Legendary Comcast founder Ralph Roberts dies at 95
Ralph Roberts, who built Comcast from a small cable TV system in Mississippi into one of the nation's largest entertainment companies, has died. He was 95. Comcast said in a statement that Roberts died in Philadelphia of natural causes.
Roberts jumped into the fledgling cable TV industry in 1963 by spending $500,000 to buy American Cable Systems, a company in Tupelo, Miss. He then acquired other cable systems, changed the name of the company to Comcast and ran the company until he was in his 80s.
He handed control of the company to one of his sons, Brian, who is now Comcast's chairman and
CEO. The younger Roberts expanded beyond his father's vision and led Comcast to own NBCUniversal.
"He remade the cable industry. When he started, it was a bunch of mom and pop businesses. He's shown that you can take that idea and transition it to a worldwide media business," said Terry Bienstock, a former general counsel at Comcast who met Roberts in the early 1980s. "The NBC thing will be his legacy."
Ralph Joel Roberts was born in New York City on March 13, 1920, into an affluent family. They owned a drugstore chain in Westchester County, NY. But things took a dire turn during the Depression.
"My father died, and we lost all our money. People who never had a financial problem in their lives can never understand what terror there is in that," he told The New York Times in 1997. That experience gave Roberts the determination to seek financial security.
His family moved to Philadelphia and Roberts put himself through the University of Pennsylvania. One of his first jobs was with Aitken Kynett Advertising Agency, where he worked his way up from researcher to account executive. A client at Aitken <g data-gr-id="41">Kynett</g> was the local franchise of Muzak Corp., the company behind elevator music. He joined Muzak and rose to vice president.
But he didn't like the pressures of the job and sought to leave. A recruiter brought him to Pioneer Suspender Co., a maker of men's accessories such as belts, <g data-gr-id="45">suspenders</g> and ties, and two years later he would buy the company.
In 1961, he noticed that beltless pants were coming into style and he became concerned that he wouldn't sell as many belts, his company's top product. Men also weren't wearing ties, shirts and cufflinks as often. So he sold the company.
Using money from the sale, Roberts set up an investment company. A street encounter with an acquaintance led to his purchase of American Cable Systems. In 1969, the company was renamed Comcast a combination of "communications" and "broadcast" and incorporated in Pennsylvania.
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