Master of Operations

“To be really good at sales and marketing, you have to have an understanding of operations. It’s all connected; if I didn’t understand the end-to-end aspect of the business, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Steve Apodaca.

Charter Communications’ Steve Apodaca shares how learning the cable business from the ground up got him to where he is today

Steve Apodaca is the president of operations for Charter Communications, Inc. and responsible for the residential division that comprises a whopping 80 percent of Charter’s revenue. This is a position Apodaca has had for four short years, yet the 45-year-old operates like a seasoned pro. The president of operations started in the industry young and learned the business from the ground up. While earning his MBA, he received a tip that Jones Intercable was looking for a diversity candidate for its management trainee program and Apodaca got the job, sparking the beginning of his illustrious career in the cable industry. Before joining Charter as vice president of marketing for the former Great Lakes Division in 2003, Apodaca spent years traversing the country with different cable/telecom operators, honing his skills, and familiarizing himself with every aspect of the industry.

“Those who operate the business should reflect the communities they serve and we’re not there yet,” says Apodaca.

The best advice I’ve ever received was from Glenn Jones, the founder of Jones Intercable. Too many people focus solely on learning how the corporate office operates, but Glenn told me to learn the business from the ground up. The five years I spent with Jones Intercable in both Broward County, Florida, and Alexandria, Virginia, immersed me in every aspect of the business. I obtained a new set of skills rolling out cutting-edge technology and meeting with congressmen and staffers on the Hill. In Madison, Wisconsin, I got back to the cable-operations side and worked as vice president of sales and marketing. To be really good at sales and marketing, you have to have an understanding of operations. It’s all connected; if I didn’t understand the end-to-end aspect of the business, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I’m a firm believer that you have to move around to get the experience you need. A diverse background provides an understanding of market demographics, which is crucial in this industry. It’s not just about what you pick up professionally, however. Traveling around the country gives you a clearer perspective on life and a better understanding of where you live. There are segments within the country and strategies within those segments and if you don’t take the time to take on different positions in different areas, you will never really gain this perspective. MBA grads think they should be running strategy for a company right out of business school, but they don’t have the experience or insight needed to be successful doing that. I can’t say it enough: learn the business from the ground up.

The best way to describe myself is goal oriented. This focus was really established by my parents early on, but when I started my career, I established a series of goals and income levels that I wanted to meet at specific ages. In other words, where did I want to be and how much did I want to be making at 30, 35, 40, etc. In order to get where you want to go, you have to map out the steps to get there; every step has to expand your skills and opportunities. This makes decision making easier because you won’t agonize over whether or not to accept another job or move to another company. You can easily identify setbacks or improvements to your career.

The most difficult aspect of working in this industry is creating alignment for the organization. Operations are at the heart of everything we do, but it has to be aligned with marketing, engineering, and everything else that comprises the company. Sometimes it feels like you’re herding cats, but you have to constantly make sure everyone is in sync and headed in the right direction. The core of every problem we run into boils down to miscommunication, which is why you have to strive to be a good communicator in this industry.

You have to be committed to everything you do. My parents always told me that if you work hard and have strong character, success will follow. Mentors can also be vital to your development. I wish I had a mentor to help me through challenges I experienced along the way, but now I mentor and I find it to be so valuable and rewarding. This is a fast industry that constantly changes and the technology used in our industry is always evolving. If you want to be successful you have to constantly be on your feet, think fast, and never suffer from analysis paralysis.

This is a great industry for Latinos and there are many opportunities for us, but there aren’t enough of us entering the field. Honestly, the industry hasn’t focused on recruiting Latinos as much as it could have. Those who operate the business should reflect the communities they serve and we’re not there yet. Diversity is needed so badly in this field—ethnic diversity, diversity in background and culture, all of these things will lead to innovative decisions and choices and to a more well-rounded industry.