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Leadership And Overcoming Adversity: John Malone

This groundbreaking leadership research by has received extensive endorsements and enthusiastic reviews from well-known prominent business, political, and academic leaders who either participated in the study or reviewed the research findings. You will discover the proven success habits and secrets of people who, in spite of difficult or life threatening challenges shaped their own destiny to become successful, effective leaders. The full results of this research will be presented in the upcoming book by Dr. Howard Edward Haller titled “Leadership: View from the Shoulders of Giants.”

The nine initial prominent successful leaders who overcame adversity that were interviewed included: Dr. Tony Bonanzino, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, Monzer Hourani, U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, Dr. John Malone, Larry Pino, U.S. Army Major General Sid Shachnow, Dr. Blenda Wilson, and Zig Ziglar.

The data from the above nine research participants was materially augmented by seven other successful leaders who overcame adversity including: Jack Canfield, William Draper III, Mark Victor Hansen, J. Terrence Lanni, Angelo Mozilo, Dr. Nido Qubein, and Dr. John Sperling.

Additionally, five internationally known and respected leadership scholars offered their reviews of the leadership research findings including: Dr. Ken Blanchard, Jim Kouzes, Dr. John Kotter, Dr. Paul Stoltz, and Dr. Meg Wheatley.

This is a short biography of one of the principal participants who generously contributed their time and insight for this important research into the phenomenon of how prominent successful leaders overcome adversity and obstacles. This John Malone’s story:

John Malone was born in 1941 into a modest middle-class family in Connecticut. His father was, as John described him, “a junior scientist and inventor,” and was the sole breadwinner in the house. His “mother was a supportive wife and mother.” John’s father was gone nearly all the time and “John rarely saw his father” (Robichaux, 2002, p. 22).

John qualified for a work-scholarship to a nearby, well-respected preparatory school. John met the love of his life, Leslie Ann Evans, when he was 17 and she was 15. After completing high school, John attended Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut on a work-scholarship.

For Malone three important milestones in his life happened in 1963: (a) He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering; (b) he married his steady girlfriend, Leslie Ann Evans; and (c) he accepted a job as a systems engineer at Bell Labs (Robichaux, 2002, p. 26).

During our two-hour initial interview at his office in Englewood, Colorado, John shared that he “took the job at Bell because they would pay completely for my education all the way through my doctorate in operations management [at John Hopkins University] and pay me [a salary] to boot.”

After completing his doctorate in Operation Research, John continued to work for AT&T’s Bell Labs. He presented to the AT&T Board of Directors a massive and complicated mathematic model of his own design, “proving that AT&T should make a radical change in its balance sheet and shift its debt-to-equity ratio into more debt.” After the presentation to the Board the chairman told him in essence that the AT&T Board would never accept his radical idea. John was disillusioned, so he decided to quit working for AT&T.

John soon accepted a position with the consulting firm of McKinsey & Co., where he worked for two years, until one of his clients, General Instruments, hired him to run their troubled acquisition of Jerrold Electronics. Malone became President of Jerrold when he was 29 years old. A disgruntled competitor who was losing sales to Jerrold petitioned the Federal Trade Commission, “alleging that Jerrold was trying to build a monopoly by selling below their cost.” John promptly compiled all the information and proved to the FTC that the charges were untrue.

John came to realize that even his hard-won respect “would never be enough to overcome the ongoing internal political battles.” He began to know that he “would never be in line for promotion to Chief Executive Officer of General Instruments.” Then, at the young of age 30, John received and accepted an offer from one of his clients, Bob Magness, who was the founder and chairman of TeleCommunications, Inc. (TCI).

John took a “significant cut in pay” when he joined TCI, but was eager to embrace the challenges of the new job and run “the entire business as the new President and CEO.” Malone’s “first crisis at TCI was a dangerous cash flow problem.” Over the next thirty years Malone fought many battles with other operators, suppliers, local politicians, state and federal cable regulators, and the U.S. Congress. Malone and his mentor, Magness, battled their foes together.

The death of Robert Magness, the majority shareholder, created a number of major obstacles for Malone, both personally and professionally. Magness’s widow and two surviving sons struggled and battled with Bob’s hand-picked trustees, who were trusted TCI employees. Malone, knowing that Magness’s shares were the controlling interest in TCI, sought financial support from Bill Gates of Microsoft and Brian Roberts of Comcast Corporation.

Magness’s trustees sold Bob Magness’s TCI stock, but the stock sale was overturned in the Colorado courts. This court action put the TCI stock and the controlling interest in TCI “back into play.” In 1997, “Bill Gates stunned the cable industry by investing $1 billion in cash in Comcast.” John recognized he would not have Gates and Roberts as allies. Malone acted promptly to protect TCI, his personal interests, and his control of the firm.

In early 1998, John negotiated with Magness’s heirs, “agreeing to pay them $200 million for the right to vote Magness’s stock which they still owned.” This creative move gave Malone the control he needed to thwart the takeover bid of Roberts and Gates. With the control of TCI secured, John then moved to spin off as a separate affiliated company everything except the cable business. This separate TCI affiliate was Liberty Media, which controlled most of the programming and all the non-cable interests. John was preparing to sell TCI’s cable operations in the very near future.

John finally sold the cable interest of TCI to AT&T for $58 billion, increasing his personal worth to over $3 billion. John now sat on AT&T’s Board of Directors. This brought Malone little joy, for now he “had to watch as the AT&T Board made a series of painfully poor and costly decisions.” In spite of his suggestions and many objections, “AT&T repeatedly made decisions which materially devalued my AT&T stock.” As a result, nearly half of John’s personal $3 billion net worth was gone. Ultimately, Malone resigned from AT&T’s Board of Directors, selling most of his now significantly devalued AT&T stock.

As part of his resignation from the AT&T Board,Dr.Malone “successfully negotiated to be able to resume the full-time management of Liberty Media, as Chairman and CEO,” a position he still maintains.

I met with Dr. Malone, Liberty Media Headquarters, for just over two hours in Englewood, Colorado. Dr. John Malone will continue to make history in the cable and programming arena with his ever expanding and successful firm, Liberty Media Corporation.

Copyright 2006 © Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D.

Submitted by:

Dr Howard Haller

Howard Edward Haller, Ph.D. is the Chief Enlightenment Officer of the Coeur d'Alene, Idaho based The Leadership Success Institute. His Doctoral dissertation in Leadership Studies at Gonzaga Univ. included interviews with prominent US leaders in business, politics & education. http://www.TheLeaderInstitute.com email: HowardEdwardHallerPhD@msn.com




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