Exclusive: Altice USA CEO talks turning people into positive momentum

You could say that in a roundabout way the Enron scandal of the early 2000s set Altice CEO Dennis Mathew on the path that led him to where he is today. That wasn’t the only factor, of course. A lot had to do with work ethic, ambition and the like. But now that it’s his turn in the driver’s seat, Mathew is hoping to focus all of Altice around one core idea: people matter. And to get the ball rolling, he’s started with a seven-month listening campaign to uncover – and hopefully solve – headaches big and small across the company.

To be clear, Mathew was not a party involved in the Enron case. But his first job after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Economics and Finance in 1999 was in the Technology Risk Advisory group at auditing firm Arthur Andersen. Anyone familiar with the Enron case will know that Enron was one of Arthur Andersen’s clients.

Fresh out of college, Mathew told Fierce he wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted to do, but his big goal was to become the general manager of a business unit. Consulting at Arthur Andersen offered him a way to gain business acumen and other key skills, he said.

But his dream of eventually retiring as an Arthur Andersen partner crumbled when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged the company and four of its former partners with misconduct as part of an investigation into the Enron debacle. When Arthur Andersen closed its doors in 2002, Mathew took a job at PricewaterhouseCoopers. There he was assigned to what was supposed to be a three-week engagement with Comcast helping the operator stand up an IT audit and cybersecurity organization.

That project became an 18-month undertaking and Comcast eventually recruited him to join its ranks. Thus began his nearly 18-year stint with the company.

It was with Comcast that Mathew eventually achieved his goal of becoming general manager. “I have it marked on my calendar,” he said of the day he was promoted to VP and GM of Xfinity Home in February 2018. Mathew pointed to that day as one of his proudest aside from becoming CEO of Altice USA in October 2022.

People matter

During his time at Comcast, Mathew said he learned that success rests on two foundational pillars: strong employee engagement and best-in-class customer experiences. Since coming to Altice USA seven months ago, he has put a lot of energy into building systems to enable the former. And for good reason.

“They literally have the answers” to reducing noise and friction across the company, he said. “I’ve been on a tour going to the field, listening, having focus groups with our technician teams, our sales teams, our call center teams. Anybody who wants to talk, I am listening. We are digesting that, processing that.”

Altice USA CEO on tour
Mathew, fourth from right, with employees in the field. (Altice USA)

Mathew said the listening tour has uncovered problems as simple as corporate T-shirts being supplied in the wrong sizes and sleeve lengths, to things as critical as key internal systems not functioning.

He said the next step is to assess and prioritize the feedback employees are giving and transparently communicate what Altice plans to tackle, what it won’t be able to get to right away, and, in the case of the latter, why not.

Mathew said he’s also working to build a culture of recognition and appreciation for the positive things employees are doing across the company, both big and small. Altice is also building out career growth plans so employees can see a path to a long, productive tenure with the company.

The goal behind all of this, Mathew said, is to boost employee morale and retention, which in turn will help them deliver better service to customers.

The idea that even folks on the bottom rungs deserve to be listened to and treated well predates Mathew’s time at Comcast. He noted his dad, who emigrated from India in the 1970s and was both an engineer and a minister, instilled not only the value of work ethic in Mathew but also the importance of giving back to others. Throughout Mathew’s formative years growing up first in Boston and then Philadelphia with two younger brothers, his father would take trips back to India to help folks in need do things like buy a home, get food and cover funeral expenses.

“I had a chance to join him on a number of these trips and so that made, as you can imagine, a profound impact in my life,” he said.  “At a very early age I learned to give back and that it was more important to pay it forward than anything else.”

Mathew has worked to apply this principle even outside his professional life. In 2008, he began working with an organization called Bombay Teen Challenge to help fight human trafficking in India by providing food, medical services and an education to people living in the city’s red light district. Just before the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, he launched his own organization, called Bloom India, to help provide a high-quality education to underprivileged communities. Bloom India now has 2,000 students.

Mathew also founded ConnectEd in 2021, aiming to provide a digital education to families in India from the middle class on down who can’t afford premium alternatives.

Both Bloom India and ConnectEd are designed to address human trafficking by attacking what Mathew identified as one of the root causes: poverty. “We saw that these young children, they’re just smart, intelligent, bright, wonderful, and if they’re just given an opportunity they can flourish,” he said.

Walking through the slums of Bangalore showed him what life is really all about, Mathew said. And that’s why he’s so interested in making sure his employees, customers and shareholders are all taken care of.

Righting the ship

The road ahead for Altice – which has been struggling with broadband subscriber losses and shrinking profits – won’t be an easy one. Mathew said competition across the telecom industry is fierce, with fiber, cable, fixed wireless and satellite providers all duking it out against a backdrop of macroeconomic uncertainty. Move activity, he said, is down 6.5% across both Altice’s eastern and western footprints, meaning it has fewer opportunities to win new customers. Thus, it needs to ensure it has the best products lined up to offer when those rare jump balls do come its way.

Altice announced plans to pivot to fiber under previous CEO Dexter Goei in February 2022. The original plan was to focus on areas in the East covered by rival Verizon’s Fios service before blanketing a fair portion of its western footprint with fiber as well. On Altice’s recent Q1 2023 earnings call, though, Mathew said it now plans to deploy fiber in the West much more surgically.

Mathew has notably said he believes fiber is the best technology for the future and reiterated that sentiment in his comments to Fierce. He argued that slashing the number of active components in the network from the 750,000 it currently has with hybrid fiber coax to 10,000 with fiber will help lower operational expenses, reduce the need for network maintenance and improve reliability. And its new Optimum Complete bundle of fixed and mobile service will hopefully help it not only juice gross additions but also boost fiber penetration among the base in its existing territory.

But when it looks at the competitive landscape in the West, Mathew said it’s less clear that fiber is needed to win.

“As I look at how we can compete in the west, we have a great portfolio of products, we’re able to provide up to a gig in 90% of our footprint, we have mobile and we can operate at a hyperlocal level. And so I believe those are the right tools,” he said. Regarding the west footprint he added "three out of the last five months we have been net adds positive. That’s a start but there’s more work to do and we’re going to do that.”

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