William J. Bresnan, chairman of Bresnan Communications and one of the founding fathers of the cable industry, has died. He passed away just a few days before his 76th birthday, which would have been on Dec 5.
Bresnan began fixing radios when still a teenager; he received formal technical training in radio and TV repair at a small Minnesota technical college, graduating in 1953. Five years later, working as a salesman for a broadcast equipment supply company, he got involved in a scheme to create the first cable system in Rochester, Minn. He eventually was hired directly and became chief engineer.
In 1965, Jack Kent Cooke bought the Rochester system, and he offered Bresnan and his brother (whom he had not met when he made the offer) jobs, with Bill as corporate vice president of engineering. In 1968, Cooke merged his company with H&B American; it was the biggest cable company in the industry at the time.
Two years later came the merger with TelePrompTer. In 1974, Bresnan was named president of TelePrompTer Cable. TelePrompTer Cable was sold to Westinghouse in 1981, and Bresnan became CEO of Group W Cable. During his tenure as CEO, Group W funded a new endeavor called C-SPAN.
When Bresnan’s contract with Group W elapsed in 1984, he partnered with old friend John Malone, then still with TCI, and bought five cable systems in Minnesota from Group W. He subsequently sold the company to Paul Allen and Charter Communications for $3.1 billion in 1999.
He re-entered the business in 2002 with the purchase of several of the Rocky Mountain systems from Comcast (the systems were part of the old AT&T Broadband, formerly TCI).
Bresnan Communications has grown to become the 13th-largest MSO in the country, with more than 300,000 subscribers in Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Colorado and operations in Poland and Chile.
Bresnan was associated with several groups promoting diversity in hiring, including The Emma Bowen Foundation, Inner City Foundation and the Fiver organization. He was an honorary lifetime member of Women in Cable Telecommunications.
Bresnan recounted his career in this 2001 interview  with Connect Business Magazine.
Dick Green, former president and CEO of CableLabs, said: “Bill was my mentor and friend. As a fledgling CEO, he taught me the importance of perseverance, and he was there to guide me when daunting and difficult decisions had to be made. His 21 years of advocacy and leadership on the CableLabs board served the industry well. His direction helped us understand and address the needs of the smaller market companies. We are all grateful for his many contributions. We have lost a great human being, entrepreneur and friend.”
Paul Liao, president and CEO of CableLabs, wrote: “Bill Bresnan was a well-respected statesman and a true pioneer in our industry. A long-term member of the CableLabs board of directors, he had the admiration and affection of those who knew him. He will be deeply missed.”
NCTA President and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said: “This is an irreplaceable and heartbreaking loss. Bill Bresnan was one of our industry’s titans – an industry pioneer, visionary entrepreneur and technology leader who built companies that always put employees and customers first. But his impact on our industry was immeasurable in many other ways. Bill set the standard for commitment to diversity, serving as a mentor to many rising cable executives, a friend to thousands of people across the business, and inspiring the work of diversity advocates and organizations throughout our industry. We’re also deeply grateful for the leadership Bill demonstrated in establishing our industry’s commitment to public service through his work in creating organizations such as C-SPAN and Cable in the Classroom.
“In addition to his many other roles in our industry, Bill served as a distinguished chairman of the NCTA board of directors and was a member of our board for more than 35 years. Bill was a trusted friend and mentor to me and many former and current NCTA employees. We offer our deepest sympathies to his wonderful wife, Ann; his family; the employees of his fine company, Bresnan Communications; and to all of those who worked with Bill throughout his long career,” McSlarrow concluded.
American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew Polka wrote: “All of us at the American Cable Association are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Bresnan, whose groundbreaking career as a cable industry pioneer will be long remembered by those who counted on Bill for guidance and inspiration. Bill was an extraordinary man who, as a small cable operator himself, recognized the contributions of independent operators to the ongoing growth of the industry. We appreciated the time and the opportunity all of us at ACA had to work with Bill and his team on issues of importance to all independent operators. Bill’s leadership greatly enriched those of us who were fortunate enough to know him and learn from his example. Our deepest sympathies go out to Bill's wife, children, grandchildren, family and his co-workers on the loss of this truly decent and courageous man."
The Cable Center’s Larry Satkowiak said: “All of us at The Cable Center are deeply saddened by the passing of Bill Bresnan. Bill’s vision, passion and leadership made the very existence of The Cable Center possible. Throughout our organization’s history, Bill has always been there, giving generously of his time, his expertise and his financial resources. His numerous contributions to The Cable Center are apparent in every one of our educational programs and initiatives, and his recent helming of our Chairman’s Campaign demonstrated his tireless commitment to, and belief in, The Cable Center’s mission.
“Yet for all of his great success in business, Bill will be remembered most for his kindness. He was committed to his family, his faith, his country and his fellow man. He was an early advocate of diversity, and both personally and professionally supported the cable industry’s diversity efforts. Bill cherished the past, but he constantly looked toward the future by giving others the opportunity to achieve great things.
“On a personal note, I appreciated Bill’s guidance and friendship as I first learned to navigate the cable industry. Bill introduced me to the many fascinating leaders, visionaries, influencers, builders and shapers of this business. It’s people like Bill and his spirit of giving and camaraderie that has distinguished the cable business from all others. You won’t find anyone who differs in their opinion of Bill, and if you were lucky enough to be in his presence when he took command of a room with a song, or a toast, or a story (or sometimes all three), it made you realize how truly special he was.
“We have lost a very special friend and colleague, and we extend our sympathies and prayers to his wife, Ann, and his entire family,” Satkowiak concluded.