How do you replace an industry icon?

Fri, 10/31/1997 - 7:00pm
Roger Brown

If you do, the National Cable Television Association wants to hear from you — now.

You'd have to be living under a rock not to know that Wendell Bailey, who held down the top engineering job at the NCTA for the past 16 years, has departed. Some even feared that the NCTA was considering not replacing him, opting instead to let Cable Television Laboratories and the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers take over the bulk of those duties.

As it turns out, that's not the case. Last month, the NCTA Engineering Committee met as a whole with NCTA Executive VP and COO June Travis to espouse its reason for existence and reiterate its commitment to being the top engineering think-tank in the industry.

The committee's value cannot be overstated. Unlike CableLabs, it's open to programmers and equipment manufacturers alike. It attracts only top-level engineering minds. It thrives on unbiased technical conversation. It identifies, discusses and often solves problems before they become major, catastrophic issues.

But perhaps most importantly, it gives the technical community a Washington presence. While technical nitty-gritty gets performed within the SCTE, the NCTA is setting national policy, fostering relationships with the Electronic Industries Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Federal Communications Commission and others. It regularly interfaces with other key Washington-based associations with which the industry crosses paths.

In replacing Wendell, the NCTA has a real challenge on its hands, and the recruiting effort will reportedly take a very deliberate pace. The world is much different than it was 16 years ago — there's precious little time to allow a person to "grow into" a job like Wendell did. The technical community should be searching for a person with a technical mind, a diplomatic persona, a confident demeanor and enough name recognition that he gets his telephone calls returned.

It will probably be 1998 before a replacement is announced. In the meantime, Andy Scott and Katherine Rutkowski will capably keep the engineering department at the NCTA humming along. After all, another set of Technical Papers — the industry's recorded technical history — has to get out on time.

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