Interview Date: November 1, 2022
Interview Location: Denver, CO
Interviewer: Stewart Schley
Collection: Cable Center Hauser Oral History Project
STEWART SCHLEY: Well, greetings, good day, and welcome to this iteration of the Cable Center’s Hauser Oral History Series. I am Stewart Schley. We are in the Denver facility and studio of the Cable Center. And for the next hour, I get the privilege and the pleasure of talking to someone who can address a dimension of the cable telecommunications business we don’t talk about that much. It’s not programming and HBO. It’s not two-way amplifiers and technology. It’s really people, because Shane Portfolio, your career has been — has revolved around empowering and cultivating talent in and around this industry. So, Shane Portfolio and the senior leadership group at Comcast, pleased to have you, and thanks for joining us today.
SHANE PORTFOLIO: It’s absolutely my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
SCHLEY: Did I get the intro right? Is that kind of how you would describe your gig, your thing?
PORTFOLIO: That is what I have the most passion for and really serves my purpose. When I care for others, yeah.
SCHLEY: Let’s take a walk down memory lane and tell me about how you found your way into the cable industry in the fir– and when was it?
PORTFOLIO: Sure. So, very interesting start. I was in the military for a few years. And when I got out of the military, I wanted to prioritize my college education, and so I needed to find a job that had night hours so that I could go to school during the day. And TCI at the time — 24, 7 call center — had an evening shift that allowed me to prioritize going to school during the day and so that I could have a job at night and pay the rent. And that’s how it started, as a call center representative answering phone calls.
SCHLEY: Talk about an introduction to the reality of cable, right? Because it was mostly a television medium at the time, or where were we?
PORTFOLIO: It was exclusively, yeah.
PORTFOLIO: It was right as we were doing some digital from analog conversions, but it was all video.
SCHLEY: What — you learned a lot I’m sure. But what are some of the takeaways you had from that sort of brusque introduction to operations and customer care? Like, what did you learn?
PORTFOLIO: I learned a few things. I learned, first of all, the heroes and the backbone of our company are those who care for our customers directly and those who have to take the brunt of customer feedback even when it’s not pleasant. A lot of times people don’t get to experience that, but the call center representatives, they experience that all day. So, them, along with our front-line technicians, to me are still really the backbone and the heroes of our company. And so, to have been able to experience that firsthand has always put me in a position of having great empathy and a great amount of commitment to helping them, as I know the challenges that they work through on a day-to-day basis. Had I not started that front-line level, I may not have that degree of empathy. But because I did, I really have held true to that throughout my career.
SCHLEY: I think for a lot of us on the consumer side, those people are the face or the voice of the cable industry, particularly the in-home technicians. And what did it take to be a good customer care representative in the day, and what does it take today to be good at that job?
PORTFOLIO: I think the common themes that existed then and still exist now is — or are — listening, compassion, empathy, and having a genuine concern for their overall experience with us. Those have remained the same. Technology has evolved considerably. The tools that the representatives have now are far more advanced. The technology they have to support is far more advanced. The role itself is far more complex. But those common themes were important then and remain important today.
SCHLEY: So, that was your intro, and then what — where did you kind of move on or progress from there? I know you have many, many degrees from many esteemed universities, so you didn’t give up the academic side of your life. But what happened professionally after that?
PORTFOLIO: The introduction of high-speed internet, and they wanted a small team to start answering phone calls for a trial to see if this technology was actually going to work. And I was one of the people that worked the shift that they needed people to fill those positions, and so they asked me to transfer from video to the internet product. Because, again, school was my priority, so it was really about shift. And then, they quickly saw that the trial was not just successful; it was wildly successful. They also determined that I was a leadership instructor in the military, and they quickly pulled me off the phones to become a new hire trainer because we needed to get as many call center people on the floor as possible, because the demand for that product was overwhelming the number of people that were answering phone calls. So, that’s when I transitioned out of that position.
SCHLEY: It’s so interesting, Shane, because you mentioned the demand probably surpassed what the expectations were. Take us back. I think today we take it for granted that we can get installed and up-and-running and provisioned to have high-speed internet. It doesn’t take that long, and it works, but it really was new then. What was that environment and that circumstance like for you guys?
PORTFOLIO: It really felt like a start-up because we were also introducing some of our voice over IP product around the same time. And voice, because it was such a prominent part of the industry at the time, really took a lot of the prioritization. And so, most of the higher-end engineers or higher-end executives, et cetera, they were all focused on voice. And we were a bit of the people in the back room —
SCHLEY: Isn’t that interesting?
PORTFOLIO: — trying to make this work. And it was a very interesting culture, and one that helped influence my entire career. And I’m very grateful to have been a part of that experience when it was being introduced.
SCHLEY: I mean, since you were there on sort of the front lines or one step removed from the front lines, in the early days of cable internet service, what were the installations like? Did — it took a while, didn’t it, to get somebody’s computer connected?
PORTFOLIO: Absolutely. And we had to have minimum requirements of RAM and all these other different things we had to check. You know, an order would take a good 20, 30 minutes for a manual process of asking customers, you know, 30, 40 things about their computer. Many of them not exactly sure how to even find that information on their computer. And then, the systems that we used were really in their infancy, and so, data integrity and things were being — falling out. And so, we had to create a team that was 100 percent dedicated to simply being available for our technicians so when they were doing the installations they could help them through it.
SCHLEY: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting because one of the themes that I see pervading your career is this anti-siloization, sort of. But at the time, we did really separate our support teams by product, didn’t we?
PORTFOLIO: We did.
SCHLEY: Was that the right thing to do, or what do you think?
PORTFOLIO: I think at the time there was enough difference that it made sense. I think over time as we’ve evolved and integrated our technology over an IP ecosystem, it becomes a bit more integrated, and it makes more sense to have people that are able to talk about different products. But at the time, they were pretty unique in the way that they were delivered.
SCHLEY: And it was all new.
SCHLEY: We were learning as we go. At the corporate level, there was a lot of consolidation and merger and acquisition activity going on around that time. Your company, TCI, shortly after your arrival became part of —
PORTFOLIO: AT&T Broadband.
SCHLEY: Okay. Did that change the equation on the ground, or was it business as usual?
PORTFOLIO: AT&T Broadband brought with it a pretty significant infusion of capital. So, the building of our network became a really significant part of what they wanted to do, and so we did see our growth into other parts of the country accelerate quite a bit as a result of that. And so, that was a very different pace in terms of building out a network than what we had before that.
SCHLEY: Do you remember, Shane, the very first internet market for TCI? Where did you guys launch the service?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, they were Mount Prospect, Illinois and Fremont, California. Those were the two that we supported.
SCHLEY: You remember there was this infamous quote that used to circulate in the industry? “You can have my cable modem when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” But I just want to just kind of make this segue to help our audience understand how popular that product was and how it changed everything about the internet, right?
PORTFOLIO: It really did. It was incredibly — everybody that had dial-up and the annoying screeching noise and the —
SCHLEY: I kind of liked that noise, you know?
PORTFOLIO: — stuff like that. Well, good for you. I’d say you’re one of few.
PORTFOLIO: And the ability, you know, when people would pick up their phone and therefore drop the internet connection. All of those things were creating conditions across our country where people were pretty excited that those type of things didn’t happen over the high-speed internet connection.
SCHLEY: Let’s kind of continue the path, then. So, where did you move on, or what did you do following that devotion to the internet support side of the business?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, so that was when I got really excited about turning this from a job to a career. And so, I was in an accounting major program, and I switched to computer information systems because I really saw this thing as a rocket ship that I was really interested in. And so, I did the training for a while, and then they introduced the concept of a network operations center, or a 24, 7 team that would support the network that we were providing connection to our customers. But at the time, it was outsourced to [at-home?] and a portion of it was outsourced to AT&T, so we were really just a middle group between our call center representatives and those in which we outsourced to. Over time, we took over direct responsibility of that, and I spent a good decade in that group really growing, supporting, and developing what we are now, which is one of the largest networks in the world.
SCHLEY: Two questions, parallel. What was hard about that job and what was satisfying about that job?
PORTFOLIO: Well, the hard part was the maturity of the technology was really in its infancy, and so things were breaking all the time. So, I was on calls every night, weekends, you name it, trying to get this technology to get mature.
SCHLEY: Connections would halt, or — ?
PORTFOLIO: All the time, yeah, and just the technology we were using was still in its infancy, too. And CMTSes were just being introduced. DOCSIS was being introduced. New cable modems at the time — now, you know, they’re wireless gateways, but at the time they were cable modems — were being introduced. All of that. And it was — IP addresses were being introduced. Like, everything was being introduced all at one time, and so the maturity of that created a condition that you were always on a call — holidays, vacation, you name it. So, that was probably the most difficult part of it, which interestingly enough was also part of why it was interesting because there wasn’t anywhere else you were going to learn how this works better than the place that actually has to fix all of these things. So, I was immersed in an accelerated program of understanding how this all works in a way that I think maybe people did not just because of the opportunity of being in that team.
SCHLEY: Right, and truly unprecedented work —
SCHLEY: — for the industry. What kinds of — from a human resources standpoint, Shane, what kinds of people were you looking to bring aboard then that could help make this transition or this transformation possible?
PORTFOLIO: We were looking for people that had network experience, so we hired a lot of people that were from the DSL part of the industry.
PORTFOLIO: We hired people that had, you know, at the time, T1 and T3 experience and how to provision those circuits. People who were getting Cisco certifications. And those kind of things were really important to us.
SCHLEY: But a really different kind of skillset than what the cable industry had relied on historically.
PORTFOLIO: That’s right. Yeah, very IP-focused. Just an entirely different layer of the OSI model was something we were looking at, on layer three. A lot of cable leaders before that were really layer one and two. This started to really introduce layer three and above in a different way.
SCHLEY: This wasn’t just at the customer care level. The entire industry kind of went through this, I guess, movement where you needed to sort of begin to speak IP. You needed to speak computerese if you will. You saw it throughout the organization, I’m sure.
PORTFOLIO: Absolutely. And that’s why I knew it was where I wanted to make it a career instead of job, was just all the energy and excitement of that. I knew we were at the beginning of something really special.
SCHLEY: And I don’t want to lose — you have, I would say, a very impressive academic pedigree that you bring to the world as well. But had you obtained an undergrad and a graduate degree by this point? Or where were you?
PORTFOLIO: Just my undergrad and starting my first graduate degree.
SCHLEY: How did you manage all that? I mean, this is a demanding job, and, oh, on the side, I’m going to, you know, study at a high-level. How did you personally manage that?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, and I was also in the National Guard, and so there was a lot of commitment for that. I get asked this question a lot, and to me, it’s all about the fact that we all have 24 hours in our day. And if you’re really intentional and disciplined with it, that’s a lot of time. And you can be intentional about your schedule to the degree where you can do all of those things. But if you just do it beca– on best effort and you’re not intentional about it and you’re not committed to being disciplined about it, then it can get really difficult. So, for me, it’s all about setting a course, understanding what each day was going to bring, and being disciplined about it.
SCHLEY: Okay. I mean, I think there’s a lot of value in that for our audience no matter where someone comes from. But just as a tangible example, how would you manage a two-hour block on your calendar? I mean, what’s the Shane Portfolio way, you know?
PORTFOLIO: Well, I’m very fortunate to have the best assistant today. Back then when it was just me, I would — every 30 minutes counted, so I would make sure that every 30 minutes were something I needed to do.
SCHLEY: But did you allow yourself break time? Five-minute, you know, recharge or how did you do it?
PORTFOLIO: Not familiar with this. (laughter) What is this mean, break time?
SCHLEY: Just asking.
PORTFOLIO: It’s a new term for me.
SCHLEY: Do you consider yourself a technologist or an engineer or more of a human resources person?
PORTFOLIO: So, I learned when I was in the military when I saw exceptional leadership for the first time, that that’s what I wanted to do, that I wanted to lead. And so, when the technology started to take off, I knew that it was an accelerated way into leadership. And so, I said, “That’s what I want to do.” And I quickly found out that engineers are not going to respect their leaders if they don’t have the ability to have a technical, deep conversation with them. So, all the technical expertise that I’ve picked up over the years was always in service of being a better leader versus being somebody who’s really passionate about technology. I love technology. It’s fantastic. It’s provided great life for my family and I. But at the end of the day, it was always in service of being a better leader than it was a passion directly about technology.
SCHLEY: Yeah, I love that answer and that thread. Can you offer an example of perhaps a commanding officer or someone you worked with or under in the military that was, you know, that really resonated with you?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, I can tell you. You know, we were in a combat situation, and my platoon sergeant came to me. And I was responsible for what they called a section, which was about 10 soldiers, and he asked me what we needed that day. And we needed ammunition; we needed water. We needed a few other things. And I watched him make it his priority to ensure that he delivered for my soldiers and I what I had asked him for. That was the day I knew I was going to be a leader the rest of my life, because the emotion that I felt and that my soldiers felt when he delivered on what we asked him for was an emotion that I wanted to have — in terms of me being able to provide that to others — the rest of my life. I knew there was nothing else that would touch that emotion. And so, that’s the catalyst that really got me into leadership.
SCHLEY: I mean, I was going to ask you about motivating people. I think you just kind of answered the question in a way. But I would point out that even asking the question, “What do you need?” is an important prelude to providing what you need.
PORTFOLIO: That’s right. And I do think that we have two ears and one mouth is not by accident. And the first thing that you do when you ask that question of, “What do you need?” is you listen, and you don’t assume. Because a lot of people already ask that in somewhat of a rhetorical way, but if you’re asking it in a genuine way, you’re not coming to your own conclusion. You are waiting for someone to actually answer that question. And there’s a big difference in that.
SCHLEY: And that does apply to the business of telecommunications and support.
PORTFOLIO: One hundred percent.
SCHLEY: Okay. Talk about training at large a little bit. I don’t know how many people you’ve had a hand in teaching or instructing or training, but I’m guessing it’s a fair number. Where do you start? If I’m a newbie and I’m coming to your organization, and I’m game to learn, but I have a lot to learn, what’s my path? How do I begin to understand my job requirements and how to fulfill them?
PORTFOLIO: So, one of the first things you have to be is curious, and you have to be comfortable asking questions. Because most everybody else has the same questions, but those who are curious and courageous to ask them are truly the ones that typically differentiate themself. I also think it’s important that, as leaders, we provide clarity to our employees of what that is, and you take the time to go through an explanation of roles and responsibilities, accountabilities, goals, key performance indicators, success criteria — all of those things — so that people aren’t living in an environment of ambiguity or confusion of what they actually need to deliver.
SCHLEY: Because we’ve, I think, all seen that. I remember being moved by a quote from an executive in this industry who said, you know, “Make sure your people know what their job is. Make sure they know what is — because how are you going to meet it otherwise?”
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: You would subscribe to that?
PORTFOLIO: One hundred percent, yeah. You have to do that.
SCHLEY: What changes did you see? There was a point at which we sort of began to understand that this high-speed internet thing was not just real; it was going to overtake the telephony side of the house, and one day — and that day has come — it would be the number-one cash flow generator for this industry. Do you remember when that realization started to take hold or kind of what that time was like?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, absolutely, with great clarity. It was when we started to see the difference in the amount of new customers we were getting, and therefore that translated into capital investment into our network, and we started to invest more in the high-speed internet parts of our architecture than anywhere else. And a part of us who kind of liked being in the back and not being on stage and being the prominent had to go through our own change management of now all of a sudden we’re the top priority and all of that and going through that. It was easy for some because people were excited about the fact that we got the attention that we’d been wanting. But for others, it was a little bit harder. They actually liked kind of doing stuff and being left alone a little bit, and that wasn’t happening around that time when people started to see that we were now the priority.
SCHLEY: And when did we begin to sort of coalesce where one agent or one technician might support multiple product lines, you know?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, so it’s been over a decade now. And progressively every year you get more and more integrated, and we take complex situations and we simplify them for our technicians the best we can. But it’s been probably I would say around 2008 to 2010 was when it really started, and then it’s just been progressively focused since.
SCHLEY: So, we’re asking more of our people, then?
PORTFOLIO: Oh, yeah.
SCHLEY: Right? And that, I’m sure, translates to who you’re hiring and how you’re training them.
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: The high-speed internet category was so transformational, we used to joke with fellow journalists that someday we were going to call cable television — we were going to take the word “television” out of the cable television equation. But you — and television is still a big part of this business.
SCHLEY: I get that. But how has the customer support job changed as the technology and the services have changed? What kinds of calls come in and what is the character of the customer interaction today?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, so today, we want to do as many as of our transactions in a digital way. Meaning, we have intelligence on our network now that can determine that we’re dealing with a condition, and we should not wait for our customer to contact us.
SCHLEY: Like a proactive —
SCHLEY: — approach?
PORTFOLIO: It’s proactive in terms of we would reach out to the customer to let them know that we have now reactively found something. But, yes, and proactive in terms of we initiate the conversation instead of the customer, which is a big deal. And we use SMS technology and we use different apps and things of that nature, and we integrate that in. And we have taken it to the place where we really want that transaction with our customer to be more digital, more specialized and unique to them, knowing what their specific issue is instead of, “There’s something going on in your neighborhood of 500 people.” No, this is specifically affecting you, and we want you to know we care about you, regardless if it’s affecting others or not, and communicate at a very personal level.
SCHLEY: There used to be this bromide I would hear that the only time you hear from a customer is when she or he is angry and upset. That was probably never true, but you do have to have a particular temperament to deal with the customers, don’t you?
SCHLEY: What is that temperament, and what are — how do you do it without losing your cool, I guess, you know?
PORTFOLIO: I think you have to have a great degree of empathy for the challenges our customers face and a great degree of passion of service, and really wanting to make sure you do all you can to make their experience as positive as possible. So, if you lack those fundamentals, then it’s a much more difficult job than it already is.
SCHLEY: Can you tell when you or one of your subordinates is interviewing or hiring someone if someone may be able to possess those traits? I mean, is it apparent?
PORTFOLIO: It is. Yeah, the language they use —
SCHLEY: That’s interesting.
PORTFOLIO: — is important. And if it’s a lot about “I” and a lot about “me” and a lot about things that aren’t oriented towards a common, collaborative effort, those folks typically raise my awareness a little bit more than those who said, “I may have contributed, but this was a team sport, and the star of our team was the team. I just happened to be a part of it.”
SCHLEY: Shane, who would you identify — looking at your career journey — as some of the most — on the corporate side or the business side, some of the most influential people who kind of fostered your career?
PORTFOLIO: Really, three. One is Charlotte Field, an amazing pioneer, woman in technology.
SCHLEY: I think we have an oral history of Charlotte Field on the racks, yeah.
PORTFOLIO: She’s amazing, and her ability to — you know, the thing that resonated the most with me about her was she said that if you really want to be an effective leader in this industry, you need to stay at a high level and give your team space to learn that when times get a little bit tighter in terms of pressure because there’s a major event happening or something, you need to possess the ability to go deep and go into deep conversations and help your team solve complex issues. But once you’ve gone deep and you’ve solved it, go back up and allow space for your team. That was incredible wisdom that I’ve used and still use to this day.
SCHLEY: And I know you were going to talk about a couple of other people, but what is a tangible example of that, when an event that may be disruptive or unnerving occurs? Give us a sense of what that might be.
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, if there’s a situation where, you know, Denver lost internet connection, and you want to give your team some space, but you recognize this is going to be something that’s going to be getting press coverage and other kind of things like that. Your team needs to see, hear, and feel your presence, and you need to show that you’re as vested in trying to solve that situation as they are and give —
SCHLEY: You’re not hiding in the corner —
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: — and “hope you can deal with this, friends.” Yeah, okay.
PORTFOLIO: And so, if you do that, then your team has a great degree of respect for that. But then, they also respect that you don’t stay at that level of depth when things are resolved and you’re moving on to (inaudible). You allow for space again.
SCHLEY: And then, in addition to Charlotte Field, other names that might be prominent for you?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, one of the best leaders I ever worked for was a gentleman named Hank Fore. Retired colonel from the military who came in. He was the senior vice president of the California region when I was running engineering there. And the one primary thing that happened with him was I had worked for Charlotte or other engineering leaders my entire career prior to working for him. He was the first general manager that also had finance and HR and sales and marketing and all the other different departments. And so, for me, any time that I would present to a Charlotte or, you know, like, a Dan Murphy or someone like that, I would bring to them material that was specific about the technology or the engineering work we were doing, because that was what they were ultimately responsible for. When I went to Hank, my first one-on-one, I had that same material and was going to present to him, “Here’s what’s happening in engineering.” And he took my material and he put it to the side and said, “I hired you so you can be excellent at this. But what I want to talk to you about is how are you helping sales and marketing? How are you helping HR? How are you helping finance? Because this team will only be as strong as how we help one another.” And it was such an important lesson for me to learn, that while my work is important, my real work is to be a collaborative leader across a broader function than my own.
SCHLEY: Were you able to answer that question on the spot, or — ?
PORTFOLIO: I told him I need to prioritize that better, and we ended up doing that. And in Comcast, we have a series of metrics that come out every month that aggregates to a score, and that score is what ends up becoming what you call a power ranking. And there’s 15 regions in the company. And California’s a very difficult market to work in for a lot of reasons, and so they’re typically not at the top because of all those complexities they have to work through. But under Hank’s leadership, we were Region of the Year two of three years. And so — and I attest that to his commitment — and unyielding commitment — to making team the priority that he focused on. And so, I took that lesson and made that an important part of what I do, too.
SCHLEY: How have you — and this is I think meaningful to our audience and people who may be at the early part of their careers and aim to rise and to be successful, and so any advice you can impart is welcome. How do people get noticed as capable leaders, I mean, without being, you know — I’m not saying be obnoxious about it. But how do you become known as a leader within an organization?
PORTFOLIO: So, for me, the way that you do that as a leader is you focus on the culture that you’re directly responsible for. And what I’ve seen is that when you do that, you build somewhat of a micro culture within the macro culture. And that micro culture performs differently, feels different when you’re around it. The smell of the place, so to speak, is one where people are naturally gravitated towards it. People enjoy working together. And we have introduced a system called the ENPS net promoter system for employees that they give an anonymous survey every two months. And typically, that’s the way to see if there’s a team that’s performing a little bit differently. But for the longest time, that wasn’t something we did, and so the way that we identified it was typically through the people that were gravitated towards being a part of that team. So, if you could see that a leader attracted the highest talent, and that highest talent wanted to work on that team, that typically was an indication of there’s something going on over there that’s a little different because it’s attracting the best of the best to want to work for them.
SCHLEY: It’s really taking that net promoter score concept and applying it internally, sort of —
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: — to an evaluation system. Today, what kinds of individuals do you want to see walk through the door who might be wanting to begin a technically — I guess every position in cable is sort of technically grounded anymore, but who might be want to work for this industry and be excited by the things Comcast and others are doing? What are we looking for in terms of education, in terms of background?
PORTFOLIO: So, our fastest growing parts of our company and industry is in the software development work, in cloud, in understanding automation and artificial intelligence, because now we’re getting to a place where the intelligence is incredible. The telemetry’s incredible. And people who can take and break down that really complex amount of data that’s coming off of our infrastructure and simplify how we digest, how we leverage, how we utilize it are incredibly invaluable. Data scientists are invaluable. But I also think it’s important to remind people that while all those things, which are relatively new technology, is important, the fundamentals of HFC knowledge and how our network works, power supplies, batteries, things that people typically don’t think are as sexy but are still incredibly fundamentally important to us, and we have a lot of people that have that knowledge that are at the end of their career. It’s essential that these newer people are a sponge and listen and learn from these folks before they decide to leave because, still, the vast majority of how we deliver a product to our customer goes over that [median?], and so we’ve got to keep that as well.
SCHLEY: It’s — isn’t it remarkable how the HFC network, the hybrid fiber coaxial network you’re referring to, that basic architecture has really withstood the test of time, even through all these technology transformations?
PORTFOLIO: It’s absolutely amazing. And even now with our competitive nature of fiber and all these other things that are coming at us, it still has a long shelf life, and there’s things that we can do to advance its capability for years to come. And that’s why it’s important that even the newer people —
PORTFOLIO: — that are coming in understand this technology, because it’s going to be around for some time.
SCHLEY: What do you see — this is the crystal ball question, but, you know, without opening up the [tent?] to your five-year plan, what do you see happening going forward in this industry in terms of the products we offer and the services we render?
PORTFOLIO: So, for us, it’s really about making sure we can do symmetrical gigabit service, making sure we make the advancements there. And that’s advancements that are nodes. That’s advancements that are CMTSes. That’s advancements of our CPE in the customer’s home. It’s making sure that we can get that taken care of. I think the other piece, you know, I have two teenage boys, and I know that —
SCHLEY: I’m sorry.
PORTFOLIO: — they’re not unique in the way that they consume data, and it’s typically gaming or very high-end 4K-plus type content. Typically, very short, thirty-second, two-minute type things. So, if you think about that, what’s the demand that those people who are going to soon be their own independent customers of ours? [What?]? And it’s low latency. So, low latency becomes really important.
SCHLEY: Let’s talk just briefly about latency, the responsiveness, the ping time of the network. Is that what we’re referring to?
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: Okay. Gaming in particular.
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: What can a cable company do to optimize its network to be speedier in terms of latency?
PORTFOLIO: So, there’s — we are at probably the most exciting time in our company’s or industry’s life cycle in about 20 years because we are introducing new technology over a virtualized CMTS over a remote [fi?] device where we have intelligence embedded into equipment that typically never had that capability before. And we’re having to do that.
SCHLEY: Kind of, I don’t want to say dumb box, but it was a piece of hardware —
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: — that sat on the network.
PORTFOLIO: That’s right. So, the ability to have these devices that have been exclusively hardware devices actually come to life via software is incredibly game-changing for us.
SCHLEY: And that has implications for latency as well as other —
SCHLEY: — tricks you can bring to bear?
PORTFOLIO: That’s right, because that’s the stuff that brings out new technology, either mid-split or high-split technology or extended spectrum DOCSIS or full-duplex all rides on the back of those advancements.
SCHLEY: I wanted to take you up on the teenage boy model. Did — what is the importance of symmetrical data? As, why is that potentially a grabber going forward?
PORTFOLIO: Yeah, so for the longest time — 10-plus years — downstream was our most important thing. That was how fast, you know, things got to through the computer, right? And then, people started utilizing upstream a little bit more to be able to communicate in a bidirectional way. And then, we introduced business service, and business really brought to light the importance of upstream path.
SCHLEY: Because we’re shoving a lot of data back up the pipe.
PORTFOLIO: That’s right. And so, now we’re at a place where upstream is equally if not more important than downstream because downstream is in pretty good shape. Upstream is where we have to make our advancements. And as a result of that, we are seeing the demand of the gigabit symmetrical versus just gigabit down become a priority.
SCHLEY: It would have been hard to envision that in 1998 when you’re starting to roll out this service because, what, we were delivering, what, one-megabit-per-second internet?
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: One and a half?
PORTFOLIO: That’s right.
SCHLEY: Crazy progression, but an interesting one. What did we learn from the pandemic about our network and the way it works?
PORTFOLIO: It was that first of all, it’s incredibly resilient. We saw a compound annual growth rate within a 60-day period that we would typically not see over a year and a half, two years.
SCHLEY: Gosh, yeah.
PORTFOLIO: It was absolutely incredible.
SCHLEY: The flash, yeah.
PORTFOLIO: And we were worried that our network was going to be able to hand that amount of demand that fast, and it handled it really well. And then, the men and women — the heroes of our company — then really went to work and kept that type of traffic sustained over the period of time. And we’ve doubled and tripled capacity in many areas in a very short period of time. A lot of these men and women are heroes. And when you talk to them about what they did, they just did their job. They just did it faster than they normally do. And so, to them, it wasn’t that big a deal. But when I say we were there when our country needed us the most, you need to not underestimate the power, the influence, and the impact that you had on this society as a whole as a result of the work you did.
SCHLEY: That’s a great quote, yeah. Yeah. Recognition is part of a company culture. How do you foster or embrace recognition as a tool?
PORTFOLIO: First of all, I don’t give false praise. That’s really important, because if you’re just going around —
SCHLEY: You gave me an interesting answer.
PORTFOLIO: — telling people that everything’s great, that becomes numb and people don’t really feel recognized. So, when you do recognize somebody because they did something that is deserving recognition, and you make sure that you do that, that’s when people start to say, okay, recognition matters. It’s not just a “that a boy,” “that a girl,” all the time, because that becomes something that people ultimately don’t value as much. But when you are intentional about, this individual did these things and as a result he or she really should be recognized because they did something that was well above and beyond what they are supposed to do, and you make sure as a leader that you not only acknowledge it but you recognize it and you let other people understand that you’ve recognized it, that’s an environment people want to work in.
SCHLEY: I love the “don’t praise falsely” response. You have been recognized as one of the members or the honorees in the Cable Pioneers Organization I think. Who cares? Why does that matter? What does that mean to you?
PORTFOLIO: It’s an illustrious group of men and women who have built this industry, and I was very humbled by it. I was the first honoree that was nominated by two female leaders in our industry, so I was very humbled by that. Zenita and [Leslie?], who I think are top of their game. And was incredibly humbled by their nomination. And what it meant to me was that I was in a group of my peers that I’ve always looked up to, and as a result, feel a bit of accountability towards making sure that I show up the same way they did. And that there’s a level of respect that I had for them that I need to have in terms of what other people think of me, et cetera.
SCHLEY: I always wonder — this is an interesting question, and I’ve asked people at this table this before, but what is it about the cable industry, either structurally or psychologically or emotionally that makes it kind of a different and special place to work, as opposed to, let’s say, footwear or grocery stores, you know?
PORTFOLIO: I think because we build the technology that matters to families. It matters to the households and businesses that we provide service to. I think you feel — you can’t help but feel like you are contributing to society in a way that’s a little more unique than people that are doing other industries. I think it’s just it’s an emotional business, and it’s a business that feels like a family. And it’s because I think we all understand that our — ultimately, at the end of the day, our responsibility is to provide moments that matter to people in this country, and that’s an exceptional responsibility.
SCHLEY: Do you allow yourself to consider or contemplate what your personal imprint may have been on this industry? And if so, where do you go with that? What do you think?
PORTFOLIO: I just want to be somebody that when they think of me, they say, “He was somebody that was genuine, authentic, cared about me and my development. And as a result of spending time with him, I have greater self-confidence. I have greater awareness of the broader ecosystem that we work in.” And I want to be in a position that takes those lessons and pays it forward for other people to experience it, too.
SCHLEY: That’s an articulation, I think, of the boss we’d all like to work for (laughs), so I appreciate that. This hour has gone by quickly with Shane Portfolio, and we appreciate you walking us down the memory lane and then looking forward as to what might be next for this industry. It’s been a delight to visit with you, and on behalf of the Cable Center and the Hauser Oral History Series, thank you for watching.
PORTFOLIO: Thank you.
SCHLEY: Shane, you mentioned there were a trio of people who you would single out as being influential in your world. We got through two of them. Who’s number three?
PORTFOLIO: Three is Steve White, who is the division president of the West division, and the energy, the intentionality, the way that he would plan — and he was the best person that ever worked for in terms of providing me developmental feedback. He would meet with me regularly once a quarter in a very formal way. He would document everything we talked about. And then the next time we met, he would have those documents available to see how well we’ve progressed since the last time. And he would have a positive and a negative column of, “Here’s the things that I’ve seen that have improved since the last time we spoke, and here’s some things that aren’t going well still. And I need — you know, this is an area to really focus on.” And I never felt attacked. I felt like he was really just trying in a genuine way to help develop my leadership capability. So, I grew so much as a leader under him that I’m incredibly grateful for the experience I had.
SCHLEY: I wanted to — I’d be remiss if I didn’t — we talked a little bit about how you’ve been able to balance academic achievement and career and professional achievement. I want to just rip off a few of the names of the universities from whom you have degrees: Stanford, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, University of Denver just down the street. It’s probably hard to single out one particular moment in your academic history that really rises to the top in terms of what it meant for you, but I’m going to ask you to anyway. What comes to the mind?
PORTFOLIO: I think the Denver University curriculum here, because it has a high degree of influence of our industry. That’s why I was interested in that. There was a lot of places that I could get computer information systems or computer science degrees, but this particular program here was a telecommunications and broadband emphasis, and you can’t find that very often. And so, that spoke directly to the industry that we’re in, and as a result, the instruction that was a part of that program was very applicable and transferable to the work I do on a daily basis. And so, that particular program had a pretty big impact on me.
SCHLEY: Go DU. High praise. That’s all I got.
END OF INTERVIEW