Stressa, Italy, site of the CEA CEO Summit last week, is a long way from Joe Clayton’s home state of Kentucky, but he felt pretty comfortable in a special on-on-one interview with CEA’s Gary Shapiro at the conference billed as “Have a Cup of Joe.”
We covered Clayton’s comments on becoming the CEO of Dish Network in May and his plans for the company last week.
The longtime RCA executive who introduced DirecTV and later became CEO and then chairman of Sirius also commented on a variety of topics based on Shapiro’s questions which were typically straight-forward, insightful and vastly entertaining.
Here, for posterity, are a few of Clayton’s observations about the demise of RCA, landmarks, Jack Welch, Sirius, Howard Stern, politics, religion, Wall Street and other non-controversial subjects:
On the beginning of his career: “I joined RCA after getting my MBA and went to New York and worked out of the RCA Building – 30 Rock. It’s a TV show now and called the GE Building. Only [former GE chairman] Jack Welch can change the name of a landmark, I guess.”
GE & Design: The RCA Clayton joined in the early 1970s was, in his view, innovative and emphasized design. When GE bought RCA in the late 1980s he found, “And I want to be kind, but innovation for GE [at the time] was moving the refrigerator handle from the left to the right.”
The RCA/GE Sale To Thomson: Clayton explained that prior to the GE and Thomson acquisitions RCA was the number one brand in video and “we were building 40,000 employees building TV tubes in Indiana, along with marketing, sales and designers.” Thomson took the RCA technology licenses and patents worth a half-billion dollars “which funded [RCA’s] R&D. They failed to invest in flat panel TVs and sure enough a billion dollar business is now worth less than a couple of hundred million today, employ a couple of hundred people and changed their name to Technicolor. I’d change my name too based on that.”
Sirius and Howard Stern: Clayton became Sirius Satellite Radio, and hired shock jock Howard Stern to a multi-million dollar contract. When asked by Shapiro how a devout Roman Catholic like Clayton could hire a shock jock like Stern, he quipped, “Well it was a good business move, but it didn’t help my status with the Catholic Church or the Republican Party.”
But Clayton said the signing boosted Sirius subscribers by millions in a month, a year before Stern actually began working for Sirius, “And Stern became a pied piper for Sirius. He was on Leno, Letterman, Stern talked about Sirius all over the place. Within a year we caught XM and bought it.”
Another reason for joining Dish: Clayton quipped that he decided to come out of retirement once he left Sirius XM and eventually join Dish Network. “My wife Janet pushed me out” to get a job because, “there was a CEO of our house and it wasn’t me.”
Clayton On Wall Street Analysts: He said Wall Street analysts want companies “to outline our plans in detail in public. Then our competitors will know exactly what we will be doing. That’s no way to do business.”
Leadership qualities: “I guess I get asked this a lot because I’m getting older. You have to lead by example, work like a dog, be a good communicator, set objectives and measure them. You have to make sure your people know what [the company] stands for. You also have to have leaders to lead. If you have the right people in place you can move mountains. You need to have passion and integrity, or I won’t need you. And if technology, the economy, the consumer or the competition changes, you had better well change.”
Who Clayton Looks Up To: After this tour de force interview I asked Clayton who he looked up to in his career and he said, “Sauter.”
Jack Sauter, like Clayton a member of the CE Hall of Fame, was the longtime RCA executive who made it the top color TV and VCR brand in the U.S. He was an imposing figure both physically and in the industry who was quite well respected in his 35 year career and was Clayton’s old boss.