Leadership in telecom: How WideOpenWest’s Steven Cochran navigated the nation’s No. 6 cable operator through hard times

No one took the 2014 cuts at WOW! harder than CEO Steven Cochran, a 15-year company veteran who helped build the place. Cochran was determined to maintain morale and limit the impact of the cuts. 

While WideOpenWest has controlled its debt following its initial public offering, and is looking at markets like residential broadband and business services with renewed optimism for growth, the last several years were a bit wrenching. 

Following the Englewood cable operator's $750 million purchase (sub. req.) of broadband services company Knology in 2012, the company was hamstrung by high-priced bond debt. It responded with a wave of layoffs in December 2014, trimming 9% of its workforce. It was unable to invest in badly needed network infrastructure improvements. 

No one took that harder than CEO Steven Cochran, a 15-year company veteran who helped build the place. Cochran was determined to maintain morale and limit the impact of the cuts. 

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On responding to the challenge

“It was really tough,” Cochran, who holds a master's degree in accounting from the University of Illinois, told FierceCable. “I grew up with this company. And after spending all that time, building this company up to a workforce of 3,200 people, going through a headcount reduction certainly wasn’t easy, and we wouldn’t want to do it again.”

On getting it right the first and only time

“We said from the beginning that we’re only going to do this once, and that’s going to be it,” Cochran said of the 2014 downsizing. “Our goal was to make one cut, and make it work. We did something like 80 meetings. We went out to every market and held focus groups. We made sure to address anything that was bothering [managers and workers]. If there were things lingering, it would be a problem. Most of all, I think we did a good job of being upfront with our employees, telling them why it was going on, and assuring them that it there would just be one cut that we were doing. That led us back to where we have a balance sheet set up for growth."

On keeping innovation alive during a tough stretch

“The biggest decisions we faced involved deciding what to prioritize. In a time where we had limited capital, we had to understand where we were going to invest. We saw quickly that the internet was an area where we didn’t have disadvantages on the cost side, so we went pretty heavily into, increasing speeds and node sizes. That’s one areas we didn’t skimp, our HSD network.”

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