Posted: October 01, 2011
Executive edge: Rich Jennings
Drawn to business from childhood, Chicago native sees growth in Comcast's business servicesBy Lynn Bronikowski
Rich Jennings' first job in the telecomm industry was in 1993 with Time Warner - starting a small system in Southern California that offered 30 channels and HBO.
"I don't think anybody at that time could imagine what could be done with the technology," said Jennings, who last January was named Comcast regional vice president of the Mile High Region.
Today, he oversees 3,500 employees at a company that offers 250 channels, phone and Internet services and earlier this year rolled out Comcast Metro Ethernet for medium to large businesses. It's a world that occasionally catches him watching HBO's "Game of Thrones" on his iTouch.
"I watch in airports all the time," said Jennings, 43, who earned a marketing degree from the University of Notre Dame, attending on an academic scholarship. "To be able to take that technology with you and stream HBO onto my hand-held device is really kind of cool."
Jennings, who was with Time Warner for 13 years before joining Comcast in 2005, said the industry's biggest challenge is the economy.
"We've been very resilient through the economic challenges mainly because a lot of people will not go out. Whether it's going to the movies or on trips - they'll stay home. And when they stay home, that tends to help us," Jennings said. "At the same time, they may look to skinny down some of the bells and whistles they've got. Our objective is to create experiences and products that people really feel they want."
Along with the challenges come opportunities, which Jennings said are on the commercial side of the company.
"This is the part of the business that we are putting our efforts in," he said, noting that during the second quarter, Comcast's commercial-service business saw a 42 percent increase in revenue growth.
A native of Chicago, Jennings says he didn't grow up on the best side of town, "but as a kid, you really don't know what your surroundings are like. You just go outside and have fun.
"I had great parents who - even though we didn't necessarily live in the best part of town and in the best conditions - were very well grounded," he said.
His mother worked for the Bell Telephone Co. as an operator, and his father was a police officer and bus driver before ultimately becoming a national sales director for such wine companies as Gallo and Mogen David.
"That was quite an achievement at the time, particularly for an African-American," Jennings said.
Jennings also worked - recalling that his first job was selling Kool-Aid popsicles out of his parents' apartment until his mom shut down the business for using all her sugar. After earning a black belt in karate at age 12, he taught and trained others in martial arts. He also worked as a club deejay.
"I knew right away from watching my dad that I wanted to do something in business," Jennings said. "I didn't know what it was, but it looked like fun that he got to travel and then would come home and work on these numbers on a spreadsheet."
Knowing how he grew up, Jennings has volunteered and served on boards of organizations that support youth, including the Denver-based Young Americans Center for Financial Education.
"People seem to think that if you grew up a certain way that you're not smart - yet so many of the kids in my neighborhood were brilliant. There's a fine line between book smart and street smart," Jennings said. "My passion is around making sure that kids understand that you've got to have an education and got to have financial literacy."