Time Warner Cable Northeast Ohio President Steve Fry has announced his retirement, 39 years after he answered a classified ad for a summer job the year before he was to start college.
That first job as an installer for Lamb Communications — which would eventually become Warner Cable — turned into a lifelong career for the East Canton native and son of a stay-at-home mother and high school custodian. Fry worked his way up in the organization, serving as general manager for 10 years and division president for the last 19 years.
He oversees Time Warner's third-largest division nationally behind Los Angeles and New
York with more than 2,400 employees and about 1,000 independent contractors.
When Fry retires on Dec. 31, he'll have 39 years' service.
''I thought 40 would be dumb. At 40 years, you'd look at me and say, 'You couldn't think of something else to do for 40 years?' Thirty-nine is Jack Benny-ish, it has a nice ring to it,'' said Fry, 58, in an interview in his office at Canal Place, the former B.F. Goodrich complex on South Main Street.
But for Fry and many of his employees, it'll be an adjustment.
''There are people in this organization that know no one else, no other style. So we're taking that into account and we're going to work through it with me here, but not in the way,'' said Fry, who will move to a back office once his successor arrives on campus soon.
Fry said the new person will be in charge, with him consulting. Fry will also offer consulting services to the cable company for a few years after his retirement.
''I've told the company, 'Not only do I know where the bones are buried, I probably buried them,' '' he said with a laugh.
The company has named Vin Zachariah, currently regional vice president for operations for Time Warner Cable's Southwest Ohio Division, to be Fry's successor. Company officials said they will release more information later this month.
Fry's boss said he's had an amazing career at the company.
''Steve has been a dedicated leader in the company, industry and the community. I have known and worked with Steve for more than 25 years. There are many, many great success stories in Time Warner Cable. Few, if any, however, compare to Steve Fry's,'' said Terry O'Connell, executive vice president for operations for Time Warner Cable's Midwest Region.
One of Fry's legacies is the headquarters of the division, which covers Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. When he was named president 19 years ago, Fry chose Akron as the headquarters. In 1998, he signed a long-term lease for the Canal Place office headquarters. Fry estimates the lease lasts another 10 years and said the division will not move, because the infrastructure of executives and employees is established.
Fry and his wife, Nancy, have established a scholarship at his alma mater, East Canton High School, to help students who want to go to a trade school.
''There's a strata of students that gets a lot of the scholarships and I'm an average guy, so we tried to set this up for an average student,'' said Fry.
He declined to say how much he contributed, but said he expects the interest can support four students per year for scholarships to get them through school starting in 10 years.
SummaCare President Marty Hauser, who has served on several civic boards with Fry and currently serves with him on the boards of the local American Heart Association and Leadership Akron, said Fry is fairly quiet publicly and often will step aside and let other members of his team get recognized when Time Warner is given accolades.
Fry's passion for the Akron area is evident, said Hauser.
''Under Steve's leadership, Time Warner has really taken a lead in supporting community events. The big one is the Road Runner Akron Marathon,'' Hauser said.
Reflecting on the changes in the cable industry over his career, Fry remembered that in 1977 Warner Cable created the first two-way cable network when he was working in Columbus. It had a 30-channel capacity, and the company had to not only create the technology, but also the programming for it.
''Who'd have ever dreamed we'd be where we are today?'' said Fry. Twenty years ago, a cable executive said there would one day be 500 channels. ''Now, you can't count them.''
In 1996, Akron and Canton was at the epicenter of the national launch of the company's Road Runner Internet service. Company officials chose the market because it lagged behind other divisions in home personal computer penetration. Company officials told Fry that if he could make Road Runner work in Akron, it could work anywhere.
''The goal was not to do it neighborhood by neighborhood, but to light it up. We did all of Akron and Canton in the same day,'' he said.
While cable television is still its predominant service, subscribers are growing in Time Warner Cable's Internet and digital phone operations. And there is competition from satellite TV companies and AT&T's U-Verse cable business.
According to the Nielsen Co., 70.1 percent of the Cleveland-Canton-Akron market, or 1.1 million homes, subscribe to cable services. There are 21.1 percent or 321,000 customers with satellite services and 9 percent or 138,000 who do not subscribe to a paid service and get broadcast channels only. Nielsen only counts figures for services such as U-Verse on a national basis and as of August, that was 4.5 percent, according to a company official.
Fry said the cable industry will continue to develop technologically. He believes linear programming, or shows that are on at a certain time for people to watch, will eventually fade as more people watch on-demand shows or record the shows on a DVR and watch when they want.
''Technology to deliver video is changing rapidly. Where that leads will be ubiquitous,'' Fry said.
In retirement, Fry and his wife plan to stay in the area — they live in Stow — and take time to travel and visit his daughter and three grandsons in Florida.
''It's time to do other things. I've done this for a long time. It's excited me. It still does, but I also need other things. I'd like to sleep through the night sometime. People tell me you can actually do that,'' said Fry, who acknowledges that he's often on his Blackberry late into the night.
And he'd like to watch TV. Ironically, being a cable TV executive, Fry said he's always been too busy multi-tasking.
Fry also intends to finish his college degree that he bypassed by not enrolling at Kent State University. He's got a few credits from Ohio University that he earned while working.
''I want to go back,'' he said.
And the degree he'll go for?
''Let's try communications,'' he said.
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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