After stints with Time Warner Inc. in South Carolina and as president of the cable division in Rochester, N.Y., Jeffrey A. Hirsch came to Los Angeles to oversee the absorption by Time Warner of Adelphia's cable customers. Time Warner, along with Comcast Corp., acquired Adelphia's assets for $17.6 billion. Hirsch is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the operation for the Los Angeles Metro Division, which will officially be created this year upon completion of the transaction. The company serves more than 704,000 subscribers in Los Angeles County. Hirsch will also serve as executive sponsor for the region's growing voice business and commercial services. An avid golfer, Hirsch has grown accustomed to the easygoing L.A. corporate lifestyle. He wears a tie only when he's being photographed. He's also the biggest fan of his employees, concluding that ultimately, he works for them.
Question: How did you get in this business?
Answer: After I went to college in Pennsylvania, I got into the advertising business at McCann Erickson in New York City. One of the clients I was on was AT & T.; That launched my career in the communications business.
Q: Were you a copywriter?
A: I was an account worker. But I worked closely with the copywriters and the creative side. We worked on the AT & T; business-to-business account. My client retired and I was asked to go on loan to AT & T.; I did that for a while. At the time, I was probably 25 and single and commuting from New York City to New Jersey and just really hated the commute. Then I decided to go back to business school, which I did at Dartmouth College. There I had met some Time Warner executives. When I went back to my second year, I called the people I'd met at Time Warner. So I called to get a job and ended up working for Time Warner as an internal consultant for the president of the division. I did that for about a year. Then I went to Columbia, S.C., where there were 220,000 subdivisions that needed to be fixed. I went down there and kind of turned it around in about 20 months, so they promoted me up to Rochester, N.Y., as president to run the division. Three years later, they moved me out to Los Angeles to help with the integration and running the metro Los Angeles division. I've moved a lot. I've had a wonderful run with the company and been given a lot of great opportunities to work with some people and prove that I can do what I have to do; I've worked with a lot of great people who helped fix the businesses we've been sitting on.
Q: Can you identify any of those people?
A: Sure, there's Wayne Knight, who is the executive vice president of all Texas right now. There's my boss in South Carolina, who is probably my first real mentor in the business. He put a 28-year-old kid who had never had a major management position over 435 people. There was also a guy in New York City, Barry Rosenbloom, who taught me a lot about the business when I first came in. A lot of great people who have worked for me, but I don't really see it that way. They were really a lot of great people who worked with me. This business, while it seems very technical, is really about the people you manage. When I sat with the employees today I tried to tell them that 'I'm here to listen to what we need to do to make your life better.' And this is a piece that is really about the employees. It's not about the technology. If we don't have good employees working every day, we can't be successful.
Q: Which lesson taught you that?
A: It was a lesson I learned in South Carolina when I took over. The piece of business was struggling with customer service and employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction. In the business we saw that we had employees that just didn't care about the customer or the other employees and they were doing things that adversely affected the business. Leaving from the call center early and that kind of stuff. There were 435 hourly employees, and without great hourly employees and providing great training, you never got to do any of the things you needed to do in the business. That was my first real eye-opening experience that without a real employee base, you can't get anything done.
Q: So you depend on these hourly employees as opposed to executive staff?
A: That's our business. Our business is getting on the phones. Our job is to set the business up to make sure that those folks can do their jobs for customers. It's kind of like you get government out of the way of big business. You also get management out of the way of the front line. We really believe that the way you continue to be successful is you hire great employees, you train them, you create products for them to sell and then you service the hell out of them. If you do those four things, then you're really successful. Our business is simple. We do service. We do installs. And at the end of the day, if you do those well and the product works, then we'll be successful.
Q: What is the product that needs to work now?
A: (Besides cable), we have a really great video service, especially with the video on demand. And we are the only people who have that today. We have a great high-speed data product through the RoadRunner. We'll be launching three tiers of that service, which we think will really go a long way to meet the demand of the marketplace. We've seen and we know that there's a demand for all three products. Customers really want the ease and convenience of all three products in one company. So, that has helped us to get a lot of customers back from satellite.
Q: Which of the three products will be people be interested in?
A: Well, it's hard to say which they'll be most interested in. Cable is pretty heavily penetrated already because we've been in that for a long time. HSD is about 10 years old and L.A. is the only market where DSL has a bigger market share than cable modem. I think that's just the way it was marketed under Adelphia. It's been so fragmented. So I think you'll see that as we launch these products, as we start to roll out the RoadRunner brand in L.A., you'll see business pick up again. We have one brand and we have one message in the marketplace.
Q: What more are you trying to make happen in Los Angeles cable?
A: It's all about getting together. So in a lot of markets we have caller ID on the television. If you have our digital phone product and our digital cable, when the phone rings, the name and number show up on the TV.
Q: Would it show a picture of my mother if she called?
A: Eventually we'll be able to do picture Caller ID. I like to call it the Mommy feature because when I'm watching football on Sunday and my Mom calls, I can just ignore it. OK, I can't say that to a newspaper about my mother.
Q: What about going online on your television?
A: We have been trailing in some markets, IPTV, Internet Protocol Television. Those are interesting applications we can do, but we've found that from a lot of consumer research. We call it the sit forward rather than sit back research. That people don't want to surf the Internet from their TV. And a lot of people don't want to watch their TVs on a computer.
Q: What is important to Time Warner right now with this massive transition of Adelphia to Comcast and Time Warner?
A: I think there are three basic things that we need. Obviously, there are three companies we are integrating. We need to take the best practices and processes from all three companies and say, "What do we want the new company to look like?" That's something that we're doing right now in a very detailed way. We're excited to have Los Angeles. We think that if you're going to be in this business, having Los Angeles and New York City, the number one and two markets in the business we're thrilled.
Q: Let's go back to the question of your competitors. Who are they?
A: Comcast, the other cable companies, compete with us on Wall Street. Here, obviously, we compete with DirecTV, Dish, Verizon, AT & T.; They're formidable competitors. They're smart guys and they don't like to lose very often. While they're building out, we're trying to run like crazy because we know we're in a great fight. If you look at cable history, competition forces companies to innovate, which ends up benefiting consumers. All these products that we've started to created the DVR, caller ID on television and other unique products the better we think we position ourselves.
Q: Is L.A. a good area for cable?
A: I think it's a great area. There are a lot of customers who are on satellite that we'd like to get back. We're taking over a business from Adelphia that for all intents and purposes had a bad reputation for service, had a bad reputation for community, lost a lot of customers to satellite because of that, didn't have the money to launch advanced products, and now we have the opportunity to start a new day and start with those customers from scratch.
Q: Is the changing landscape of television viewing, including the massive shift to online programming, bothersome to you?
A: There is a certain segment of the marketplace that only watches TV that is time-shifted. There are still a good number of people who go home and watch 'Heroes' at 8 o'clock. People said broadcast TV was dead 20 years ago. I think it's still doing OK, the last time I looked. People said that e-mail would kill the paper companies, but I think we're using more paper now than we ever did before e-mail. As long as Time Warner Cable is in front of you, your provider, we're pretty happy.
Q: Whom do you admire most?
A: Probably my grandfather. He came over here from Russia in 1918 with a bunch of different people from his community, his family. He settled and started working and built a business. He worked the scrap yards where, back in the day, they had light bulbs that were filament in the glass, and he would separate them. He and his buddy, Bob Reissman, who became a longtime family friend, started to keep the glass and dip them in bright paint. They created Christmas tree lights and started a company around that. He started a company and then he provided most of what he made to build up a Jewish community in Rhode Island. His goal was to take care of community and family. Some people say to me: Look at the position you're in, look at your age. I don't feel I've accomplished that much because I look at what he did. He died 12 years ago and there's still a lasting memory of him in the community. I admire that not only was he successful from a business perspective, but he was able to help the community and the family become successful.
Q: What about in business? Whom do you admire?
A: I think the business leader I may admire most is Barry Diller (chief executive of IAC/InterActiveCorp.). You look at him and say, "What is he doing?" And you know that whatever it is, he's going to be successful. When I see him on CNBC, it always perks me up and I will always take notes.
Q: Is there anyone else?
A: The other person I admire, and this is more about my industry, is Steve Burke (chief operating officer for Comcast Corp.) A lot of times in business school, you sit around and say, "I want to do strategic planning for this company." I was watching a show on C-SPAN and Steve Burke happened to be on talking to a class and somebody asked him about his job. And he said, "As the number two guy in the world's biggest media company, 80 percent of my job is human resources. My job is to hire the best people and put the best people in the best places." I agree with that.
JEFFREY A. HIRSCH
Organization: Time Warner Cable Metro Division, Los Angeles
Education: B.A. in Communications at University of Pennsylvania;
M.B.A., Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College
Career Turning Point: When he was 28 years old, Hirsch was made vice president and put in charge of 435 people for Time Warner in South Carolina
Born: Providence, R.I., 1972
Most Influential People: His grandfather; IAC/InterActiveCorp.'s Barry Diller and Comcast Corp.'s Steve Burke
Personal: Single and looking
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.