Check the notes on WOW! CTO Cash Hagen, and he seems to be a prototypical CTO. According to his corporate bio, he oversees “network engineering and operations, including the engineering, architecture and integration of WOW!’s digital video, high- speed data and telephone services.” What the bio misses is that few technology executives are more interested in people—both customers and employees—than Cash Hagen. And that makes him a perfect fit for WOW!, whose emphasis on caring for customers and staff have helped make it a success story.
Regarding Hagen’s respect for the intersection of humanity with technology, WOW! chief Colleen Abdoulah puts it well: “Cash is a master of technology with an operational focus… since he understands the broader implications of technology, his bottom line is always how it will serve customers and employees.” Adds WOW! Chief Marketing Officer Cathy Kuo: “Cash is a true partner. I love that whatever the conversation—be it about strategy, teams, or hairstyles—that Cash always is honest and thoughtfully engaged. He’s thinking about technology, but always with an operations viewpoint so that we can deliver the best possible customer experience.”
Hagen’s viewpoint becomes apparent within a few minutes of meeting him. Asked about integrating the Knology systems WOW! acquired in late-April 2012, and his initial thoughts are about corporate cultures. Only later does he mention technology. “While Knology had many similarities to us in terms of how we treat customers and employees, there were some differences,” he says. “We didn’t want to assume that ours was the right way in every case, but we knew there were issues we needed to address. So there was a very purposeful and mindful cultural integration strategy we put together… it was a blending of all the good of two companies.”
To ease cultural blending, Hagen facilitated a Denison Survey to evaluate employee attitudes. ”We did this across the entire employee base, WOW! and Knology,” he says. “The intent was to hear from employees, not the CEO, what Knology, a very successful company, did well.” When the survey suggested that WOW! employees were more positive about their company than Knology workers, “it gave us the playbook on [cultural] things that we needed to address,” Hagen says, adding that the plan is to do the survey again at the one-year mark.
He says the initial 3 to 6 months focused on “big-ticket things we knew we had to do,” like integration of finance systems, HR systems, payroll and email systems. Then there were “true network-integration things being done, to bring our networks together.” Still, the human side was critical. “I was very focused—and this is not always easy—on being patient, and really understanding the operation; what’s there at the people level, the process level and the infrastructure level before we made any radical moves.” Over the last year, “we’ve been pealing back the onion, finding things we couldn’t have seen in due diligence,” he says. From there Hagen and his team assembled an extensive plan on reaching parity across the board on Internet, video and voice products. This plan is still underway.
As for the technology itself, “I find the true convergence of technologies to IP exciting,” Hagen says. “It gives us the view that we can and will compete for many years… It’s not only about the physical medium by which we deliver products; it’s about the man behind the curtain. This industry has incredible minds. It’s exciting to think where we go from here.”
But back to basics: operations, people, customers. “Some weeks go by when I barely think about technology,” he laughs. Still, “everything we do and I do is through the lenses of customer experience. It’s not about what’s cool or trendy, it’s about what our customer wants and needs.” Hear, hear. – Seth Arenstein