Feb. 14--In any other place, the enterprise that James Samaha, 50, heads would be considered a big company: 5,500 to 6,000 employees, two million customers in 500 towns in three states, 160 service depots, multiple call centers and warehouses.
But not here, where the division for which Samaha is senior vice president, the Freedom Region, is dwarfed by the presence of its parent, Comcast, in Philadelphia.
What's it like to work in the shadow of corporate headquarters with such top executives as Brian Roberts and David Cohen looking over your shoulder?
I've been with Comcast for coming up on 10 years, so I'm a little more seasoned and a little more ready for that kind of attention.
But to me, it's fun. Where else would I want to be within the company other than where all the action is, where all the fun is? We sometimes get to roll out some of the new products before everyone else does, because it's our hometown, or we'll get to try out some new technology.
Aren't they keeping an extra-close watch? Would they be paying as much attention if you were heading a division in Iowa?
You have to be on your game, right? You have to be showing your best, but I think that's what makes it fun and interesting.
Of course not, no. Why would it be that?
Comcast recently renegotiated its cable franchise with the City of Philadelphia. Were you involved? Was it corporate?
I was definitely deeply involved. Generally, franchise negotiations are negotiated at the local level through an organization such as mine. The Philadelphia one was a little bit different because it's our hometown, and we have a much deeper relationship with the city. So it was much more of a joint effort with corporate resources as well as local.
What's some good advice on managing up?
First of all, I'm candid. I am not going to sugarcoat things. I tell things like they are. I try to come with solutions so that it's not just throwing my problems at somebody else. At the end of the day what I really am trying to do is run a good business.
I don't want to make a decision because it's going to please somebody. I want to make a decision because I think it's the best thing for everybody. I think that makes whatever dialogue I'm having with my boss or somebody even higher up go well.
Do you think that approach builds credibility?
Good results build credibility. I'm not going to run around and brag about how great things are. I'm just going to work like the devil to make the results as good as I can.
What Comcast technology do you like and use?
Probably my number-one Comcast feature is to be able to download shows onto my phone, because when I fly I can watch shows wherever.
I'll tell you one fun thing. I showed you a plug that you can plug in your wall, and then you can plug any device into it that you want, and control it with your phone.
What do you control?
We had two Christmas trees. My wife likes the lights to go on at dark, but go off when we go to bed. I could turn the lights on from the phone instead of climbing behind the tree.
Comcast gets a bad rap sometimes for its customer service. When you are out in your personal life, do people complain to you?
You know, I get both, I get people who compliment the service and talk about cool new products. I definitely do get people who have an issue or a complaint, and I'm happy to help them. I'm happy to have people approach me and ask me whatever they want.
You used to sing tenor in an a cappella group. Any leadership lessons there?
I've learned that passionate leadership is really helpful, because [conductors] make it very clear where they want to lead the group. Even if you don't have the melody, you're just as important as everybody else. Everyone has to do their job in order to make beautiful music. That was kind of cheesy, but just sayin'.
Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.
Title: Senior vice president, Freedom region.
Family: Wife, Leslie; children, Grace, 12, Claire, 10, Nate, 8.
Diplomas: Cornell University, chemical engineering; New York University, master's in business administration.
Beer: Sam Adams.
Podcasts: "Hardcore History" by Dan Carlin.
Specialty: Bakes oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
COMCAST CORP. FREEDOM REGION
Territory: Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs, New Jersey, northern Delaware.
Employees: 5,500 to 6,000, including 2,000 in customer service, 2,700 technical employees.
Customers: Two million in 500 municipalities.
Facilities: 175 buildings, mostly service depots, and including eight Xfinity stores, four call centers, three warehouses, 3,400 vehicles.
Dollars: $8.2 billion profit on $74.5 billion revenues for Comcast Corp. in 2015. Would not disclose by region.
Samaha: On the frontline to fix Comcast's service issues www.philly.com/jobbing
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