Aug. 31--Mike Cavanagh, one of the nation's top banking executives at JPMorgan Chase and now Comcast Corp.'s new chief financial officer, says the Philadelphia company's biggest "enemy" is complacency, hoping that consumer trends won't change and that Comcast remains the big cable company.
Comcast's destiny is "in our hands," Cavanagh said at the Comcast Center last week.
He added, "All businesses have to modify their game to be relevant to millennials."
A protege of the legendary banker Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan, Cavanagh joined Comcast in May after Comcast lost its publicly deflating regulatory battle for Time Warner Cable Inc.
He replaces the transformative CFO Michael Angelakis, who negotiated the successful deal for NBCUniversal and the abandoned takeover of Time Warner Cable.
Observers believe that Cavanagh could face a more constrained tenure than Angelakis because of hostile regulators. But Cavanaugh said he did not expect to be Comcast's "steward" and has been looking at how the company can grow.
Dimon, JPMorgan Chase CEO, said by phone Friday that Cavanagh was a straight talker and "not a politician or any of that stuff." He expects Cavanagh -- who was lured to Comcast with a compensation package valued around $24 million -- to be a valuable partner for Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, NBCUniversal head Steve Burke, and others to "help drive the company."
Comcast abandoned the $45 billion Time Warner Cable acquisition in April after spending more than $400 million on lawyers, lobbyists, and consultants. The Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission indicated they would fight the deal, forcing Comcast to walk.
"In some ways, it's a shame that Time Warner Cable did not happen and in some ways it's a blessing in disguise," Cavanagh said. He said the resources that Comcast would have spent integrating Time Warner into Comcast could now be refocused on developing new products and improving the Comcast customer experience.
Cavanagh, meanwhile, has been immersing himself in Comcast's businesses -- from the blockbuster-factory Universal movie studio to WiFi.
"I know enough to be dangerous," Cavanagh cracked in response to a question as to whether Comcast believes it should buy a wireless company.
The wireless question has gained urgency since AT&T, one of the nation's largest cellular phone operators, acquired DirecTV this summer. The deal created the nation's largest pay-TV operator by combining AT&T's U-verse business with DirecTV.
Wall Street analysts also have looked to Europe for future trends on telecom investments.
"In Europe, the flavor of the month is quad-play," Cavanagh said, referring to companies that offer TV, Internet, wireline phone, and wireless phone services as a package.
But Cavanagh noted that Americans were different consumers. "We have the wherewithal to go down that road," Cavanagh said of quad-play. "It's something we should pay attention to, and you can count on us putting some time into the issue."
International companies also could be acquisition targets. Analysts and company insiders say Comcast could consider acquiring media or TV distribution companies overseas.
"I do travel the world and I do have a passport," Cavanagh said. "There is opportunity out there."
The Comcast CFO job opened when Angelakis, who also held the title of vice chairman, said he would step down. The Wall Street Journal rated him as one of the best-regarded CFOs in the nation. He also was one of the highest paid, earning $18.9 million in 2014.
Angelakis will now run a multibillion-dollar Comcast-funded venture fund, with offices in Philadelphia and New York.
JPMorgan came through the financial crisis of 2008-09 mostly unscathed. But a rogue trader in London in 2012 cost JPMorgan about $6 billion and brought regulators down on it.
An exodus of top JPMorgan executives occurred after the "London whale" scandal, including Cavanagh, who was co-CEO of JPMorgan's corporate and investment bank.
Few in the telecommunications or media industries knew Cavanagh. But he had a close personal connection to Comcast.
Steve Burke, head of NBCUniversal and a confidant of Comcast CEO Roberts, sat on the JPMorgan board for years. Burke knew Cavanagh through board presentations and was also friends with Dimon. Burke and Dimon attended Harvard Business School together, graduating in 1982.
Agreeing to be CFO at Comcast was "virtually instantaneous," said Cavanagh. He was raised in Long Island in an Irish-Catholic family but has moved between Chicago, New York, and London. Now he's thrilled to be living in Philadelphia, he said.
Cavanagh rowed crew at Yale and he's looking forward to rowing on the Schuylkill. He read the Boys in the Boat, the recent bestseller about the American rowing team that won gold in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.
"For brief moments when you get good," Cavanagh said, "it's like karma or utopia and the boat almost lifts out of the water."
He'd probably like to say the same about Comcast in five years.
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