Last week Dr. Richard Green let the CableLabs Executive Committee know that when his contact as president and CEO expires in December 2009, he’ll retire. That gives us nearly enough time – 15 months – to sing his praises and review his two decades of leadership.

We’ll start with this line of inquiry: What went right with CableLabs?

Here’s the logic behind that question. It’s easier to capture lessons learned from a project that goes bottom-side up than from one that goes swimmingly well. To figure out what went right about a successful project requires returning to distant decision points and asking a few "what ifs?" about options that may be hard to remember. Forks in the road Fortunately, one of those decision points surfaced in a Special Vanguard Award presented to CableLabs Co-founder Richard Leghorn at this year’s Cable Show in New Orleans. (See related story here.)

Among the options for the mission of this proposed technology arm of the cable industry, recounted Leghorn (who was following a three-fold process of economic change propounded by Joseph Schumpeter) were invention, innovation or diffusion.

Leghorn advocated a focus on innovation. His co-founders agreed, a decision that thereafter distinguished CableLabs from the hardcore research and development (R&D) style of a Bell Labs and the product marketing and ramp-up functions of a manufacturer.

Another fork in the road: Should CableLabs be separately established or linked to another organization, such as the NCTA? "NCTA was an obvious place, and a bad place to put it," said Jim Mooney, who was NCTA president at the time. "That would structurally have made it a kind of afterthought."

The founders opted for autonomy, eliminating distractions and giving the organization a better chance to focus on its complex combination of political and technological tasks.

One more: Who to hire? Mooney, who interviewed Green for the job, said it was difficult to fill because the role called for a technical background, an understanding of or capability of understanding the cable business, and considerable social and diplomatic skills.

A Ph.D. in astrophysics who had served as a university professor, a broadcast TV engineer for three major networks and a basic researcher for Hughes Aircraft, Green fit the bill.

"Dick measured up extremely well according to all three of those criteria," Mooney said.

Picturing a CableLabs without Dick Green requires some imagination, but not too much to guess someone without that rare combination of attributes would likely not have lasted, and thrived, as long. But more on that record, another time.

– CT

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