‘Cable cowboy’ Malone not ready to hang up his spurs

‘Cable cowboy’ Malone not ready to hang up his spurs
Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global; John Malone, Chairman of the Board.

Gerry Smith

When John Malone retired from the boards of Lions Gate and Charter Communications last month, the media and telecom industries shuddered: Was the ‘Cable Cowboy’ finally calling it quits? Not quite.

The 77-year-old billionaire, who helped build the pay-TV industry and now sees it threatened, remains on the boards of eight public companies and has no plans to leave them.

He’s still the largest shareholder of Charter, the second largest US cable company. Two of his deputies are still directors at Lions Gate, an independent studio. And when he calls, executives still listen. Nothing is really changing, he says. He just wants to spend more time with his wife.

“And I’m getting old. What else do people expect? Am I going to jump off all these boards all of a sudden? No,” he said.

Visiting here last month, he met with executives from Liberty Global, where he holds a 28% voting stake. Liberty Global owns Virgin Media and the rebranded TV3 broadcaster.

Mr Malone also controls nine hotels in the Republic.

Mr Malone has long been a reluctant mogul. He relished being a chief executive officer, but never liked the jet-setting that took him away from his high-school sweetheart Leslie — “my life’s companion”.

He has been promising he’d be home more since he took over as CEO of Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) in 1972 and helped build it into the world’s largest cable company, according to Mark Robichaux’s 2002 book Cable Cowboy.

He’s worth $9.1bn (€8bn). Liberty Media, which Mr Malone spun off from TCI in the early 1990s, has stakes in Sirius XM Holdings, Charter and Formula One, the racing circuit. He’s a major shareholder in cable channel owner Discovery.

In 1994, the New Yorker called him “the most influential man in television.”

Al Gore once nicknamed him “Darth Vader” for his aggressive business tactics.

He’s the largest landowner in the US and enjoys tending to his ranches. He owns a major forestry business and is active in thoroughbred racing and breeding.

In a statement, Rupert Murdoch called Mr Malone “one of the world’s greatest dealmakers. Very different but almost equal to Warren Buffett. Sometimes a frenemy, but always a friend. John was a huge help in starting Fox News”.

Mr Malone laments, however, how Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon created massive businesses over the broadband networks that cable companies built.

He may have been dubbed a “cable cowboy” but he likens himself to Otto von Bismarck, saying he helped unify the fragmented cable industry.

Bloomberg

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