Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I think I figured C. Ray out.

Bear with me on this it will take a while and some 'splaining.

Ray Nagin operates the way he does because his understanding of business is from his experience in the cable industry. He was successful in the cable industry largely because he was from New Orleans.

I have over the last dozen years observed cable operators (not Cox) from the inside. It's a very interesting culture. We are in the first generation of the cable business, it really started big time in the eighties. For some reason, now lost in the mists of my memory, there was a stampede to cable the country. The land rush resulted in lots of small entrepreneurs competing for cable franchises in lots of different jurisdictions. The local jurisdictions held all of the cards, they owned the rights of way the companies needed to string wire.

The Cable Cowboys were as wild a group of gamblers as any oil patch wildcatter ever imagined. They were wheeler dealers and they made offers which any sane person would never believe. Of course these offers were made to public officials who almost certainly didn't believe them but calculated "what's in it for me?"

Over time many of the people have cashed out and moved on, leaving the survivors. The survivors are not necessarily the profile you would expect. Often in the early days people were hired not for their demonstrated ability but for their local connections. The result is not a typical business "old boys club" but a close knit group of ambitious, capable survivors. They were often pitted against groups from other industries as the industry consolidated. USWest and ATT both bought into the cable business and infused their telco employees into existing operations, setting off "culture wars" which see sawed back and forth through through the financial and corporate cycles.

Cable companies largely viewed the governments they deal with as their customer and their subscribers as a source of income. This view is reinforced by their customer contacts. Happy customers merely send in their money. Irate customers show up at corporate headquarters and take their clothes off in the lobby, if they don't see someone in charge. That's a true story. I've almost been there myself at times.

Perhaps you've noticed the corporate office does not contain a "customer service center". Cox recently moved the one in their Airline Highway offices to a store front on Williams Boulevard.

I remember when Al Copeland owned Popeye's he required every corporate employee to work one or two days a year in a Popeye's store. I wonder if Cox does that?

As a result of all of the changes, swaps, consolidations and movement in the industry, every one knows everyone else and they all have their favorites. They also know they might be out next week, next month or next year. Personal relationships are important. It's how the cable industry functions.

Let me digress again.

I began to think of this recently because I was helping set up an new residence for a displaced citizen who is trying to rebuild her house. She bought a condo in Kenner in the interim. In a single day she switched the electricity and turned the phone on. I called Cox.

In spite of her status as a long time premium customer, Cox had no corporate memory, unlike Entergy or BellSouth. The Applications Department had to call back and schedule Installation. Installation was scheduled for three weeks in the future. There was a "COD" charge of almost $150. It wasn't really "Collect On Delivery" but a prepayment. The nice young lady I spoke to confided "they just call it that". It was due before the order would even be entered. Making the payment required giving Cox a credit card or back account number over the phone or visiting one of their "customer service centers". I don't know about you but I am reluctant to divulge that information to anyone. A quick visit to a "customer service center" required signing in sheet and a gatekeeper (guard?). There were many rows of cheap chairs. A review of the sign in sheet revealed a wait of at least forty five minutes.

Having made the "COD" payment and scheduled the install, I imprudently volunteered to wait of the cable guy and set up the wireless Internet. I called the day before to confirm the 'work order' and get a confirmation on the time. A perfectly nice fellow told me it would be between 10 AM and 12 PM. He also told me that if I hadn't heard for the Installer by 10:30 or 11:00 I should call and they would page the Installer. At 11:30 I called Cox. Another very nice person, this time a lady, told me no time was noted on the work order, it could be any time that day. She also informed me that the Installer would call twice and if no one answered, they would skip the install. This was totally new news. No one had ever said you had to wait by the phone for the Installer to call. I wondered if the Installer had already called and I missed it. Fortunately the Installer showed up (without calling even once) and did his thing. He was a personable and competent fellow who performed his job in about half an hour.

The Installer told me he was in New Orleans from Birmingham, helping Cox 'catch up'. He also told me he was staying in a hotel that had no elevators. He was staying on the seventh floor and had to walk up and down several times recently. In one case because the hotel had to move him because his plumbing was broken. That only took 4 trips up or down.

Are you detecting a familiar pattern here?

This is almost exactly how the City of New Orleans treats its citizens, except the Cox people were generally politer and at least attempting to be helpful. It is how New Orleans has always treated its citizens. What Ray learned here, the cable business did little to change. He learned to manage in the cable business based very largely on personal relationships, exactly like New Orleans.

The jump from business to politics was not that great.

I've often wondered what Ray did for Cox before he came here to fix their problems. I've often suspected Cox viewed their problem as a regulatory/governmental problem and sent a "government relations expert" to solve it. I really don't know and my feeble attempts to find out have been unsuccessful.

I don't know if this is right but its probably as good as any theory.


celcus said...

Imagine how bad it would be if he had worked for a cel phone company...

Interesting idea. It could just have a grain of truth to it. Except, the city has been treating people like this for a lot longer than C. Ray has been around, just without the devestation part.

mominem said...

I was just struck with how much like dealing with the city dealing with Cox was.

pamela said...

Okay, now can you figure out the Jackson, MS mayor??? Or is he just crazy?

bayoustjohndavid said...

So the business model is to take care of your friends and allies, know who you really need to take care of, and smile at everybody--even if you don't answer a leitimate complaint.

Meant comment here earlier, but glad that I didn't. What Nagin said in endorsing Jefferson called your post to mind:

"I’ve told the congressman that since he supported me during the mayor’s race, that I would reciprocate,” Nagin said.