Entrenched Corporate Leader: Brian Roberts of Comcast

Brian Roberts, Chairman & CEO of Comcast (CMCSA)

For starters, the dual class of A and B shares effectively gives Roberts control of the votes in the company, and if anything were to seriously need a check and balance from a popular vote he’d be able to round up support.  It is also no coincidence that Ralph Roberts was the founder.  So let’s call it the Roberts Family.  As of my brief knowledge of the family, I think Brian was the only one of the Roberts family to go deep into the company. 

He is young at under-50, so he has many years of corporate shelf life if he wants it.  If he ever thought about leaving, he’d be able to write his own ticket.  Unless he has a change of heart, it would take a series of major blunders before his position would be in jeopardy.  The stock had spent several years as dead-money to investors, but shares are up well over 50% in the last year and it has outperformed its peers.

No one can argue that the company has grown into a behemoth and is now getting more and more into the content.  The ownership of the “super-voting” stock gives them all the leverage they need.  Corporate action and shareholder groups have not been able to wrangle this away, and they have tried.  Dual and multiple stock classes are often created so that a founder or controlling partner can actually own much less of a company in stock yet maintain total control.

There was also a provision that it would take 9 of the 12 board members to oust Brian Roberts.  Upon last look that provision is in place through 2010.  If they didn’t really try to get rid of him after the failed Disney takeover attempt, then it would probably take a monumental gaff on his part to be ousted.  With shares up as much as they are, shareholders don’t want him out any time soon.

Jon C. Ogg
January 19, 2007