MSO Financial Executive of the Year

Mark Stephan

Mediacom

 

As the longest-tenured CFO in the industry, Mark Stephan remains a relatively quiet guy. But he has been integrally involved in deals and transactions that have resonated in big ways for Mediacom and the industry at large over the course.

“I’ve known Mark for over 27 years. He is very smart, very low key and loyal,” says Mediacom founder, chairman & CEO Rocco Commisso. “Mark’s not into self-promotion, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a lot of accomplishments.”

Stephan’s list, in part, encompasses raising $14 billion in equity and debt, including refinancing rounds that led to Mediacom’s acquisition of 30 cable systems totaling $3.4 billion, funding almost $4 billion in capital investments in systems and refinancing long-term debt. Along the way, he helped engineer Mediacom’s public offering in 2000 and its return to the ranks of privately held companies 11 years later.

Before officially joining the cable industry, Stephan helped chart its growth from his days working at Royal Bank of Canada, where he was originally engaged in corporate lending, mainly to Fortune 50 companies. Living on the lakefront in Chicago, he didn’t want to go to New York, where “people are loud and brash.” Finally, he made the jump to the Big Apple.

During his tenure as manager of telecommunications and media financing, Stephan’s client list included Cablevision Systems, Century, Comcast, Continental, Daniels, Houston Industries, Jones Cable, Marcus, Prime Cable, Rifkin, TCI, United Cable, Time Inc., Turner Broadcasting and Cablevision Industries where Commisso was working as EVP and CFO. Stephan joined his former client in 1993. “Rocco was tired of managing relationships with 40 banks,” says Stephan, noting that he then stepped into that role as VP, finance and treasurer. Stephan also played a hand in Cablevision Industries’ sale to Time Warner in 1996.

That also was the year he joined Mediacom.

“I founded Mediacom in 1995 and acquired my first system, Ridgecrest, California, in 1996, Mark was the very first employee that I hired at Mediacom,” said Commisso.

Stephan, serving as senior vice president and CFO, said Mediacom was “a two-man shop” in the early days. It embarked on a strategy of acquiring undervalued systems in smaller markets, as it looked to close the digital/technological divide between its systems and those serving major markets, raising equity and debt to upgrade plant.

Today, the company serves 1.3 million video, data and voice customers in 22 states, with its transaction trek bringing former Triax and AT&T systems—the latter deal closed for $2.1 billion in June 2001 as Stephan secured a $2.5 billion capital raise in equity and debt—into the Mediacom portfolio.

The year before, Stephan had steered Mediacom’s initial public offering. “Mark has a great sense of timing for the market,” said Commisso. “Right after the Time Warner-AOL merger, we went public at the peak of valuations for cable at 18 times cash flow.” By way of contrast, Charter is attempting to purchase Time Warner Cable today at a little over nine times cash flow.

More recently, Stephan, named a Cable Pioneer in May, has been focused on refinancing roughly half of Mediacom’s capital structure, some $2 billion. “We held on to some cheap debt for the past seven years, until the very last days,” he explains. Interest costs—despite the same level of borrowings—have dropped from $240 million annually in 2007 to an estimated $150 million in the current year. “The cost of debt is very competitive. It’s not because we’re borrowing less,” said Stephan.

Despite being rated as “junk” for many years, Mediacom now has the lowest cost of debt at 4.7% of any public-semi-public MSO, including Comcast, according to company officials. Mediacom was upgraded by S&P in 2014 and by Moody’s earlier this year.

According to Stephan, Mediacom’s upgrades in infrastructure has it in good shape to meet the video, data and voice needs of its residential customer base, while also affording the capabilities to serve commercial business. He said there are “big game” opportunities in helping to build out cell towers across its footprint and there is “so much runway ahead with mom and pop businesses. We have the best network available to service both large and small businesses.”

With the industry amidst another consolidation period, Media is keeping its options open during the current wave. “Dr. Malone came back to the domestic market and started the consolidation trend,” said Stephan, adding Mediacom is generating strong cash flow. “We’re in a great place to be a buyer or seller, depending on market conditions.”

–          Mike Reynolds

Fast Facts

– The longest-tenured CFO in cable, Stephan has been
with Mediacom since 1996.

– Stephan helped engineer Mediacom’s initial public
offering in 2000 and its return to the ranks of privately held companies in 2011.

– During his tenure at Royal Bank of Canada, Stephan helped provide funding for Comcast, Cablevision Systems and Turner Broadcasting, among cable notables.

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