On CTAM Summit’s 1st day, two senior programming executives were sitting at the Ritz bar in Philly, playing a parlor game that-in cable-has been played out over several years in several settings: They wondered when Jim Robbins would retire. Two days later, Cox’s pres/CEO put an end to that speculation when he announced his pending retirement at the end of the year. (Great…now who will we gossip about at the next show?) As expected, Pat Esser will take over the reins, ensuring that the MSO’s reputation as a company of good people will continue. "There are 2 pretty straightforward reasons [for retiring]: It’ll have been 20 years [at the helm] in Sept, and I turned 63 years old on the 4th of July," Robbins told us. "My biggest fear in life is staying too long." COO Esser, who joined Cox in ’79, will become pres when Robbins retires Dec 31. He’ll report to Jimmy Hayes, who was promoted to evp, Cox Ent from evp, CFO for Cox and will replace the retiring Dennis Berry as pres/COO of Cox Ent at year-end. "He’s a great operating guy," Robbins said of Esser. "He’ll be at my hip over the next 4-5 months" learning some of the more "strategic stuff," such as Cox’s Discovery relationship and the wireless business. With telcos entering video and telecom rewrites looming, is there a particularly big challenge awaiting Esser? "There are always issues in this business," Robbins said. "A couple years ago it was ESPN, now it’s telcos. Tomorrow it’s something different. That’s the excitement." Speaking of those telcos, didn’t we see Robbins’ name among the list of speakers at the US Telecom Assn convention in Oct? "I’m going to have a blast," Robbins quipped. As for what he’s going to tell phone industry gathering: "You’ll have to come to find out." — Cox vp, accounting/financial planning and analysis Bill Fitzsimmons will serve as interim CFO. A search will commence immediately for a permanent successor to Hayes. — Following retirement, Robbins will join Cox Ent’s board and will continue to serve on Cox Comm’s board. He’ll continue to serve as pres of the board of trustees as the St. Paul’s School, a prep school in Concord, NH, that he attended with John Kerry. He also plans to look at a healthcare board. "I’ve got one child who is about to become a doctor and another child with a chronic illness, diabetes. Healthcare is a really crazy world."