Personal, Business Challenges Nothing New for James Dolan

Aug 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Eight years into James Dolan’s tenure as CEO of Cablevision Systems, he faces many challenges. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating improper accounting of expenses involving 14 former employee (the one subject Mr. Dolan would not discuss, on advice of his lawyers). Cablevision may participate in a bid for Vivendi Universal assets as part of a group led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. A new direct broadcast service is in play, as are potential cable swaps and rumors about more asset sales, from sports teams to programming.
Cable TV and Cablevision have always been part of James Dolan’s life. His has been a long apprenticeship. Starting out with a low-level job with the Plainview, Long Island, N.Y., system in the 1970s, Mr. Dolan spent quite a bit of time in the 1980s running a cable guide, Total. For many years his outside interests have included music and yacht racing.
Mr. Dolan acknowledges a multitude of addictions, including abuse of alcohol and a “chemical dependency” during the 1980s and into the 1990s, which may have stalled his rise within the ranks. He kicked his addictions in August 1993. Also in the early ’90s, he was entrusted with a major Cablevision division, Rainbow Media Holdings, of which he was named CEO. In 1995 he finally got the Cablevision CEO job.
Over the years he has had to endure jokes about SOBs (sons of bosses) and a feeling by some that he lacks his father’s visionary style. Living up to a father like Charles Dolan would be difficult for anyone, and for much of his earlier tenure he was also overshadowed by the charismatic Marc Lustgarten, the vice chairman who died in 1999. The years since have brought many new challenges. But with the Dolan family controlling 75 percent of the voting stock, Mr. Dolan is unlikely to be going anywhere soon.