Posted: May 01, 2011

State of the state: Telecom

Liberty Global's Fries is CTP exec of year

Eric Peterson

State_Fries-05-2011.jpg

Liberty Global President and CEO Mike Fries is one of the few cable executives who moonlights as a lead singer for a rock band. Comprised entirely of Colorado CEOs and executives, Fries' cover band, the Moderators, took in $70,000 for Mile High United Way and other youth-oriented nonprofits at a charity gig at Englewood's Gothic Theatre in February.

"We have fun," Fries said. "As a front man, I get everybody involved."

He's no slouch at his day job, either. Fries took home this year's Communications Executive of the Year at the Communications Technology Professionals (CTP) annual awards dinner in April. CTP is the state's largest organization of its kind, with more than 2,500 members, and one of the most active such associations in the country.

To Fries, the roles of lead singer and CEO definitely have their parallels: "You've gotta have your finger on the pulse of the crowd and see what's working and what's not working, and be able to call audibles," he said.

At the dinner honoring Fries at the Brown Palace, CTP President and BroadSoft VP Josh Holmberg described the attendees as "a who's who of the communications industry" in his opening remarks. Later Liberty Chairman and Colorado cable legend John Malone introduced Fries as "a terrific leader," noting that Fries "destroyed" his record for debt leverage as tallied by the Harvard Business School at UnitedGlobalCom, which merged with Malone's Liberty Media in June 2005 to create Liberty Global.

Accepting his award, Fries described his teenage self as "a renaissance beach rat - think of Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn's character in the film ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High') wearing flip-flops to AP chemistry lab and being captain of the football team." The description remains apt today: Beyond his exploits in rock ‘n' roll, Fries is an avid runner and skier, and he still likes to hang 10 when he's in the vicinity of a wave.

His accomplishments since he assumed the helm of Liberty Global are impressive: Revenues have tripled in five years as the company's stock has doubled this year. Liberty Global is now the second largest cable operator in the world after Comcast, and the largest in terms of its international business - which consists of nearly 18 million households in 14 countries and $9 billion in annual revenue.

For 2011, Liberty Global is launching a next-generation set-top box with PC-like functionality.

"It allows you to introduce apps, widgets, and Web content to the screen," Fries said. "It takes the user interface to the next level."

Other big pushes at Liberty Global include launching an on-demand service and possible forays into mobile in Europe and South America, as well as an ongoing initiative to upgrade the entire Liberty Global network to 100-megabit broadband.

Late in his acceptance remarks, Fries discussed the top three lessons he's learned thus far in his career. "One, don't believe your own B.S. - you want to build value, not empires. Secondly, don't be afraid to dig in and sweat the details. And three, don't make the same mistake twice."

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Aircell wins CTP award
for innovation

From an initial field of more than 1,000 companies that submitted applications, Aircell beat out the other finalists, Aztek Networks and FreeWave Technologies, to win CTP's second annual Ascent Award recognizing companies making an impact with innovations in communications technology.
Broomfield-based Aircell specializes in bringing Wi-Fi to the airline industry. The company's Gogo Inflight Internet service is available on more than 1,000 aircraft, including select planes in the Delta, United and American fleets.
Both runners-up are Boulder-based; Aztek Networks offers products that help service providers consolidate voice switches while migrating to IP networks, and FreeWave Technologies is a leading supplier of high-performance radios.

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Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com

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