By Sharon Edry
Special to TelevisionWeek
David Cohen said that by age 3, he was certain he’d grow up to become a lawyer. “That’s what I always wanted to be,” he said. “When I went to law school and joined a firm, I thought that’s where I’d spend my whole career.”
Instead, after earning his degree from the University of Pennsylvania and joining the law firm of Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, he made an unexpected foray into politics in 1992 and quickly worked his way up to chief of staff for Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.
He spent six years in politics-“a hobby,” he jokingly called it-before returning to chair the law firm. Then Comcast came calling.
“Over the years people had always wanted to talk to me about something different, but I was thrilled practicing law,” Mr. Cohen said. But when Comcast Cable President Stephen Burke broached the idea that he join Comcast Corp. as executive VP, he took the offer seriously. “Comcast is certainly the foremost corporation in Philadelphia, so there is no other corporate job I would have considered,” he said.
What appealed to him as much as its geography was Comcast’s commitment to the community, to diversity and to charitable activities. “People who know me say the ideal job was created for me,” Mr. Cohen said. “I get to deal with complex strategic business and logistical issues, get involved in charitable activities and government affairs as well as the guts of the administration of the company.”
Brian Roberts, Comcast’s chairman and CEO, said the company needed Mr. Cohen’s skills and knowledge, especially once Comcast acquired AT&T’s cable assets in 2002. “We needed someone advocating Comcast’s views but also helping Comcast have a social agenda, a more diverse work force, and helping our company manage at a whole other level,” he said. “Much of that seemingly effortless transition has been because of David Cohen.”
In some ways, Mr. Cohen said, the position has been an educational experience, and he has learned from those inside and outside the company. “There is not a major player in the cable industry who has not helped me to understand what the real issues are,” he said.
But Mr. Cohen’s peers said they have been the ones doing the learning-particularly from his clear philosophical views and political sophistication. “He has a breadth of experience that offers a fresh set of eyes and ears for this industry,” said Decker Anstrom, president and chief operating officer of Landmark Communications and chair of The Weather Channel. “He richly deserves recognition for the role he’s playing in leading the industry’s grass-roots and political efforts.”
For example, Mr. Anstrom said Mr. Cohen’s political skill has been an invaluable addition to the industry’s debate on indecency. “David played a key role in working with NCTA and the programming community in terms of fashioning the “Control Your TV” campaign,” he said.
Mr. Cohen’s civic and philanthropic activities are widely known, including his work with the United Way, City Year (an “urban Peace Corps” national service organization) and the University of Pennsylvania. He said he appreciates Comcast’s culture of giving back to the communities in which the company does business.
After fewer than three years in the cable industry, Mr. Cohen is receiving a Vanguard Award for government and community relations. But he continues to focus his goals on Comcast, its growth and the challenges ahead.
“My goal is to continue to work to integrate all of the company’s functions with our business objectives,” he said, “and to continue Comcast’s efforts to be a good corporate partner with the other members of the cable industry.”
Just the Facts
Title: Executive VP, Comcast Corp.
How long in current
position: 21/2 years
Year of birth: 1955
Place of birth: New York; raised in Highland Park, N.J.
Who knew? During the past year Mr. Cohen has visited 12 college campuses with his 19-year-old son, Benjamin.