Many who know the Roberts family say strong bonds have been the key to Comcast Corp.'s success: A 2001 Wall Street Journal article reported the offices of Ralph Roberts and his son, Brian, are separated by a glass door.
"I can't say how great it is to talk to someone who you know shares the same total agenda and say, 'Should we or shouldn't we try this?' " the younger Roberts said of his father. "He is my Rock of Gibraltar."
Ralph Roberts, 82 years old, founded the Philadelphia cable-television company in 1963 when he and two partners purchased a 1,200-subscriber cable-television system in Tupelo, Miss. Before that, Mr. Roberts had served in the U.S. Navy and worked in advertising.
During Mr. Roberts's tenure as president and chairman, Comcast grew steadily,
went public and began to invest in cable programming such as home-shopping
network QVC Inc. Mr. Roberts also was grooming his son Brian, now 44, to succeed
Brian Roberts was the only one of five children to show a serious interest in the business. The younger Mr. Roberts started out in work such as pole climbing and going house-to-house selling cable. Eventually, he was supervising cable operations in Trenton, N.J., and Flint, Mich., and in 1990, succeeded his father as president and CEO. Ralph Roberts took the title of chairman, which he still holds.
Since then, Comcast has been known for an audacious "don't take no for an answer" strategy, which many attribute to Brian Roberts. "Why only be a cable company?" the younger Mr. Roberts asked in 2001. "I really think we are at the cusp of a new golden age of taking television and computers and all these connections to a whole new level."
He personally secured $1 billion from Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates in 1997, has lured talent from across the industry and expanded the company's holdings in cable programming and sports teams such as Philadelphia's 76ers basketball team and Flyers hockey team.
The younger Mr. Roberts is also credited with the company's successful bid for AT&T's cable unit -- which Mr. Roberts launched publicly after AT&T executives resisted. The AT&T deal, widely seen as a success, made Comcast the nation's largest cable company.
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