Neil Smit

If you want to understand a bit about Neil Smit’s management philosophy, count how many times he uses the word team below. (Spoiler: there are 10 mentions of team or teamwork) He’s so used to ducking the spotlight, we weren’t even sure we’d nail him down for this award.

It’s richly deserved. After five years at Charter, he led Comcast Cable as CEO for seven years before becoming vice chairman in April. At Comcast, he introduced the X1 platform and helped usher in a renewed focus on the customer.

“Neil is one of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with. He’s fair, smart, and driven, but more importantly he’s an incredibly kind and unique human being,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts says. “He steered Comcast Cable beautifully and expertly for seven years, building an extraordinary team and creating a culture of innovation and customer experience. All of us are better people for having had him in our lives, and we are glad that he will continue to be part of our family as vice chairman.”

While Smit made sure to keep attention focused on the Comcast team, he opened up to us in an interview about his time in the industry.

Comcast is also being recognized as Cablefax’s MSO of the Year. What do you think is the secret to the company’s success?
It’s a wonderful honor and we’re grateful to Cablefax. All of our success starts and ends with the team. We have an amazing group of people and leaders like Dave Watson who understand how a team works and love competing. Outside of the military, I’ve never seen a team more focused on a target than this one… When the people at this company set their minds to something, look out, they can move on a dime. It’s the best team in the business.

Thank you sincerely for your service as a Navy SEAL. How do you think that role has shaped who you are?
Teamwork is absolutely critical for the SEALs. You don’t survive without your team and that’s how I’ve played every role I’ve had since that time. You also have to be able to take whatever is thrown at you. You can’t just pass on a mission—you always have to fi nd a way, no matter how difficult and no matter how high the odds are stacked against you. We’d say… it isn’t a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “how.” Ultimately, you figure out the how together, and you succeed as a team.

What are you most proud of from your time in the cable industry?
I’m proud of the work the team has done to improve customer service and set us on a path to make customer experience a real differentiator. What makes me most proud is that we didn’t choose the easy path. We made some big, difficult moves, like rolling out NPS, that take time, but will pay off. Change like this takes the whole company and you’ve got to be all-in… from management to the frontline. That’s what is going to make the difference in the years ahead.

Moving to a part-time role has presumably allowed you to pursue new passions and spend more time with family. How are you taking advantage of this new status?
It’s been nice to get up at 6:30 rather than 4:30 and to have the time to take some pretty incredible vacations with my wife, Barbara, and my sons. We went ice driving in Northern Canada—the trick is mastering the art of driving sideways on ice, which was fun—and fishing in the Amazon.

Yet you’re still working for Comcast in the role of vice chairman. What are you doing?
I’m spending my time looking for technology-oriented growth opportunities for Comcast. I’m back and forth between Philadelphia and California working with the corporate team.

Can you make any predictions about what the industry is going to look like a few years from now?
We live in an instant gratification world and that’s only going to accelerate. Customers will continue to demand better experiences faster and the best companies will figure out how to surprise them. Take the voice remote as an example. The team took an already great experience with X1 and made it fundamentally better by adding voice. Now we have over a billion voice commands a quarter. Voice will continue to be a game-changer. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible. Our industry will also find new, exciting ways to use artificial intelligence and machine learning in applications.

– Amy Maclean

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