the path on that he didn’t want to take on.
SCHLEY: And just Syndeo Institute does a lot of work in intrapreneurship which is being creative and entrepreneurial within a corporate organization. Did you devise this plan? Did it come to you in a vision? I mean how did this sort of iterate?
MONAGHAN: No, there was a group from our team that certainly put all this together, but we did sit in a room several times and kind of map out the longer-term strategy of what — And we have people on my direct report team that started at the bottom too where I did so that kind of instinct of what would work I think really kind of resonated. We have really good check and balance in that room of people who really know the business and knew the business for a long period of time and knew it would work.
SCHLEY: So how is it stratified? How many levels of technicians are there?
MONAGHAN: So we used to have — we still have six, but we used to only have a certain amount that were progressable naturally.
SCHLEY: I see.
MONAGHAN: We made that even higher than what it was, but it was very inconsistent of what you gave as a raise and the process was just inconsistent is what I would say. It is completely consistent, completely predictable for everybody. So you can walk in the door as a new hire today, you know you make this, you can naturally go as fast as you want up to that, and over a period of time you’re talking about I’ve had techs call me and say, “Hey, I just bought my first house.”
SCHLEY: I was just going to ask you about that. I can reasonably have a pretty good life with this career path?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, 100%. I mean the one great thing about our company is not only pay, pay is obviously super important, but our benefits and the opportunity. I mean I just look at people like me and people who work, you know, like they started at the bottom too and you can say look, the world’s — you can go — we’re in 41 states. You can move around. You can move up. If you’re willingness is to move in your career regardless of what that conversation is about, up, sideways, in a different state, in a different market, we have what might work for you. And I think we’ve come up with the right opportunities now.
SCHLEY: And then at the front end recruitment-wise where do you find people? Everywhere?
MONAGHAN: You do find them everywhere. It kind of goes back to what I said earlier is you’ve got to kind of find a commonality that you know will work. You don’t want to put somebody — a square peg in a round hole. So kind of looking for people that kind of fit for what we’re looking for has been successful for us.
SCHLEY: You talked about having a lot of work ahead of you. What are you talking about?
MONAGHAN: So I guess there’s a couple of really big projects that we have. One, we’re building out a lot of construction and that’s out to really rural America, but we’re also building tons inside of our footprint on top of that. So if I go back a couple of years ago, we’re doubling our output of the homes we build in front of. We call them the homes passed. We’re actually tripling the mileage that we used to build. So if you build a mile of plant, think about on a telephone pole or under the ground, all that just tells you is how many customers are in front of that. The reason the numbers are actually smaller because the further you build out to rural America —
SCHLEY: The density reduces.
MONAGHAN: — the density changes. Correct.
SCHLEY: And part of this is related to what we’re trying to do in this country with ubiquitous broadband deployment, right?
MONAGHAN: I think the great thing about Charter is we always want to be part of the solution. The Tom Rutledges of the world, the John Bickhams of the world, the Chris Winfreys of the world, they’re always looking for how can we help and make sure it makes sense not only for America but makes sense for our company and that do the right thing factor always falls into place.
SCHLEY: And not asking you to disclose proprietary information, but kind of what is the sense of scope? How many homes are we adding to the network over what period of time? Or do we know?
MONAGHAN: We’re going to add over a million this year.
MONAGHAN: Construction passings this year.
MONAGHAN: Yeah, that’s pretty big. Again, we used to add just a little bit more than half that only a couple of years ago. And if you look about what’s in front of us there’s other opportunities that are going to come out called BEAD [Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program]. We’re still looking at state grants that we have now. That number could easily double or triple.
SCHLEY: What are we, a nation of 115 million, 120 million homes? Just to give some reference point to what you guys are doing. How about — what is the issue of labor and labor shortage or is there an issue of labor shortage as relates to telecom construction today?
MONAGHAN: I think there was. If you went back a year ago, I think the economy’s at a different place today. So if you went back a year ago, I think just people were moving around, you know, chasing an extra X amount of dollars here versus there and I think for us internally what I mentioned to you before about our career progression path, but also for the contractors we use. We’ve given them a very predictable future of the rate card that we use for them.
SCHLEY: That’s interesting. These are the third-party companies?
SCHLEY: The Dysons, the other companies out there that do that. I wondered, what is the intersection of the SMB? You have a large business services organization within Charter, Spectrum Business, and then of course the big residential business. Do the same people serve both masters on the technician side?
MONAGHAN: We are what we call backwards compatible. So what that means is you kind of come in and you do residential work. And we give you the easy residential work all the way to as you develop in your career the harder residential work. And then you’ll jump into SMB.
SCHLEY: Which tends to be more complicated or?
MONAGHAN: Pieces and parts of it. So I’ll give you a couple examples. You could have the pizza parlor that kind of very much looks like —
SCHLEY: My living room.
MONAGHAN: Exactly. But then you’ll have the law firm or the insurance agency that look a little bit different relative to that. So you can kind of wean people from what they call SMB to kind of the higher end of SMB and then we have our enterprise business which is think of the largest companies that are out there. You know, government agencies and just Fortune 500 type companies.
SCHLEY: Massive data use.
MONAGHAN: But every one of our technicians, in theory, have started from the bottom and have worked their way up so they’re all backwards compatible which means I could work an enterprise job in the morning and I can go do a residential job in the afternoon. We tend to keep them where they are, but everybody’s trained to do everything backwards.
SCHLEY: I wonder how many miles you guys drive in a year. Have you ever looked at that metric? A lot?
MONAGHAN: It’s a lot. It’s in the millions.
SCHLEY: Who, on the cable side at least, who has been influential in your own career path? Like who would you name as a couple of people that are, you know, essential to your progression personally?
MONAGHAN: There’s been a handful. So I think it starts for me with Kip Mayo. Kip Mayo is the one who hired me at Cablevision. She gave me my shot, so to speak, of at the time being a vice president at what I’d call a very big company. I had to earn my way into doing that. I probably went through 25 interviews over four days. She made me run the gauntlet, but she was probably, and I think for anybody who knows her, she’s retired now, but was a great influence on me. Her preparation, how diligent she was. She was extremely smart. Everybody in our company had respect for her and what she did. So I could tell you stories till I’m blue in the face about her preparation versus what you think your preparation is.
MONAGHAN: Yeah, she (laughter) the first budget I ever did with her, I’m proud as a peacock, the budget’s going from here, it’s coming down what I think is a really sizable number and I hand her a brook Friday before my meeting with her on the following Tuesday and she looks at me as I was walking out the door and she said, “Send me the soft copy of everything.”
SCHLEY: Really? Okay, that’s scary.
MONAGHAN: And of course, I meet with her on Tuesday and she found a formula error in Excel on line 145,000 —
SCHLEY: Because of course she did.
MONAGHAN: Because that’s how — just as I said, just as — it made me always think of “am I looking at everything I could look at”? She was a major influence.
SCHLEY: So Kip for sure.
MONAGHAN: The most recent person I worked for, Tom Adams. Tom Adams just recently went into the Syndeo Institute Cable Hall of Fame.
MONAGHAN: And he was another major influence on me. Knows every inch of the cable industry inside and out and to learn that from somebody in a daily view, when you get to interact with people like that, that taught me a lot. I know field ops pretty good, but he knew cable really good and taught you some of the things, as I like to say, from different angles you may not have thought of. That actually made me better.
SCHLEY: It’s interesting because I think Tom’s career began when we were a video-only business, certainly a video-centric business. You kind of came on the scene on the cusp of the CLEC phenomenon so you’ve seen the multi-product offering of the cable industry and the telecom industry up close. What’s fun about what you’re doing?
MONAGHAN: (laughter) Anybody who knows me will laugh when I say this. I absolutely love what I do. I think God put me on the earth to do this.
SCHLEY: You can’t say more than that.
MONAGHAN: Seriously, I love every inch of what I do every day. I love the challenges. They’re different every day. They make you think. They make you make people better over periods of time, but that’s the best thing is it’s not rinse and repeat every day. Every day is something different which makes it great.
SCHLEY: Yeah, I actually wanted to ask you about that and maybe for younger audience members who are watching this, do you know what your day is going to be like when you step into the office in the morning? Is it kind of regimented and planned out?
MONAGHAN: So I have, (laughter) people who know me will laugh at this. I actually have a routine that I look at that I’ve been doing for 25 years.
SCHLEY: Tell us.
MONAGHAN: Every day I look at the same things every day.
MONAGHAN: And then I’ll look at certain things every week and every month. I think to run an operation and a large operation you have to know the inner workings of it and you’ve got to know when things kind of are starting to fall out of line so you can quickly talk to people about getting them back in line. I think that in itself, that daily routine, actually helps me figure out what you’re going to look at for the day hypothetically. And there’s always things of future projects and new product —
MONAGHAN: All that kind of stuff that you’ve got to kind of do, but I have the daily routine that I do every day.
SCHLEY: So just one example, what is one piece of information you would look at every morning or every day?
MONAGHAN: Quota. I look at quota every morning.
SCHLEY: Which means what?
MONAGHAN: Scheduling appointments. So it’s the system that we use internally to make sure that the sales that we make or people who call customer service actually get the best scheduled appointment.
SCHLEY: So do you see a roll-up on the whole country?
MONAGHAN: Oh, yeah, the whole country down to the most minute level. Why I think that’s important though is the customer can have a great interaction with a sales person and the last thing that they say is, “Great, I appreciate the sale. Here’s all the things I’m going to review that you received as a product from us. And oh, by the way, we’ll be there in two weeks.” That doesn’t work in a highly competitive environment that we’re in today. And look, you’re always going to have hurricanes and tornadoes and things like that, but even in those scenarios customers are pretty reasonable, but they’ll be unreasonable when the Super Bowl is on or things like that that are important to them. Like they’re working from home. Our methodology of what we used to do 20 years ago is very different than what we do today because people are schooling from home, working from home, things like that.
SCHLEY: A couple of other paths I wanted to go down with you. SCTE you’re involved in at a pretty deep level. Why? What’s the point? What’s the role of that organization?
MONAGHAN: So SCTE is — everything about SCTE I think is good because it brings the industry together. They do a great amount of work with standards for the industry which I think is really important, but also if you just think of what they do in Cable Expo, they bring the industry together. And when you bring the industry inclusive of vendors and the MSOs, everybody’s together in one place, one, the relationships you make, two, the opportunities you get to talk shop with —
SCHLEY: Peers and —
MONAGHAN: Oh, 100%. So the learning opportunity that they present to you — and they do great stuff for us relative to training and locally they have chapters for our employees to be a part of which I think is — it’s been spectacular and continues to be spectacular.
SCHLEY: You want people to feel they are a part of this industry, not just the company, right?
SCHLEY: Do you coach sports?
MONAGHAN: I coached high school football for about 25 years.
SCHLEY: What — who — what was your school?
MONAGHAN: St. Anthony’s on Long Island.
SCHLEY: How did you guys do?
MONAGHAN: We did okay. The team — I wasn’t part of it last year, but they want a state championship last year. We had won 14 championships during that roughly 25-year run.
SCHLEY: You played, you said.
MONAGHAN: I did. I played there too.
SCHLEY: What was your position?
MONAGHAN: I know I don’t look it, but I used to play defensive back safety.
SCHLEY: What do you see — I mean it’s kind of a softball question, but what are the parallels between coaching a high school football team and running a 41-state field operation?
MONAGHAN: I think there’s lots of parallels. You always have a plan and then you go into the game and something happens that you’re — you weren’t ready for and you —
SCHLEY: Fake field goal, fumble.
MONAGHAN: Everything. I mean it’s even beyond that. Hey, I expected them to do this and they’re not doing that. And you’ve got to really change on the fly. One, you’ve got to have the ability to change on the fly and, two, you have to have people that respect you enough in your ability, and that cascades down in the organization, that actually believe where we started from and where we’re going to will actually make sense. So the parallels there are fabulous, in my point of view.
SCHLEY: Right, one’s instructive of the other. When you do talk to people who are new to the company and hence new to the industry what do you see as the kind of exciting stuff that’s coming down the pike that somebody can be involved in if they’re going to commit their career to this business?
MONAGHAN: Look, the technology that we have in this industry is bar none in my opinion. And this is another thing Chris Winfrey, I love that he says “name an industry that’s reinvented itself multiple times.”
SCHLEY: That’s the cable way.
MONAGHAN: That is the cable way. And just that sentence alone and telling them your opportunities that we have in the industry, forget about our company, 41 states, we cover all of America in the industry.
SCHLEY: I mean I think there was arguably a time when cable wasn’t as cool and now it’s kind of cool again. What happened?
MONAGHAN: You throw out there the internet and mobile, they’re two things that the younger generation uses on an everyday every hour basis.
SCHLEY: What did the Covid crisis teach you about your organization and even the network itself?
MONAGHAN: God, resiliency. I mean it — we were prepared. So if you think about people going home and the consumption that they had from home, our network was duly prepared and our company was duly prepared where I think others in the industry, competitors in particular, went home. And that was really important to us as making sure that, one, we protected our employees, but we also protected our customers, but at the same time I always tell the story is America needed us most at that point. Everybody was going home, working from home, schooling from home, doing virtually everything from home, and if they didn’t have the internet who was there to provide it to them? I think we, specifically at Charter, did a fabulous job there, but on top of that the industry did a fabulous job.
SCHLEY: And part of it, I listened intently when you talked about watching the same metrics every day when you come to work, but part of it I guess is sort of staying ahead. Like you didn’t rest on your laurels. The network continued to be upgraded and enhanced and modified and tweaked and there was a bit of the payoff that you saw?
MONAGHAN: Yeah. I’ll give you a process. I won’t even go to the network because I think the network is so prepared for this that we were ready.
SCHLEY: Okay, talk about process.
MONAGHAN: So process-wise is I remember in looking at the daily metrics quota, our scheduling, in the first week of this we easily on an install might be a day or two out, meaning today’s Monday you’re offering Tuesday or Wednesday.
SCHLEY: Pretty good, right.
MONAGHAN: By next week we were offering a week out. The second week we were offering two weeks and I said we’ll be a month or plus, that doesn’t really help customers, what do we do? So I remember going to Tom Adams at the time and we went and talked to our chief marketing officer, Jon Hargis and he’s like, “What do you want to do?” And we were already on the pathway of doing an enhanced self-install and what we did is just said overnight we’re ramping self-install. And if you really think about it, our competitors couldn’t really replicate it to the degree that we were at. So it made customers safer, it made employees safer, and it solved the problem for us because when you went from roughly a third to 40% of your sales being self-install to 90% overnight, that propelled our growth, it kept everybody safe, it did the right thing for the country. Man, that was something that we learned hard during the pandemic that others —
SCHLEY: But why was that teed up in the first place? Like had you been working on it in advance?
MONAGHAN: We had been working on it saying how do we make self-install better.
SCHLEY: Is this self-install of modem service or?
MONAGHAN: It was of everything. So it could have been TV, modems. We went down the path of let them try — some people are pretty resilient in terms of trying.
SCHLEY: And are you still doing it today like this —
MONAGHAN: We are. It’s been scaled back a bit, but it’s much better than it was, but it’s not as good as it was at peak.
SCHLEY: Your career is not done, but is there an accomplishment you’re sort of most proud of that you’ve helped to bring to bear to this point, would you say?
MONAGHAN: There’s a whole bunch, but probably the most recent one is what we call proactive maintenance. Proactive maintenance is traditionally — this industry, all of it, competitors, peers, when you had a service issue you had to call us.
SCHLEY: Something’s wrong.
MONAGHAN: Something’s wrong —
SCHLEY: Tom, fix it.
MONAGHAN: TV’s not right, the internet’s not working, my phone isn’t working. We’ve over the last 18 months flipped that on its head where I could tell through telemetry today if you’re having an issue.
SCHLEY: That I don’t even maybe know about?
MONAGHAN: And to a high degree you don’t even know about, but you’re on the cusp of what I’ll call falling off where it’s going to become an issue. And now we proactively reach out to through your own preferred method of communication. We’ll call you, text you, email you, based on how you want to do it, and we’ll tell you that we think you have a problem and we’d like to come out and resolve it before it becomes an issue. It’s actually gotten so successful that we actually just started some TV commercials around it alerting people that we care that much about our network that we don’t want you to have a bad experience when you certainly don’t want to have one. We want to get ahead of that.
SCHLEY: I love it. Is that the byproduct of the DOCSIS specification? Is that your sniffing the network all the time?
MONAGHAN: That’s exactly what you’re doing is you’re monitoring the DOCSIS network and we could tell what causes what, what kind of issue from a technical point of view causes pixilation or causes slow speeds or those kinds of things. And even if it’s kind of on the cusp we want to go get that now so you don’t have a worse issue down the line.
SCHLEY: This is a naïve question for someone like you, but I’ve always wondered about this. What makes a network go to the cusp? I mean is it a loose — a connection that becomes loose suddenly or?
MONAGHAN: It could be lots. I mean connections could be loose. You could have a cable or a wire that’s rubbing against a tree and you had a little rain and it really becomes kind of off kilter at that point and actually affects your service. So there’s extremes that you could have relative to those scenarios, but simple to very complex.
SCHLEY: But we’re still — okay, here’s a question for you. If I put a fiber splicer in your hand right now, could you splice a fiber?
SCHLEY: You could?
SCHLEY: Is it hard? Is it —
MONAGHAN: No. You know what —
SCHLEY: It’s pretty precise work though, right?
MONAGHAN: It’s like shooting free throws. The more you do the better you get. Unless you’re Shaq of course, but.
SCHLEY: Okay, give me if you would kind of a closing theme. One prediction or projection or five years from now, what cool thing are you going to be working on that we don’t work on today? Any thoughts there?
MONAGHAN: It’s interesting because I’m going to go back a little bit in time. I always say this because I think it’s very relevant to our industry. I read something in a trade magazine in the early 2000s that said 50% of the technology you’re going to see two years from now hasn’t even been invented yet. If you really think about our industry, I mean the numbers don’t match up, but the concept does about technology changes that quickly. And quite candidly, it could be what we facilitate with that. It could be edge technology, meaning devices or how you use advancements in those types of things and how our network can go support those things all the way to what we can do with our network. Nobody was talking about high split five years ago, as an example, and how you upgrade your network to those kind of things. So it’ll be interesting five years from now things we’re not even thinking about today.
SCHLEY: But I think it’s interesting you mentioned that because when we talk about the future it’s not like we’re going to abandon this architecture that you make a living off of today, this hybrid fiber meets coaxial. A lot of life left in that plant, right, still?
MONAGHAN: We actually think it’s to our advantage because if you think about fiber overbuilders, they’ve actually not only got to — they have to overbuild themselves, but they actually got to get inside every home to go facilitate that piece of it which is extremely cumbersome for customers. Drilling holes in their house and all that kind of stuff that goes in conjunction with that. We have all the wiring that’s existing inside of customers’ homes already. We’re upgrading the network or the plant and the network that goes in conjunction with that. That’s our advantage. One, we can go faster, be more cost efficient, and actually make it simpler for a customer.
SCHLEY: Football analogy again, but have you seen your employees get their competitive juices up a little bit as you see a lot of advertising from the Frontiers of the world and the — there’s more competition in the market than there used to be. So that kind of can work in your favor though, right? Psychologically or it’s like you’ve got the big interior lineman to slam onto the ground, but what are the dynamics around that, around increasing competition?
MONAGHAN: The interesting part is our employees really care. So as we go out and do these town halls, we’ll get lots of competition type questions. What are we doing, why are we doing it, why can’t we go faster, all those types of —
SCHLEY: Why can these guys say this?
MONAGHAN: Yeah, why aren’t we overbuilding ourselves with fiber? So we can come back with a conversation kind of like I just mentioned of we can go faster, more cost effective, and easier for a customer and easier for you as an employee. Then they start kind of seeing the bigger picture of this is about beating your competition and if you think your network is better than theirs, part of that is believing that, but it’s also incumbent upon somebody like me and our leadership team to explain that.
SCHLEY: To impart that.
MONAGHAN: It’s back to making sure that they understand the intention.
SCHLEY: What haven’t I asked you about that’s front burner with you today, right now?
MONAGHAN: I think you kind of hit everything. You hit competition, you hit additional construction, you hit high split, technology, employees.
SCHLEY: I appreciate it. We’ve done a number of these oral histories and we haven’t done that many that are devoted in a religious fashion to field operations. Other than the Tom Adams conversation we had not long ago. So really appreciate your willingness to kind of look back, but also look forward into what’s coming up. Thank you, coach. Coach Tom Monaghan, a VP of field operations for Charter Communications. Thank you guys for tuning in to this bit of oral history from the Syndeo Institute at the Cable Center. Thanks for tuning in.