In many ways, the career of Glenn Britt, who passed away June 11, far too young at 65, mirrors the arc of cable: its past, present and future. He started in the business when it was far from prestigious; he helped push it to prominence; and left as a longtime chairman and CEO, with many of his decisions proving prescient.
It seems strange to refer to our MSO Lifetime Achievement honoree as Mr. Britt. Everyone at Time Warner Cable referred to him as ‘Glenn.’ During my early
days editing internal publications at TWC, I was informed the man in charge preferred to appear in print as Glenn.
That was one of the things about Glenn Britt, he had
almost no pretense. When he visited the office in Washington, he didn’t travel with an entourage. His lunches with the D.C. staff were very much like him: low-key, businesslike and informative. Despite fine restaurants surrounding the office, he preferred sandwiches in the TWC conference room overlooking the rooftops of Gallery Place, the tips of the Capitol and Washington Monument visible on clear days. The only concession made for Glenn was that instead of paper plates, hard plastic was used.
And he sang for his supper—those staff lunches featured rapid-fire Q&A sessions. Questions ranged from regulation to sports costs to new technology, everything was fair game. He barely had time to digest his food. Still, he responded with patience, erudition and class. Seeing how he conducted himself and hearing him speak so well on a wide range of issues made you proud to be a TWC employee and gave you a lot of confidence in the company.
For a self-described introvert, Glenn’s professional choices were bold. As a Dartmouth Business School grad in 1972, he could have moved into an established industry, yet “from the start of my career, I had always wanted to get involved in a new, growing business rather than a big, established low-risk industry,” he said during a September speech. He joined prestigious Time, Inc. but within two years became CFO of Time’s very un-prestigious community antenna TV (CATV) property Manhattan Cable, which was selling New Yorkers clear reception of broadcast signals.
But soon CATV started to become more than reception; programmers like HBO, another Time property, and CNN were beginning C-SPAN, ESPN and others followed. Glenn joined HBO, running network and studio operations. Eventually he went to Time’s Denver-based cable operation, became HBO’s CFO and later Time’s CFO. While Glenn’s resume might seem finance-heavy, “I was always very involved in developing new products, technology and imagining the future,” he said. That colored the last decades of his career at TWC, which he joined in 1990 as EVP.
The last 20-odd years have seen TWC launch a slew of products that put it in the forefront of cable innovation. “The entrepreneurial spirit that had led me to cable… was still very much in me,” he said. Among those products was Road Runner, the country’s first cable-delivered, high-speed Internet service, launched in the mid-90s. At the same time, TWC became the first cable company to be honored with a technical Emmy for its use of fiber to transmit broadband signals, which helped with the convergence of cable, computers and telephones. TWC would add 7 more tech Emmys to its trophy case during Glenn’s tenure.
“This willingness to innovate, to re-invent, of being unafraid in the pursuit of change for the good of the company and the industry, this really is Glenn Britt’s legacy,” said Glenn’s successor Rob Marcus.
One regret Glenn had was the failure of cable to be recognized as an innovator. Without cable’s model there’s no Google, Netflix or Hulu, he used to say, noting that it’s partly cable’s and his fault for not beating its chest enough. It takes a humble man to make such an observation.
When Glenn began as CEO in ’01, TWC was a $6bln unit
of Time Warner; today it’s a $21bln standalone company.