CEO Rocco Commisso on Mediacom’s 20-Year Success
Twenty years ago, Mediacom founder Rocco Commisso had a vision: to build a company that would provide customers in smaller markets and rural communities with the same level of cable and telecommunications services that their counterparts in the big cities enjoyed. Fast forward through two decades, 22 acquisitions, the Internet surge, and 600,000 miles of fiber, and Mediacom, the nation’s 8th largest cable operator, now serves over 1.3 million customers in 1,500 communities across 22 states, primarily in the Midwestern and Southeastern regions of the United States. Today, the company Commisso created remains more committed than ever to his original vision as Mediacom consistently ranks among the best providers for broadband delivery nationally.
Just this week, Mediacom announced the launch of Project Gigabit. As part of the company’s $1 billion investment plan over the next three years, Project Gigabit intends to deploy 1 gigabit service to nearly every one of the mid-sized and smaller communities where Mediacom operates, and to some as early as the end of this year. Unlike some other 1-Gig providers whose services are limited to selected neighborhoods, relying on federal, state or local taxpayer subsidies, Mediacom will invest its own money to make gigabit speeds available to essentially all of the residences and businesses along its network. And in addition to Project Gigabit, Mediacom’s investment plan goes even further by connecting more homes to its deep-fiber network, expanding access to fiber-based services for businesses, and deploying community Wi-Fi access points throughout high-traffic commercial and public areas.
So how does a provider like Mediacom manage to get to where it is today? Commisso explained that since its start, Mediacom has spent over $4.2 billion in capital for its broadband network, a feat it managed to accomplish through its own private investments. That’s $4.2 billion that went to bringing connectivity to small cities and towns that can now participate in today’s digital-centric society, benefit from a myriad of social services like distance-education and telemedicine, and keep pace with their counterparts in large metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Mediacom’s success is due in large part to its phenomenal reputation on Wall Street and its long-standing operational performance. “In my 30 years of borrowing money, I’ve never defaulted on a credit agreement, and I am proud to say that Mediacom has never had a down year in revenues,” said Commisso, who prior to Mediacom served as the CFO of Cablevision Industries.
Commisso also credits the experience and longevity of his employees as a major factor in the company’s ability to thrive over the past two decades. The company has avoided layoffs, enjoyed the loyalty of long-term executives, and expanded its employee base (from 3,200 in 2001 to 4,600 today). “Throughout our 20 year history, we have been faithful to a policy of no layoffs. A lot of that is due to hiring quality people in the local markets that we serve, good planning and managing the company for the long-term,” said Commisso.
Steadfast leadership is also a huge part of that, as Commisso has remained at the helm since the start. “I learned a long time ago that you need to control your destiny if you want to have a company that sustains itself for a long period of time,” said Commisso about Mediacom’s trajectory since 1996. From the very get go, Commisso retained control of the company throughout its initial phase in the private market, then when it went public for 11 years at the start of the millennium, and back private in 2011 where today he and his family control 100% of the company. Currently, Mediacom stands as the only major company in the telecom, media and cable space still led by its founder, an accomplishment in which Commisso takes a lot of pride.
Most importantly, amid all the changes that the 1990s and 2000s brought in with rate regulation, buyouts, and the increasing influence of Silicon Valley, Mediacom’s entrepreneurial spirit has remained the same. “My greatest accomplishment is that we never deviated from our original promise to take care of our customers in the smaller markets,” said Commisso. “We’ve been true to that mission.”