Industry great Joseph “Joe” Clayton, who helped spearhead myriad CE and telecommunications technologies from satellite radio to Sling TV over his 42-year career, died Saturday at the age of 69 following a brief illness.
Clayton’s illustrious curriculum vitae included runs as president/CEO of Dish Network, from 2011-2015; chairman of Sirius Satellite Radio, from 2004-2008, and before that CEO, from 2001-2004; and president and president/CEO, respectively, of telecommunications providers Global Crossing and Frontier Corp.
Before that he helped launch DirecTV at Thomson Consumer Electronics in concert with Hugues Electronics, and also led RCA’s marketing and sales efforts for TVs and VCRs.
At Sirius (now SiriusXM Radio), he helped introduce new home and car hardware, and put the company on the map by signing multiple radio contracts with sports leagues and entertainment figures including Howard Stern.
“We were able to launch the Hopper, DishNet and Sling TV; navigate two spectrum auctions; and deliver our customers throughout,” Clayton said upon his retirement from Dish.
In his spare time, the larger-than-life Clayton served on EchoStar’s board of directors; was chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association (now CTA) from 1995-1996; and was a trustee for his alma mater, Kentucky’s Bellarmine University.
He was inducted into the CT Hall of Fame in 2008, received CTA’s Digital Patriot Award in 2013, and was bestowed a LIfetime Achievement Award by the International Bluegrass Music Association.
The tributes came in fast and furious. “Joe was a man of passion and vision whose influence on our industry is remarkable in its breadth and depth,” said Dish co-founder and chairman Charlie Ergen. “As a master marketer, his brands, including RCA, DirecTV, Sirius Satellite Radio and Dish, were welcomed into tens of millions of American homes. As importantly, he mentored and influenced generations of leaders across our industry, including me. I am grateful for Joe’s leadership, his friendship and his generosity.”
Said CTA president/CEO Gary Shapiro, “The consumer technology sector has lost a legend. Joe was a strong and ethical leader — a lion of the industry, who was larger than life. He saw the future clearly and helped lead the industry in areas including direct broadcast satellite, HDTV and satellite radio. Joe focused on the big picture, increasing growth by inspiring people … Our industry and all those who knew Joe Clayton are better for his influence, leadership and guidance.”
Shapiro recounted Dish’s press conference at CES 2015, when Clayton entered “banging a bass drum and leading a parade of people dressed as kangaroos — the company’s mascot — onto the stage. If heaven doesn’t have premium program choices and great video and sound, I’m pretty sure Joe will make some changes up there.”
In a 2016 column, longtime TWICE editor Steve Smith described Clayton as a mentor, an enthusiastic promoter of the RCA brand and its color TV line, and as someone who “knew and respected the role the press had in covering the business, when news was good, bad or indifferent.”
“He not only shared info on his products and technology,” Smith continued, “but was willing to provide significant insights into the arcane world of CE retailing, and without realizing it, helped me get up to speed rather quickly in this fast-paced business. Over the years he was generous with his time and his insights, even when the story was not about RCA — or later on — Sirius or Dish.”
Susan M. Donovan, Ph.D., president of Clayton’s beloved Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., noted his role as a trustee and benefactor. “Joe Clayton was a part of everything at Bellarmine. The Bellarmine campus wouldn’t be what it is today without his incredible support,” she wrote in a university post. “Not just through our physical space, and not just through his leadership as a trustee and distinguished graduate. It lives in the legacy of so many students and alumni who have now moved on to become educators, librarians, business people and leaders in their communities. It is a legacy that will continue forever.”
A native Kentuckian and self-described “poor young kid from the hills of Bardstown,” Clayton was an avid traveler, hunter and University of Kentucky basketball fan.
He is survived by his wife, Janet; daughters Megan Stovall (Matthew), Kelly Herr (Brock), Kathleen Reitz (Andy), and Molly; son John Paul; grandchildren Samuel, Abigail, William and Lucas Paul; brother Mike Clayton; and sister Ellen Willett.
Visitation will be Thursday, Nov. 8, from 3:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. in Knights Hall at Bellarmine. His funeral will be held Friday, Nov. 9 at 11:00 a.m. at Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral in Bardstown, with burial immediately to follow at St. Joseph.