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Vision for the future, a passion for the past

Fri, 12/31/2004 - 7:00pm
Jeff Baumgartner, Editor

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<div align="center"><b>Marwan Fawaz’s ability to combine operational skill with the depth of a technological futurist underscore his selection as CED’s ‘Man of the Year.’</b></div>
<p>The final fate of Adelphia Communications remains far from certain, but the engineering feats it has achieved in such a short span of time are nothing short of remarkable.</p>
<p>Before filing for bankruptcy in mid-2002, Adelphia&#39;s rebuild and upgrade activities literally were dormant. The engine was not idling. It was out cold.</p>
<p>After coming under new leadership in early 2003, speculation soon followed about Adelphia&#39;s future: would it be a sales target or manage a way to go it alone, operating under its own flag?</p>
<p>But even if a sale was part of the discussion, the company at the time was not attractive from a competitive standpoint because it had fallen behind the technology curve, leaving its subscribers ripe for the picking by EchoStar and DirecTV.</p>
<p>With new management and a new CTO in Marwan Fawaz, Adelphia moved ahead on a daunting turnaround project. Led by Fawaz, Adelphia&#39;s engineering efforts have become more than a story about a technical facelift. Those efforts have also helped to restore the image for an MSO in desperate need of a makeover, and the successes so far have only underscored the foresight Adelphia had in hiring Fawaz to help get that job done.</p>
<p>Armed with a technical and operations background spanning more than two decades, Fawaz is now acknowledged as a top industry engineer and as a visionary—a tough combination to find.</p>
<p>&#34;There are people who are visionary, but you might not want them running the system,&#34; notes Comcast Corp. Executive Vice President and CTO David Fellows, who has worked closely with Fawaz at various times over their careers. &#34;There are others who can do upgrades, but you wouldn&#39;t want to put them in charge of launching a new service. Marwan understands cable systems and had a curiosity of what was possible about cable systems [on] the visionary side, which was a hard thing for someone to do.&#34;</p>
<p>Fawaz, like many others, knows the nuts and bolts side of things, but his ability to fuse the engineering and operations sides of the business has helped set him apart.</p>
<p>&#34;You have to tie technology to a business opportunity,&#34; Fawaz explains. &#34;Technology not tied to a market or a business opportunity is most likely doomed to fail. You have to balance [technology] with a business sense.&#34;</p>
<p>These traits and his accomplishments at Adelphia (and pre-Adelphia) are just a few reasons why <i>CED</i> has selected Marwan Fawaz as its Man of the Year.</p><a name="From Lebanon to broadband"><strong>From Lebanon to broadband</strong></a>
<p>How Fawaz made his way to the U.S. cable industry and up the engineering ladder is amazing, considering where it all started: in Zahle, a little town nestled in the central valley of Lebanon.</p>
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<div align="center"><b>All in the family: One of 10 children,<br/>Marwan (front row, second from the left,<br/>in this circa 1968 photo), was raised<br/>in Zahle, Lebanon. In 1978, civil war would<br/>prompt his parents to send Marwan to<br/>Liberia, where he would complete his<br/>high school education before a<br/>big move to the U.S.</b></div></td></tr></tbody></table>Fawaz, one of 10 children, grew up in Lebanon, but political strife did not permit him to stay there through his high school years. At the behest of his parents, Fawaz and most of his siblings left Lebanon in 1978 as the country plunged into a bloody civil war. Fawaz was just 16 when he joined his oldest brother in the West African country of Liberia.</p>
<p>&#34;My parents...started to send us outside the country so we could find better futures for ourselves,&#34; he recalls.</p>
<p>The Fawaz family is about as global as they come. These days, his sisters and brothers are either citizens of—or are living in—the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Romania and the United Arab Emirates. His parents and oldest sister still live in Lebanon. Since the separation in the late 1970s, the Fawaz family has held several reunions, but not one in which all could attend.</p>
<p>In Liberia, Fawaz, though he could not speak a lick of English when he got there, completed his high school education at an American expatriate school.</p>
<p>Fawaz arrived in the United States in 1979 and enrolled at California State at Long Beach. He later graduated with an electrical engineering degree with an emphasis in satellite communications.</p>
<p>If not for the status of his citizenship at the time, Fawaz today might be working against, rather than for, the cable industry.</p>
<p>&#34;My heart was in satellite communications and I wanted in [that industry] so badly,&#34; he recalls, noting that most of the satellite firms in the Long Beach area back then were defense-oriented. &#34;Most of them, if not all of them, wanted security clearance and citizenship, which I had none of at the time.&#34;</p>
<p>The budding cable industry, he soon discovered, was much more accommodating to Fawaz&#39;s predicament.</p>
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<div align="center"><b>Back to his roots:<br/>Fawaz took his family to<br/>Lebanon last summer<br/>so his children “could<br/>see where their<br/>dad grew up.”</b></div></td></tr></tbody></table>After answering an ad in 1985, Fawaz found himself interviewing for an engineering job with Times Mirror Cable Television, which was looking for someone to write a program on design automation.</p>
<p>&#34;I looked at that opportunity as temporary so I could get my clearance and work with an aerospace company like TRW or Hughes,&#34; he remembers.</p>
<p>Despite those &#34;temporary&#34; intentions, that decision has evolved into a career in cable approaching 20 years. &#34;I liked the industry, and I stayed,&#34; Fawaz says. But it wasn&#39;t the technical side of the cable industry that first appealed to him.</p>
<p>&#34;In 1985, there wasn&#39;t much going on with [cable] technology,&#34; he remembers. &#34;It was mostly about people.&#34; He also saw it as &#34;an opportunity to develop within a young industry and grow up in an industry that continues to evolve.&#34;</p>
<p>Added responsibility kept Fawaz in the cable industry for his first five years, but the excitement surrounding emerging technological advancements—fiber, system upgrades and two-way communications—have kept him tethered to cable ever since. &#34;Then it became interesting,&#34; Fawaz says.</p>
<p>In addition to polishing off his master&#39;s degree, Fawaz excelled at Times Mirror during his 10 years there. He started off in staff engineering and corporate engineering positions before moving up into the management ranks. His last position at Times Mirror was director of corporate engineering.</p>
<p>Cox Communications acquired Times Mirror in late 1994, but even the urging of Cox CTO Alex Best (CED&#39;s Man of the Year in 1998) wasn&#39;t enough to convince Fawaz and his family to move to Atlanta and join the company.</p>
<p>But Marwan&#39;s time out of cable wouldn&#39;t last long. Dave Fellows and Ron Cooper (now Adelphia&#39;s COO) came calling, and asked Fawaz to join them at what was then Continental Cablevision. Fawaz agreed to run the MSO&#39;s western engineering team.</p>
<p>&#34;What did impress me when we hired him was how articulate he is. He can command an audience and express an idea in understandable terms,&#34; Fellows says.</p>
<p>US West acquired Continental in 1996, creating a new MSO called MediaOne. Where Cox failed previously, MediaOne succeeded, convincing Fawaz to move to Atlanta and take control and fix what was considered MediaOne&#39;s problem child.</p>
<p>&#34;We gave Marwan the test of his young life,&#34; Fellows recalls, noting that the Atlanta system was rife with upgrade problems, contractor issues, shoddy workmanship, and general customer dissatisfaction.</p>
<p>&#34;It was <i>the</i> problem system of MediaOne,&#34; Fellows recalls. &#34;I think he may have learned a few lessons there. It was a lot like Adelphia.&#34;</p>
<p>When AT&#38;T acquired MediaOne in 1999, Fawaz left Atlanta to join Fellows and Bill Schleyer (now Adelphia&#39;s chairman &#38; CEO) in Boston at Pilot House Ventures, where he handled technology investments and learned valuable lessons about the business end of the cable industry.</p>
<p>In 2001, Fawaz joined Charter Communications as vice president of operations for its Northwest region. He then got a chance to work directly with Paul Allen at Vulcan Ventures, which had a set of investments in cable-related companies, including Charter, Digeo Inc. and RCN Corp.</p>
<p>He then received another call from Schleyer and Cooper, who had just joined Adelphia. They had an offer he could not refuse.</p><a name="Adelphia: The fixer-upper of all fixer-uppers"><strong>Adelphia: The fixer-upper of all fixer-uppers</strong></a>
<p>Fawaz came aboard Adelphia as chief technology officer in March 2003. He joined an operator that shared many of the undesirable traits Fawaz encountered in Atlanta at MediaOne. Only this time, the scale of the task ahead was incredibly larger.</p>
<p>When Fawaz arrived, Adelphia was a mess, in more ways than one. The company had recently entered bankruptcy. Its good name was being tarnished as members of the MSO&#39;s founding family, the Rigases, were brought up on fraud and conspiracy charges. It was under new management, and questions flew (and still do) about whether the company would emerge as a stand-alone entity or be parted out and sold to other cable operators.</p>
<p>On the technology front, Adelphia was woefully behind on upgrades and the launch of new services such as video-on-demand. At the start of 2003, just 70 percent of Adelphia&#39;s plant had been upgraded, high-speed Internet was available to a mere 64 percent, and the company had nothing going with HDTV, VOD and digital video recorders.</p>
<p>&#34;We were one to one-and-a-half years behind our peers,&#34; Fawaz recalls. &#34;In 2003, we couldn&#39;t compete. We had to quickly get up to speed and launch these new products.&#34;</p>
<p>But one can&#39;t do that before solving the operational logistics and synching up the field support. Systems and regions need to be on the same page. The CSRs must learn how to support the new products, and technicians must understand how to install and maintain them properly.</p>
<p>To accomplish the task, Fawaz first surrounded himself with top-notch talent. On the corporate engineering level he added people such as Tom Buttermore, Doug Ike, Keith Hayes and Dan Liberatore (who has since left the company).</p>
<p>With financing in place, Adelphia hit the gas with upgrades and new service rollouts. At the end of 2004, Adelphia&#39;s plant was 97 percent upgraded, HSI was available nearly everywhere, and the company ramped up deployments of advanced services (see chart on p. 24 for a comparison).</p>
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<p><strong>Turning it around: Under the guidance of Fawaz and his engineering team, Adelphia deployments of advanced services and network upgrades have quickly accelerated from a virtual standing start.<br/></strong>Source: Adelphia. Note: Data excludes systems in Brazil and Puerto Rico.<br/><br/>Fawaz is quick to share the credit. &#34;Certainly, what we accomplished wasn&#39;t one person&#39;s doing. It was the whole team. We worked together very well and understood what we had to do and had specific goals. I think it&#39;s safe to say that this company was broken when we first arrived. We&#39;re at the level now where we&#39;ve fixed most of it.&#34;</p>
<p>He says Adelphia should have its upgrades finished up in the next six months. So, what&#39;s next?</p>
<p>&#34;We&#39;re shifting our focus to improve operational efficiencies and improve service quality,&#34; Fawaz says. That means an emphasis on network visibility, flow-through provisioning, preventive maintenance programs and quality control.</p>
<p>Adelphia is catching up to its cable peers on upgrades and services, but it&#39;s not about to go out on too many technical limbs, either. Instead, Adelphia has established a &#34;fast-follower&#34; model for everything from telephony to video-on-demand.</p>
<p>But being late to the game can have its advantages. One big benefit: Adelphia has been able to use proven technology and take advantage of lower price curves. Being late means Adelphia is one of a small number of operators to deploy DOCSIS 2.0, and one to jumpstart its VOD efforts with an &#34;open&#34; architecture that gives Adelphia the liberty of using a wide range of server flavors.</p><a name="Fulfilling a goal"><strong>Fulfilling a goal</strong></a>
<p>In becoming the CTO of a large MSO, Fawaz met a goal he had set for himself during his early, impressionable days in the industry—to follow in the footsteps of one of the individuals in the industry he most admires: Jim Chiddix, the current chairman and CTO of OpenTV, and former CTO of Time Warner Cable.</p>
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                            <td class="copysmall"><div align="center"><b>Marwan visits the homeland.</b></div></td>
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&#34;I recall when Jim Chiddix was the CED Man of the Year (in 1989)...and I remember looking at that article, and thinking, &#39;One day I want to be like Jim.&#39; I&#39;ve followed Jim&#39;s career and he&#39;s someone I look up to a lot. He&#39;s done so much for the industry, and he&#39;s a very classy person.&#34;</p>
<p>Fawaz has also obtained the respect of his peers on the MSO and vendor side, and there&#39;s no doubt that many now look up to him in much the same way Fawaz first did to Chiddix many years ago.</p>
<p>The respect Fawaz has earned in the industry was apparent when he was tapped to head up the 2004 Vendor Forum, which took place at The Cable Center in Denver last October. There, vendors queried MSOs on their key needs and where they think the vendors should be spending their R&#38;D dollars.</p>
<p>&#34;You need someone of sufficient stature to convince people like me and 60 different vendors to attend,&#34; Fellows says.</p>
<p>Today&#39;s CTO has to be well rounded, and able to nail the technology, but must know the business side, as well. For engineers with management and perhaps even CTO aspirations, Fawaz advises a focus on the basics.</p>
<p>&#34;By that I mean you don&#39;t need to know every little thing about our business, but at least have the fundamentals. Once you&#39;re comfortable with that, you have to understand the operations.&#34;</p><a name="Beyond cable"><strong>Beyond cable</strong></a>
<p>When Fawaz is not mulling the technology future of Adelphia, he&#39;s spending time with his wife, Patsy, keeping up with his three children (Sean, Stephanie and Ian), or hitting the links.</p>
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                            <td class="copysmall"><div align="center"><b>Never in a &ldquo;fowl&rdquo; mood (terrible pun<br>
                                intended): Fawaz and Jim Hannan<br>
                                (now the VP of engineering at<br>
                                CableOne) share a lighthearted<br>
                                moment in 1988, when Pac Bell<br>
                                was threatening Times Mirror<br>
                                with a fiber rollout in the<br>
                                Newport Beach area.</b></div></td>
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&#34;They have a lot of activities. My kids learned how to ski last year and I&#39;m trying to catch up this year,&#34; he says.</p>
<p>As one might surmise from his background, Fawaz is also keen on travel. He took his children to Lebanon in 2004 &#34;to see where their dad grew up.&#34; Their reaction? &#34;They loved it,&#34; he says.</p>
<p>Because of its location and history, Lebanon isn&#39;t exactly a hot tourist spot among Americans. But Fawaz insists it&#39;s a beautiful vacation destination. &#34;It&#39;s a cheap tourist paradise. You can enjoy the beaches and the mountains,&#34; he says.</p>
<p>&#34;I love to introduce our kids to different cultures and countries,&#34; he explains, noting that he&#39;s planning a family trip to China sometime this year.</p><a name="Staying focused"><strong>Staying focused</strong></a>
<p>Although Adelphia&#39;s fate remains up in the air (the company is expected to make a final decision on whether to sell or not in the first quarter of 2005), Fawaz plans to see things through no matter the outcome.</p>
<p>&#34;I&#39;m committed to the team we have in place,&#34; he says. &#34;If the company comes out of bankruptcy, then that&#39;s great. If it&#39;s sold, I&#39;m committed to my peers in the industry so that there&#39;s a proper transition.</p>
<p>&#34;I haven&#39;t thought about what will happen after Adelphia. There&#39;s a lot of work to do here. I love this industry. I love the people around it. It was my first job out of college. It would be hard to convince me to be anywhere else.&#34;</p>
<p>Considering his abilities and accomplishments, there&#39;s little chance the industry will let him get very far away without a fight.</p></span>
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<h3><span class="sidebarheadline"><a name="Marwan on...">Marwan on...</a></span></h3><span>
<p><strong>PacketCable VoIP:</strong> &#34;We&#39;re in trials now. Once we go through the trials, testing and evaluations, we&#39;ll go into launches in 2005. We haven&#39;t said how fast or where. But it&#39;s safe to say that we believe in VoIP. It will help us fend off competition as well as enter new sources of revenue.&#34;</p>
<p><strong>DOCSIS 2.0:</strong> &#34;The capabilities are there. We haven&#39;t completely turned it on. As we launch VoIP, we will take advantage of 2.0 capabilities. We&#39;ve said we would be about three-quarters DOCSIS 2.0 the end of [2004]. I think we&#39;ll come close to that.&#34;</p>
<p><strong>DOCSIS 3.0:</strong> &#34;Strategically, we cannot sit and wait and not continue advancing our platform. 3.0 will be important for us in the next year or two as we push higher speeds and compete and maintain cable&#39;s position as a broadband leader. Whether it&#39;s 3.0 or NGNA (Next Generation Network Architecture), it behooves the industry to keep improving and pushing that platform.&#34;</p>
<p><strong>Digital simulcast:</strong> &#34;I remember discussing the simulcast idea when I was at Vulcan with Paul Allen and Wayne Davis (Charter&#39;s CTO) and talking about why it&#39;s important. And the reasons are still valid and right on target. It helps us facilitate the start of the analog-to-digital migration. Second, it&#39;s a bandwidth management tool for us. We will manage bandwidth better for the long-term; short-term it will cost us additional bandwidth.&#34;</p>
<p>The migration will also address consumer perception about digital pictures and take away a marketing advantage currently enjoyed by DBS, he adds. At Adelphia, digital simulcast &#34;is on the drawing board, and we&#39;ll be there very quickly.&#34;</p></span></span></td></tr></tbody></table></td></tr></tbody></table>

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