Insight’s Jain Quietly Leaving His Mark Ask anyone in cable during the Carter administration about the old interactive network, QUBE, and you’ll get hosannas, followed by something like, “It was a great idea, just ahead of its time.” Trust me on this; years from now we’ll be saying the same thing about Insight Communications. Over the next 12 months Insight might just go away. Comcast will exercise an option to acquire Insight’s systems in the Midwest. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. But it’s safe to say the remaining systems could also be flying the colors of another MSO, perhaps by year’s end. And to be honest, that kills me. For my money—or as Tony Soprano might say, all due respect—but Insight is the best-run MSO in cable. Over the past three years, as other MSOs have bled video customers, Insight has actually gained a number of them. Part of Insight’s success, of course, is a reflection on CEO Mike Willner, the ever-candid financial whiz who as chair of NCTA put the term “transparent accounting” on the lips of industry’s CFOs—as well as many once-skeptical analysts. But much of Insight’s remarkable track record can be traced to its relatively unknown president, Dinni Jain. Jain is a North Carolina-raised son of two UNC educators. He bleeds Tar Heel blue and can quote chapter and verse on subjects about which he is passionate. But during the day, when he’s on the clock, one thing drives Jain: the dogged pursuit of greatness. When we first met three years ago he was up to his eyeballs remaking Insight. Fueled by the best-seller Good to Great, he had reworked the reporting structure, turned over a number of district vice presidents, and rewrote the metrics by which growth got measured. It was not an easy time, and many people were either shown the door or chose to leave. Those that stayed were those able to get their arms around Dain’s mantra that good is the enemy of great; that habit is often the biggest barrier to how things should, or could, be done. Of Insight’s 14 systems, 10 got a new DVP. The biggest change Dain made at Insight was to replace lofty numbers like operating cash flow with workable, trackable ones. He told me Insight was in the business of driving RGUs, and that there are nine key “upstream” activities that do that. As a result, Insight’s DVPs spend their days walking around, listening to calls, talking to techs, and, ultimately, tracking numbers in nine key areas. Jain mentioned that when he told Comcast he never talked to his DVPs about OCF, he received blank stares. “‘What do you talk about to them about,’ they asked, ‘the weather?'” He added, “Understand, how we increase OCF is different than most. We don’t want to achieve OCF growth through rate increases and expense reduction, because we don’t think that’s competitively sustainable.” Instead, Insight asks its managers for a deep understanding of their system. In fact, even as the industry clustered and built mega-systems, Insight went the other way. Jain began reducing the size of systems to facilitate even greater top-of-mind knowledge by local managers. He is not a big fan of mega-systems, noting that any entity can become too big to manage effectively or react to market shifts. “People talk about economies of scale, especially with programming costs” he said, “but rarely does anyone mention the dis-economies of scale.” Jain, who will discuss his holistic management philosophy at next week’s CTAM Summit, talked about the potential demise of Insight. While admitting it won’t be easy, he said he often reflects on something he told his new team following the 2004 turnover. “I told them we have a chance to do things that have, absolutely, not been done before in our industry. And given the fact we’ve put up some numbers that some MSOs could only dream about, I’d like to think that in some small way, we’ve done that.”

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