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Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business

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An inside look at a cable titan and his industry John Malone, hailed as one of the great unsung heroes of our age by some and reviled by others as a ruthless robber baron, is revealed as a bit of both in Cable Cowboy. For more than twenty-five years, Malone has dominated the cable television industry, shaping the world of entertainment and communications, first with his ca An inside look at a cable titan and his industry John Malone, hailed as one of the great unsung heroes of our age by some and reviled by others as a ruthless robber baron, is revealed as a bit of both in Cable Cowboy. For more than twenty-five years, Malone has dominated the cable television industry, shaping the world of entertainment and communications, first with his cable company TCI and later with Liberty Media. Written with Malone's unprecedented cooperation, the engaging narrative brings this controversial capitalist and businessman to life. Cable Cowboy is at once a penetrating portrait of Malone's complex persona, and a captivating history of the cable TV industry. Told in a lively style with exclusive details, the book shows how an unassuming copper strand started as a backwoods antenna service and became the digital nervous system of the U.S., an evolution that gave U.S. consumers the fastest route to the Internet. Cable Cowboy reveals the forces that propelled this pioneer to such great heights, and captures the immovable conviction and quicksilver mind that have defined John Malone throughout his career.


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An inside look at a cable titan and his industry John Malone, hailed as one of the great unsung heroes of our age by some and reviled by others as a ruthless robber baron, is revealed as a bit of both in Cable Cowboy. For more than twenty-five years, Malone has dominated the cable television industry, shaping the world of entertainment and communications, first with his ca An inside look at a cable titan and his industry John Malone, hailed as one of the great unsung heroes of our age by some and reviled by others as a ruthless robber baron, is revealed as a bit of both in Cable Cowboy. For more than twenty-five years, Malone has dominated the cable television industry, shaping the world of entertainment and communications, first with his cable company TCI and later with Liberty Media. Written with Malone's unprecedented cooperation, the engaging narrative brings this controversial capitalist and businessman to life. Cable Cowboy is at once a penetrating portrait of Malone's complex persona, and a captivating history of the cable TV industry. Told in a lively style with exclusive details, the book shows how an unassuming copper strand started as a backwoods antenna service and became the digital nervous system of the U.S., an evolution that gave U.S. consumers the fastest route to the Internet. Cable Cowboy reveals the forces that propelled this pioneer to such great heights, and captures the immovable conviction and quicksilver mind that have defined John Malone throughout his career.

30 review for Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    If you don’t have any interest in balance sheets, income statements, hostile takeovers, stock swaps, share buybacks, or tax strategies, then you probably won’t like this book. But if somewhere along the way you lost yourself down the rabbit hole of corporate finance, then you will L-O-V-E love this book. The story centers on John Malone, widely regarded as one of the sharpest business minds in modern history. His pace of M&A—averaging one deal every two weeks for over 15 years—is stunning. I mea If you don’t have any interest in balance sheets, income statements, hostile takeovers, stock swaps, share buybacks, or tax strategies, then you probably won’t like this book. But if somewhere along the way you lost yourself down the rabbit hole of corporate finance, then you will L-O-V-E love this book. The story centers on John Malone, widely regarded as one of the sharpest business minds in modern history. His pace of M&A—averaging one deal every two weeks for over 15 years—is stunning. I mean, these guys were slinging billion dollar deals like bowls of breakfast cereal (and his company's share price increased 55,000% during that period by the way). But to me, what truly makes this book great is the robust profile of Malone that Robichaux gives us. It’s not just a fawning glow piece. Malone is cast as a monster as much as a maven, mortal as much as invincible, an insecure sociopath as much as a loving family man.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Will Clausen

    Surprisingly interesting book. I didn’t have a strong grasp on the history of the big cable companies. They always just kind of seemed to be these huge entities with awful customer service. Turns out, there’s a long backstory there. And it’s interesting. Cable Cowboys does a good job explaining it all as it follows John Malone and his team at Telecommunications Inc (TCI). My big takeaways: - John Malone is the real deal as an executive. His ability to craft win-win deals (with the biggest win for Surprisingly interesting book. I didn’t have a strong grasp on the history of the big cable companies. They always just kind of seemed to be these huge entities with awful customer service. Turns out, there’s a long backstory there. And it’s interesting. Cable Cowboys does a good job explaining it all as it follows John Malone and his team at Telecommunications Inc (TCI). My big takeaways: - John Malone is the real deal as an executive. His ability to craft win-win deals (with the biggest win for himself) and avoid taxes was really impressive. - Fascinating to learn how cable started as this small-time way to rebroadcast the signals of major TV broadcasters (CBS, ABC, NBC) and grew to be the absolute behemoth it is today. I generally feel like executives in major corporations are mostly competent, but hardly exceptional when you consider that most of them have been working full-time in their fields for multiple decades. When accounting for all that time, they mostly seem pretty normal, nothing surprising in terms of ability. But John Malone seems to be an exception. He is an executive where you look at the amount of time he put in and he still comes out looking impressive. He seems to be genuinely much better than average at seeing how to make deals with upside for both parties. Combine that vision with an exceptional ability to execute and convince potential competitors to partner with him, and it’s pretty clear the man is the real deal. It was also really interesting to learn about the cable industry as a whole. It began as a means to give rural towns access to the shows from major broadcasters. Early cable companies would put a big receiving dish on top of the nearest big hill, then run a wire (the “cable”) back into the rural town and hook up people’s TV sets. The economics of it are particularly interesting. The major broadcasters made money on advertising, and didn’t charge customers to receive the signal. But cable companies didn’t have access to the ad revenue, so they charged customers a monthly fee to access the signal of the major broadcasters. This paid for the maintenance costs of fixing the wire, and allowed for a small profit. Some visionary cable pioneers (the “cable cowboys” in the book) realized that it was in their interest to try and get as big as possible, and wire as many homes as they could. So they set off reinvesting every dime they had in the business and begging banks to let them borrow as much money as possible. Banks were reticent to do this because the cable companies never really had cash flow, only revenue growth, and banks thought this was risky (times are different now, see Amazon). So the cable companies (at least TCI, the focus of this book) were in a constant battle with banks to get the capital they needed to finance their growth and pay off their bills. This whole system mostly worked, as long as the bankers went along, which they tried their hardest not to. But Malone and Magness and the other cable cowboys eventually prevailed in every battle. But even as they continued to expand, cable companies were pretty much beholden to the major broadcasters, who were the source of all the content on the cable networks. So in that era, the upside from cable companies always seemed a bit capped. When broadcasters controlled the signal, you had to figure cable companies had a ceiling on their financial upside. In short, the cable companies had a distribution problem. This changes in the 70’s, when HBO becomes the first major cable channel to be transmitted via satellite. The breakthrough moment is when HBO broadcasts the Thrilla in Manila live, while the other major broadcast networks have to air the fight on tape delay. HBO demonstrated that satellites could be used to circumvent the distribution channel established by the major broadcasters. At that point, cable began to really take off, and many, many new channels sprang up to take advantage of this new way of reaching viewers. And Malone was really smart to realize that he wanted to partner with as many new cable channels as possible, so that TCI would have upside in case the competitive landscape of cable ever tilted in favor of the channels over the cable companies. Malone was a master dealmaker throughout the entire story. In any case, cable was really doing well, and it entered an era known as the “franchise battles”. In this era, well-financed companies would come in to bid for cable licenses in various municipalities, because these licenses were basically a regulated monopoly. Unfortunately, the companies overbid on the licenses, overspent on installing state of the art systems, and overpromised their shareholders about revenue projections from cable. Lots of people lost money. But, when those companies were ready to bail out of cable, Malone and TCI were ready to scoop up their leftovers for cheap and run the wires profitably. Worked out great for Malone. At this point, there is a lot of consolidation going on in the cable industry, and TCI is becoming pretty huge. With this consolidation come really large price increases and really awful customer service. This pisses off pretty much everyone, so the government comes in. In the mid-80’s the federal government takes over regulating cable companies, so municipalities don’t have to worry about that anymore. The gov’t imposes pretty austere rate reductions, and the cable companies start hurting. It’s particularly rough because the cable companies are still usually running with pretty heavy debt loads. But, you don’t feel too bad for ‘em because they were pretty huge assholes (and largely continue to be). And it’s not like these guys didn’t make plenty of money. Anyways, this continues for a bit, until the early/mid-90’s when the federal government decides to deregulate the telecom industry to increase competition. Well, this sets off another consolidation bonanza, and this time, Malone is ready to get out of cable altogether. He organizes a pretty sweet deal to have AT&T buy up TCI, and, with a few bumps after the deal closes, rides off into the sunset. The cable companies then go on to start delivering internet/phone service, and now, here we are. Overall, it’s really interesting to see these huge names in cable (AT&T, Cox, Comcast, etc) and learn about their origin story. If only it could end up with those companies providing better customer service, but then again, that’s a lot to expect from a monopoly (even a regulated one).

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rishabh Srivastava

    A tale of how a finance guy helped a struggling cable network grow into a giant firm, with deal-making, moxie, and financial wizardry I tend to believe that operators need to understand the nuts and bolts of their core business exceptionally to be effective. This was a great realisation that they don’t. Malone’s playbook (which he had initially conceptualized in his twenties when at Bell Labs - it was called “Resource Allocation and the Regulated Firm”) was that: 1. You can get a lot of benefit fro A tale of how a finance guy helped a struggling cable network grow into a giant firm, with deal-making, moxie, and financial wizardry I tend to believe that operators need to understand the nuts and bolts of their core business exceptionally to be effective. This was a great realisation that they don’t. Malone’s playbook (which he had initially conceptualized in his twenties when at Bell Labs - it was called “Resource Allocation and the Regulated Firm”) was that: 1. You can get a lot of benefit from scale. And horizontal acquisitions are a great way to get more benefit from your fixed costs AND to expand in new markets 2. When a new opportunity opens up, start off by aggregating and going after rural and suburban areas, instead of bit urban centres. You can beat the competition easily in these areas, and get a lot of operational learnings. Then, you can go to the cities with these learnings later. By the time you do, there is a chance that people who have rushed into big cities are looking to get out – and you can acquire assets for really cheap 3. Get the strategic high ground, so you can use your scale (in point 1) to negotiate with other people in the supply chain. This can either be done through investments in vertical opportunities, or (more rarely in Malone’s case) through vertical acquisitions 4. Creating tracking-stocks and spin-offs A tracking stock tracks the performance of specific assets within a corporate entity, even though the assets being tracked, share the same balance sheet. It allows investors to measure and analyse each tracking stock by its own underlying operating characteristics while enjoying the benefits of a combined balance sheet. Often, the creation of a tracking stock was the prelude of a spin-off. A spin-off allows a company to distribute shares of the spun-off entity to its shareholders in a tax-exempt manner 5. Creating tax efficiency by depreciating your capex faster, so that you have more cashflow to plough back into the business in the early stages — when it is most needed Malone’s fundamental insight of focusing on cashflow instead of operating profit was phenomenal – and was something that others (like Jeff Bezos) adopted later on Malone ability to make capital allocation decisions with a really long (10-20 years!) time horizon, and understanding of competitive behaviour was phenomenal.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Asif

    I first read about John Malone in Joel Greenblatt's legendary book "You can be a stock market genius". Later I read about his again in The Outsider's by William Thorndike. Few things about him stood out. He was all about cash flow while Wall Street concentrated on accounting earnings. Secondly, he used leverage exceedingly partially to reduce effective tax rate. And he liked to acquire companies. Some of the things Malone did are similar to what Amazon has done later on (long term horizon, cash I first read about John Malone in Joel Greenblatt's legendary book "You can be a stock market genius". Later I read about his again in The Outsider's by William Thorndike. Few things about him stood out. He was all about cash flow while Wall Street concentrated on accounting earnings. Secondly, he used leverage exceedingly partially to reduce effective tax rate. And he liked to acquire companies. Some of the things Malone did are similar to what Amazon has done later on (long term horizon, cash flow focus etc). Cable Cowboy explains his story in more details. Unfortunately for me the book was less about the techniques he used but more about the ups and downs he faced. It was still a good read and I would recommend it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Connor Owens

    Definitely a 4.5, but giving it a 4.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Todd Wood

    My main complaint about the popular finance book "The Outsiders: Eight unconventional CEOs" by Thorndike was that there wasn't enough detail about each individual person ... Well this book certainly checks the John Malone box! Cable Cowboy was a comprehensive and thorough review of his amazing career at TCI. Financially gifted, Malone was also a ruthless deal-maker and operator that managed to become the preeminent cable and media industry tycoon. Pretty much a must read for anyone that has an in My main complaint about the popular finance book "The Outsiders: Eight unconventional CEOs" by Thorndike was that there wasn't enough detail about each individual person ... Well this book certainly checks the John Malone box! Cable Cowboy was a comprehensive and thorough review of his amazing career at TCI. Financially gifted, Malone was also a ruthless deal-maker and operator that managed to become the preeminent cable and media industry tycoon. Pretty much a must read for anyone that has an interest in business I'd say. (Also on a personal note, he instantly became my hero once I learned that his nickname is "Darth Vader", given to him for being such a tough and bad-ass negotiator and business man.)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Horia

    If you work in the media industry it's a must read, it's a very interesting and insightful book. If you work in the media industry it's a must read, it's a very interesting and insightful book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    John

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I really enjoyed this book, but have to admit the financial transactions and details within were hard to follow. John Malone's financial acumen was what I admired most about this book - from creating a new metric (EBITDA) to his single focus on creating shareholder value through tax deferrals and tracking stocks - it was amazing to read about this aspect of his life. A few other threads I enjoyed were understanding where value is created in the cable industry, always have alternatives with suppl I really enjoyed this book, but have to admit the financial transactions and details within were hard to follow. John Malone's financial acumen was what I admired most about this book - from creating a new metric (EBITDA) to his single focus on creating shareholder value through tax deferrals and tracking stocks - it was amazing to read about this aspect of his life. A few other threads I enjoyed were understanding where value is created in the cable industry, always have alternatives with suppliers (great story re: Gates trying to be the cable box for the cable industry) and cash flows versus earnings. Here are the key takeaways I took from this book: 1. Despite its reputation as a risky play, through 1997, TCI outperformed every other stock in the market. A single share of TCI, purchased at the low 1974 of 75 cents, was worth $4,184 by the end of 1997 - a 5,578-fold increase. (introduction ix) 2. Great summary on why the cable business model is "genius" (page 14) 3. How Malone developed intuition to see answers before his rivals did (page 25) 4. "After tax cash earnings simply didn't count; what counted was cable prodigious cash flow, funding TCI's continual expansion (page 45) - One of the great parts of the books, which explains why cash flows matter more than earnings - GREAT passage here. 5. How the Ali-Frazier fight transformed the economics of cable TV (+ helped launch HBO) [page 52] 6. When Malone's realized the power of programming and how TCI could own both the pipe and the water flowing through it (page 59). 7. "A Cable franchise was essentially a legal right to a local monopoly - operations had to answer to local government and win approval for rate increases." (page 62) 8. Malone's strategy / business thinking (amazing process) - page 77 9. A paragraph that sums of the entire book "Forget about earnings. That's a priesthood of accounting profession," he would preach. What you're really after is appreciating assets. You want to own as much of that asset as you can; then you want to finance it as efficiently as possible. And above all else, make sure that the deals you do avoid as much in taxes as is legally possible. And then some. (page 81) - literally sums of the key points of the book here. 10. Malone's thought on running a highly decentralized business (page 84). 11. Malone's business philosophy explained (page 105). 12. The creation of Liberty Media and the thoughts behind separating distribution/content (page 112). The favorable Liberty Media set up that Malone created from the spin (but that few understood at the time). 13. Redstone sued Malone in 1993 - in his opening words of his lawsuit Redstone summarized the key issues the American Consumer/Competitors had with Malone (largely his monopoly power over the entire cable industry supply chain). (page 135) 14. Thoughts on tracking stocks (page 159 and page 247). 15. The cable industry's unique position as the 1990s set out - the internet could not exist without the fat pipes of the cable industry (page 213). 16. AT&T has non-owners of the business - control vs. good business economics (page 265) - great section on why founders run a business SO much better.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Evan

    This tome seems to have a lot of good business lessons, and I would say that is its strength, rather than an interesting story line. The first few chapters - the story of Malone's childhood and experience at college - were actually interesting. Even the story of his first job and how he came to Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) were good. But after the author gets Malone to TCI and describes the challenges Malone is going to face, the book becomes more like a 250 page case study of the cable industr This tome seems to have a lot of good business lessons, and I would say that is its strength, rather than an interesting story line. The first few chapters - the story of Malone's childhood and experience at college - were actually interesting. Even the story of his first job and how he came to Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) were good. But after the author gets Malone to TCI and describes the challenges Malone is going to face, the book becomes more like a 250 page case study of the cable industry (or maybe any industry where a business faces crushing debt but excellent cash flow - like AT&T today). For a business that can be successful under the conditions described above (crushing debt and excellent cash flow), I think it will always mostly be a capital intensive monopoly. After listening to Malone's tactics (over promise to cities, then litigate to prevent them from bringing in a new cable company), I don't know whether to revere Malone or hate him. As a consumer, I couldn't help but feel that he is everything wrong with business owners. Horrible customer service (week plus response times to malfunctioning equipment), failure to upgrade networks when TCI signed agreements to do so, and hardball tactics (like shutting off programming or suing cities who tried to get TCI to fulfill their agreements). I think the truth is that the cable model was to lie about cable capabilities and then charge customers less than what was necessary to really have a good cable network. It seems to me that customers/cities didn't want to pay the true price to get the services they wanted. On the other hand, it seems super shady to promise what you can't deliver at a price point. Also, all the financial engineering made me want to vomit. John Malone is smarter than everyone else and wanted to make sure no one could understand his financial transactions until he got the money he wanted out of those transactions. At the end of the book, after the sale of TCI to AT&T, it becomes apparent how much better Malone understood the cable industry than Michael Armstrong. However, because of Malone's penchant for self-dealing, Armstrong never trusted him, and the TCI acquisition turned into a horrible mistake.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Thappa

    This is the story of John Malone (nicknamed "Darth Vader" by Al Gore) who took Liberty Media from a middling little cable operation in Denver to become one of the most important players in the cable television industry. One of the most important takeaways from this book is the importance of focusing on both value creation (the tech) and capturing a non-trivial fraction of the value you create (the business model). Malone will go down in history as one of the greatest financial alchemists the wor This is the story of John Malone (nicknamed "Darth Vader" by Al Gore) who took Liberty Media from a middling little cable operation in Denver to become one of the most important players in the cable television industry. One of the most important takeaways from this book is the importance of focusing on both value creation (the tech) and capturing a non-trivial fraction of the value you create (the business model). Malone will go down in history as one of the greatest financial alchemists the world has ever known and the deals he made were byzantine, exotic, and downright confusing. A few times I had to draw a "financial UML diagram" to even have the vaguest sense of what Robichaux was describing. Central to these deals was the use of debt financing, and the deferment of taxes to avoid any leakage of economic value. The bottom line was that Malone believed that the only thing that mattered was creating value for shareholders and the best way to do that is to have a very long time horizon. In short, this book is an unbelievable look into what was once the most important industry in America before the internet. Malone is also quite the character which makes the book humorous in a way that biographies typically are not.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jacek Bartczak

    Beneficiaries of the rise of train transport were companies that owned the rails. These days Apple benefits once someone decides to build a mobile app for iPhone users. Because Apple owns the rails: iPhone and Appstore. TCI played a similar role during the rise of television - because it owned cables.  History about the vertical and horizontal integration. About the company who didn't care much about customer service - and become the biggest cable company in the USA. About days when HBO, Discovery Beneficiaries of the rise of train transport were companies that owned the rails. These days Apple benefits once someone decides to build a mobile app for iPhone users. Because Apple owns the rails: iPhone and Appstore. TCI played a similar role during the rise of television - because it owned cables.  History about the vertical and horizontal integration. About the company who didn't care much about customer service - and become the biggest cable company in the USA. About days when HBO, Discovery and CNN were technological startups and cable companies behaved like VCs.  Now I know what is the mutual connection between Alexander Graham Bell and HBO.  The book includes a lot of stories about "class A/B/etc shares", acquisitions and deals between companies that own dozens of other companies. That's why an audiobook wasn't a good choice - listening took forever. Declared 11 hours isn't much - if you don't have to replay parts about shares and cable industry specifics.  The book is about "Texas cable cowboys" so an entire audiobook was read with the Texas accent.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    It started out great. The first quarter or so was very interesting, telling how cable operators got started, when TV was a new phenomenon, sweeping the nation. There was some picturesque description of how cities were connected to better TV reception, via microwave towers on hilltops and poles carrying cable snaked their way into the valley. Unfortunately the rest of the book gets very dry. If you're interested in business and investing, you probably won't find it a worthwhile read, given the tim It started out great. The first quarter or so was very interesting, telling how cable operators got started, when TV was a new phenomenon, sweeping the nation. There was some picturesque description of how cities were connected to better TV reception, via microwave towers on hilltops and poles carrying cable snaked their way into the valley. Unfortunately the rest of the book gets very dry. If you're interested in business and investing, you probably won't find it a worthwhile read, given the time it takes to slog through all those pages. There is diligent rattling off of what percentage stake in which company another company took and how much money in stock and cash changed hands. But as far as valuable insights... Had it been told in half as many pages, easily could have been a 4-star book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter S

    Great topic, awful book. John Malone is one of the most interesting businessmen of the 20th century, forging TCI into the country’s largest cable company out of practically nothing in 25 years. He competed against prominent names (which come up throughout the book) like Rupert Murdoch, Steve Ross, Ted Turner, Brian Roberts, Bill Gates, Chuck and Mike Dolan, Al Gore, Ergen, and Maffei (now his protege). He worked alongside Hindery and Magness. The network this guy worked with and against on a dail Great topic, awful book. John Malone is one of the most interesting businessmen of the 20th century, forging TCI into the country’s largest cable company out of practically nothing in 25 years. He competed against prominent names (which come up throughout the book) like Rupert Murdoch, Steve Ross, Ted Turner, Brian Roberts, Bill Gates, Chuck and Mike Dolan, Al Gore, Ergen, and Maffei (now his protege). He worked alongside Hindery and Magness. The network this guy worked with and against on a daily basis is just insane. Very few lessons were taken from this book, other than a great topic can be spoiled by poor storytelling and bad writing. Also streaming wars are basically the exact same thing as cable wars just 30-35 years later.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    Very interesting and thorough overview of John Malone's career and his broader role in the development of the modern cable industry. The book did a decent job with chronology but jumped around a bit more than necessary. The author clearly knows and understands Malone, but stops short on several occasions of making what seem like clear and intuitive conclusions about his character. Maybe this is intentional. The author has an intriguing and well crafted style. Perhaps due to Malone's nature, the b Very interesting and thorough overview of John Malone's career and his broader role in the development of the modern cable industry. The book did a decent job with chronology but jumped around a bit more than necessary. The author clearly knows and understands Malone, but stops short on several occasions of making what seem like clear and intuitive conclusions about his character. Maybe this is intentional. The author has an intriguing and well crafted style. Perhaps due to Malone's nature, the book is a little light on in depth anecdotes, a feature that would help bring a clearly enigmatic character to life.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rafael Jose Velasquez

    * Don't compete with your competitors if you can collaborate. Best deal is where everyone is happy, invest with them and align incentives. * Elaborate complex transactions tend to give you the advantage and can help others safe face while maintaining economics in your favor. *Always be as tax efficient as possible and use your least valuable currencies (potentially inflated stock price over cash). * Investors like "Pure Plays" and are willing to pay a premium for it. If you can issue separate s * Don't compete with your competitors if you can collaborate. Best deal is where everyone is happy, invest with them and align incentives. * Elaborate complex transactions tend to give you the advantage and can help others safe face while maintaining economics in your favor. *Always be as tax efficient as possible and use your least valuable currencies (potentially inflated stock price over cash). * Investors like "Pure Plays" and are willing to pay a premium for it. If you can issue separate shares for distinct parts of the business than do it. It will help clarify the business and may allow you to perform acquisition without putting up for grabs the whole business.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kay's Pallet

    This book is history and I'm not a fan of history. That being said, I did not like the way this was written. I found it to be not very readable. It was also wordy and had extra details that really weren't needed. Ex/ instead of saying they had a meeting, it was something like, "On a cold wednesday morning, at blank hotel, the character's discussed blank over muffins." Ok that whole sentence isn't needed. I wouldn't have a problem with it if the book was written like story, but it wasn't. It kept This book is history and I'm not a fan of history. That being said, I did not like the way this was written. I found it to be not very readable. It was also wordy and had extra details that really weren't needed. Ex/ instead of saying they had a meeting, it was something like, "On a cold wednesday morning, at blank hotel, the character's discussed blank over muffins." Ok that whole sentence isn't needed. I wouldn't have a problem with it if the book was written like story, but it wasn't. It kept jumping back and forth between a list of facts and a story. I also feel like the author was taking some liberties on what the characters could be thinking. I did not enjoy this.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Craig Le

    Facinating account of the bootstrapping of TCI from a small local cable operator into the biggest cable company in the USA. I found insight into the rationale for decisions taken by John Malone in particular broadened my perspective around possible collaboration between rivals in deal making. What was also interesting is how Malone did not make the insane money he ended up with intil he found ways to extract favourable equity for himself in deals, beginning with the Liberty spin off. The change i Facinating account of the bootstrapping of TCI from a small local cable operator into the biggest cable company in the USA. I found insight into the rationale for decisions taken by John Malone in particular broadened my perspective around possible collaboration between rivals in deal making. What was also interesting is how Malone did not make the insane money he ended up with intil he found ways to extract favourable equity for himself in deals, beginning with the Liberty spin off. The change in industry dynamics when industry outsides started getting control of major firms was also enlightening and could be useful as a model to view many other idustries in flux.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jonas

    Understanding John Malone seems as difficult as deciphering some of his rights offering prospectuses in the 90's, but Mark Robichaux does an excellent job tracing his rise in the cable industry as a skilled operator and capital allocator. Malone's several year stint at management consulting firm McKinsey proved as essential as his educational background in electrical engineering, economics, and operations research. He learned how big companies DON'T work and that an executive who rises to the top Understanding John Malone seems as difficult as deciphering some of his rights offering prospectuses in the 90's, but Mark Robichaux does an excellent job tracing his rise in the cable industry as a skilled operator and capital allocator. Malone's several year stint at management consulting firm McKinsey proved as essential as his educational background in electrical engineering, economics, and operations research. He learned how big companies DON'T work and that an executive who rises to the top of a big corporation and owns none of it cares is much more interested in control than he is in economics. Instead of joining Steve Ross at high-flying Warner Communications with a high management salary, Malone opted to join Robert Magness at TCI at a lower salary and deployed his own money (and borrowed!) to invest in the cable upstart. It certainly helped that Malone astutely chose the cable industry in the 1970's because of the underlying industry economics: 1) cable franchises were a legal right to a local monopoly; 2) monopoly rights allow cable operators to collect subscription fees; 3) highly predictable subscription fees allowed cable companies to use debt/leverage themselves to finance acquisition of other cable networks, equipment suppliers, and network programmers; 4) vertical integration created numerous efficiencies on SG&A line and pricing power versus subscribers and rest of cable industry supply chain. Malone's career at TCI provides a blueprint of how to create shareholder value: 1) own as much of an asset as you can; 2) finance as cheaply as possible, preferably using debt; 3) structure deal to pay as few taxes as late as possible; 4) reinvestment in the company/don't pay shareholder dividends; 5) keep overhead low; 6) structure executive compensation to align their incentives with company's.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tom White

    Interesting read on a colorful character in the industry. I enjoyed learning about how John Malone invented several now-standard metrics of operating performance (EBITDA, etc) and how generating earnings was regarded with ambivalence at best due to tax implications. Malone and his cohorts had an obsessive desire to avoid taxation. I struggled with the inconsistency of Malone's libertarianism with the fact that so much of his early success stemmed from being granted govt-sanctioned monopolies. St Interesting read on a colorful character in the industry. I enjoyed learning about how John Malone invented several now-standard metrics of operating performance (EBITDA, etc) and how generating earnings was regarded with ambivalence at best due to tax implications. Malone and his cohorts had an obsessive desire to avoid taxation. I struggled with the inconsistency of Malone's libertarianism with the fact that so much of his early success stemmed from being granted govt-sanctioned monopolies. Still, he was impressive in his patience and deal-making prowess.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    The book narrates how John Malone came to be a leader in the cable industry. It also has mentions of the trials and successes of several other business people who were connected to cable in some way, like Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen. My takeaway is that John Malone succeeded due to his relationship-building within the industry and creative structuring of financial transactions. He spent long hours working and traveled for work regularly. Sailing in Maine and cattle ranching outside of The book narrates how John Malone came to be a leader in the cable industry. It also has mentions of the trials and successes of several other business people who were connected to cable in some way, like Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen. My takeaway is that John Malone succeeded due to his relationship-building within the industry and creative structuring of financial transactions. He spent long hours working and traveled for work regularly. Sailing in Maine and cattle ranching outside of Denver were two sources of relaxation for him.

  21. 5 out of 5

    chris

    this is the type of book you might need to read more than once to truly understand everything that happened. I tried this on paper first. but it wasn't getting er done, so thankfully for me it was available on audible. didn't like: some of the information they chose to include? like who cares. complicated terms. needed a reference dictionary if you're not familiar with all the terms and their meanings. liked: fascinating story. sets the scene in history for the luxuries we have now, both in interne this is the type of book you might need to read more than once to truly understand everything that happened. I tried this on paper first. but it wasn't getting er done, so thankfully for me it was available on audible. didn't like: some of the information they chose to include? like who cares. complicated terms. needed a reference dictionary if you're not familiar with all the terms and their meanings. liked: fascinating story. sets the scene in history for the luxuries we have now, both in internet, cable and streaming. titans of the industry.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sy. C

    Excellent read - highly recommended for anyone with an interest in business. John Malone started at TCI at an extremely difficult time in the business (high debt, having to deal with regulators in multiple cities, etc) and the baptism by fire probably helped to forge his signature hard headed, frugal and opportunistic capital discipline. Not all Buffett's book recommendations are equally good but this probably stands among the best (at least for the business reader). Excellent read - highly recommended for anyone with an interest in business. John Malone started at TCI at an extremely difficult time in the business (high debt, having to deal with regulators in multiple cities, etc) and the baptism by fire probably helped to forge his signature hard headed, frugal and opportunistic capital discipline. Not all Buffett's book recommendations are equally good but this probably stands among the best (at least for the business reader).

  23. 4 out of 5

    matthew

    Fascinating read. Really the first time I've read a book that has simultaneously felt like history to me, but recent memory to my mother. I asked her if she remembered the introduction of the TV remote, for example, and she could very easily. But being a young person, I of course was not alive for most of cable's history. So all in all that was a neat experience. Will write up more formal thoughts after review with book club. Fascinating read. Really the first time I've read a book that has simultaneously felt like history to me, but recent memory to my mother. I asked her if she remembered the introduction of the TV remote, for example, and she could very easily. But being a young person, I of course was not alive for most of cable's history. So all in all that was a neat experience. Will write up more formal thoughts after review with book club.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alec

    Classic American entrepreneurial story. Great overview/context on the evolution of the telecom industry in America. Includes many great anecdotes about other famous leaders in this time (Ted Turner, Brian Roberts, etc.) Like Warren Buffett and Berkshire, fascinating to follow how someone beats the market so consistently over a long period of time.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Brian Doyle

    A worthwhile deep dive on John Malone's career and the cable industry broadly. Well researched and moves along at a reasonable pace. The tone of the author regarding Malone could best be described as 'fawning', however, to the point of being at times distracting. Also for all the discussion of the famous Liberty tracking stocks, there is not a clear, cogent explanation of how they work legally. A worthwhile deep dive on John Malone's career and the cable industry broadly. Well researched and moves along at a reasonable pace. The tone of the author regarding Malone could best be described as 'fawning', however, to the point of being at times distracting. Also for all the discussion of the famous Liberty tracking stocks, there is not a clear, cogent explanation of how they work legally.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Boris Kalendarev

    I never appreciated John Malone or the cable business as much as I do after reading this book. Malone's financial engineering and tactful negotiation skills exemplifies why he is the Godfather of cable. I never appreciated John Malone or the cable business as much as I do after reading this book. Malone's financial engineering and tactful negotiation skills exemplifies why he is the Godfather of cable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Turgut

    One of the best business books out there on one of the savviest businessmen and dealmakers in time. Gives insight into history and development of telecom industry as well as John Malone's rise to prominence. Read it if you are interested in the way business actually works. One of the best business books out there on one of the savviest businessmen and dealmakers in time. Gives insight into history and development of telecom industry as well as John Malone's rise to prominence. Read it if you are interested in the way business actually works.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Interesting story that is told in a meandering and monotonous style. Unfortunately the author didn't delve into the details of how all the deal making that makes up the spine of the book actually worked. But ultimately enjoyed it. Interesting story that is told in a meandering and monotonous style. Unfortunately the author didn't delve into the details of how all the deal making that makes up the spine of the book actually worked. But ultimately enjoyed it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Pontaeus

    A very interesting story, but book is in need of an editor. Feels like the writer was a bit of a scatterbrain in some chapters and many parts, especially towards the end, are mere rambling of facts and numbers.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    John Malone is a very clear thinker for his business dealings. However, I read this as a failure of Congress & Govt to help create an environment where INNOVATION can thrive, not a bunch of red tape and or anti-trust tomfoolery

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