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Comcast's Roberts: Hungry for more
First he conquered the broadband world. Now the tenacious CEO is going after a media empire.
February 11, 2004: 3:09 PM EST
By Parija Bhatnagar, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Comcast's surprise multi-billion dollar bid Wednesday to acquire Walt Disney proves one thing: Brian Roberts, the 43-year-old president and CEO of the nation's largest cable operator, is on the prowl for the next big thing.

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Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast, announces proposal to acquire Walt Disney Co. for $54 billion.

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Comcast's unsolicited $54 billion offer to acquire the media powerhouse would create the world's biggest entertainment company in terms of revenue and market capitalization.

The Disney bid may have caught some on Wall Street off guard, but a quick recap of Roberts' dealmaking history shows that this CEO likes to go after the big fish.

"Roberts is aggressive. He sets his sight on something and he achieves it," said Greg Gorbatenko, analyst with Marquis Investment Research.

To be sure, in a little over a decade Roberts has catapulted Comcast from a family-controlled regional cable operator in Philadelphia to the upper-most echelon of the telecom industry.

So just who is Brian Roberts?

"He's the person who has been instrumental in driving the success of Comcast. He's a very strong manager, a great negotiator and someone's who is highly regarded on Wall Street and within the industry," said David Mantell, cable and media analyst with Loop Capital Markets.

In fact, Institutional Investor Magazine recently named Roberts as one of America's Best CEOs, citing among his achievements his success in transforming Comcast into "the undisputed industry leader."

Roberts joined Comcast in 1981, after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton school (where he was an all-American squash player). He has held senior several management positions at the company that was co-founded by his father in 1963.

Father gets him started

In 1990, at the age of 30, he was appointed Comcast's president and chief executive officer by his father, Ralph Roberts, who remains chairman of the company's executive and finance committees. The transition at the company's helm marked the beginning of a wave of mergers and acquisitions that got bigger and bigger.

Roberts secured a $1 billion investment from Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates) in 1997 to enhance Comcast's deployment of high-speed data and video services via its cable delivery network. At the time, Comcast was the fourth-largest cable company.

In 1999, Comcast walked away from a multi-billion dollar bid for MediaOne after AT&T Corp (T: Research, Estimates) raised its offer and outbid it. But two years later, Roberts fought back and bought AT&T Broadband for an estimated $30 billion.

With that deal under its belt, Comcast became the No. 1 cable operator in the country with about 21 million subscribers.

Last August, Roberts crafted a deal with what's now Time Warner Inc. (TWX: Research, Estimates) under which the No. 1 media company (parent of CNN/Money) paid Comcast $3.6 billion in stock and cash for full control of assets including Warner Bros. and Home Box Office.

"Like his father, Roberts still has family values but they're packaged in a younger and more aggressive personality," said Marquis Investment Research's Gorbatenko. "What Wall Street admires about Roberts is that he's made big acquisitions and successfully integrated those units into the company."

Brian Roberts
RCN Corporation
Time Warner

"That's a tough thing to do, as we have seen with the AOL Time Warner merger," Gorbatenko added. "As a business operator, Roberts has cut costs and improved the company's profit and margins."

Nevertheless, Gorbatenko isn't completely sold on the Roberts play for Disney. He thinks the Disney acquisition could further pressure margins.

"I'm not being overly critical but it could be smarter for Comcast to focus on the fragmented pieces in the (cable) industry, like Charter Communications, RCN and the smaller mom-and-pop type names," said Gorbatenko. "It may prove to be too much too soon if Roberts tries to run both cable and media businesses."  Top of page

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