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Cable Cowboy: John Malone and the Rise of the Modern Cable Business

4.28  ·  Rating details ·  991 ratings  ·  71 reviews
An inside look at a cable titan and his industry
John Malone, hailed as one of the great unsung heroes of our age by some and reviled by others as a ruthless robber baron, is revealed as a bit of both in Cable Cowboy. For more than twenty-five years, Malone has dominated the cable television industry, shaping the world of entertainment and communications, first with his ca
Paperback, 320 pages
Published March 23rd 2005 by Wiley (first published September 30th 2002)
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Average rating 4.28  · 
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 ·  991 ratings  ·  71 reviews

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Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you don’t have any interest in balance sheets, income statements, hostile takeovers, stock swaps, share buybacks, or tax strategies, then you probably won’t like this book.

But if somewhere along the way you lost yourself down the rabbit hole of corporate finance, then you will L-O-V-E love this book.

The story centers on John Malone, widely regarded as one of the sharpest business minds in modern history. His pace of M&A—averaging one deal every two weeks for over 15 years—is stunning. I mea
Will Clausen
Nov 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly interesting book. I didn’t have a strong grasp on the history of the big cable companies. They always just kind of seemed to be these huge entities with awful customer service. Turns out, there’s a long backstory there. And it’s interesting. Cable Cowboys does a good job explaining it all as it follows John Malone and his team at Telecommunications Inc (TCI).

My big takeaways:
- John Malone is the real deal as an executive. His ability to craft win-win deals (with the biggest win for
Rishabh Srivastava
Feb 17, 2021 rated it liked it
A tale of how a finance guy helped a struggling cable network grow into a giant firm, with deal-making, moxie, and financial wizardry

I tend to believe that operators need to understand the nuts and bolts of their core business exceptionally to be effective. This was a great realisation that they don’t.

Malone’s playbook (which he had initially conceptualized in his twenties when at Bell Labs - it was called “Resource Allocation and the Regulated Firm”) was that:

1. You can get a lot of benefit fro
Aug 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
I first read about John Malone in Joel Greenblatt's legendary book "You can be a stock market genius". Later I read about his again in The Outsider's by William Thorndike. Few things about him stood out. He was all about cash flow while Wall Street concentrated on accounting earnings. Secondly, he used leverage exceedingly partially to reduce effective tax rate. And he liked to acquire companies. Some of the things Malone did are similar to what Amazon has done later on (long term horizon, cash ...more
Connor Owens
Jan 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Definitely a 4.5, but giving it a 4.
Todd Wood
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My main complaint about the popular finance book "The Outsiders: Eight unconventional CEOs" by Thorndike was that there wasn't enough detail about each individual person ... Well this book certainly checks the John Malone box! Cable Cowboy was a comprehensive and thorough review of his amazing career at TCI. Financially gifted, Malone was also a ruthless deal-maker and operator that managed to become the preeminent cable and media industry tycoon.

Pretty much a must read for anyone that has an in
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you work in the media industry it's a must read, it's a very interesting and insightful book. ...more
Oct 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business
This tome seems to have a lot of good business lessons, and I would say that is its strength, rather than an interesting story line.

The first few chapters - the story of Malone's childhood and experience at college - were actually interesting. Even the story of his first job and how he came to Tele-Communications Inc (TCI) were good. But after the author gets Malone to TCI and describes the challenges Malone is going to face, the book becomes more like a 250 page case study of the cable industr
Andrew Thappa
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the story of John Malone (nicknamed "Darth Vader" by Al Gore) who took Liberty Media from a middling little cable operation in Denver to become one of the most important players in the cable television industry. One of the most important takeaways from this book is the importance of focusing on both value creation (the tech) and capturing a non-trivial fraction of the value you create (the business model).

Malone will go down in history as one of the greatest financial alchemists the wor
Jacek Bartczak
Beneficiaries of the rise of train transport were companies that owned the rails.
These days Apple benefits once someone decides to build a mobile app for iPhone users. Because Apple owns the rails: iPhone and Appstore.
TCI played a similar role during the rise of television - because it owned cables. 

History about the vertical and horizontal integration. About the company who didn't care much about customer service - and become the biggest cable company in the USA. About days when HBO, Discovery
Oct 04, 2018 rated it liked it
It started out great. The first quarter or so was very interesting, telling how cable operators got started, when TV was a new phenomenon, sweeping the nation. There was some picturesque description of how cities were connected to better TV reception, via microwave towers on hilltops and poles carrying cable snaked their way into the valley.

Unfortunately the rest of the book gets very dry. If you're interested in business and investing, you probably won't find it a worthwhile read, given the tim
Peter S
Mar 28, 2020 rated it liked it
Great topic, awful book.

John Malone is one of the most interesting businessmen of the 20th century, forging TCI into the country’s largest cable company out of practically nothing in 25 years. He competed against prominent names (which come up throughout the book) like Rupert Murdoch, Steve Ross, Ted Turner, Brian Roberts, Bill Gates, Chuck and Mike Dolan, Al Gore, Ergen, and Maffei (now his protege). He worked alongside Hindery and Magness. The network this guy worked with and against on a dail
Jun 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very interesting and thorough overview of John Malone's career and his broader role in the development of the modern cable industry. The book did a decent job with chronology but jumped around a bit more than necessary. The author clearly knows and understands Malone, but stops short on several occasions of making what seem like clear and intuitive conclusions about his character. Maybe this is intentional. The author has an intriguing and well crafted style.

Perhaps due to Malone's nature, the b
Rafael Jose Velasquez
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it

* Don't compete with your competitors if you can collaborate. Best deal is where everyone is happy, invest with them and align incentives.
* Elaborate complex transactions tend to give you the advantage and can help others safe face while maintaining economics in your favor.
*Always be as tax efficient as possible and use your least valuable currencies (potentially inflated stock price over cash).
* Investors like "Pure Plays" and are willing to pay a premium for it. If you can issue separate s
Kay's Pallet
This book is history and I'm not a fan of history. That being said, I did not like the way this was written. I found it to be not very readable. It was also wordy and had extra details that really weren't needed. Ex/ instead of saying they had a meeting, it was something like, "On a cold wednesday morning, at blank hotel, the character's discussed blank over muffins." Ok that whole sentence isn't needed. I wouldn't have a problem with it if the book was written like story, but it wasn't. It kept ...more
Craig Le
Aug 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Facinating account of the bootstrapping of TCI from a small local cable operator into the biggest cable company in the USA. I found insight into the rationale for decisions taken by John Malone in particular broadened my perspective around possible collaboration between rivals in deal making.

What was also interesting is how Malone did not make the insane money he ended up with intil he found ways to extract favourable equity for himself in deals, beginning with the Liberty spin off.

The change i
Aug 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: re-read
Understanding John Malone seems as difficult as deciphering some of his rights offering prospectuses in the 90's, but Mark Robichaux does an excellent job tracing his rise in the cable industry as a skilled operator and capital allocator.

Malone's several year stint at management consulting firm McKinsey proved as essential as his educational background in electrical engineering, economics, and operations research. He learned how big companies DON'T work and that an executive who rises to the top
Tom White
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting read on a colorful character in the industry. I enjoyed learning about how John Malone invented several now-standard metrics of operating performance (EBITDA, etc) and how generating earnings was regarded with ambivalence at best due to tax implications. Malone and his cohorts had an obsessive desire to avoid taxation. I struggled with the inconsistency of Malone's libertarianism with the fact that so much of his early success stemmed from being granted govt-sanctioned monopolies. St ...more
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book narrates how John Malone came to be a leader in the cable industry. It also has mentions of the trials and successes of several other business people who were connected to cable in some way, like Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and Paul Allen.

My takeaway is that John Malone succeeded due to his relationship-building within the industry and creative structuring of financial transactions. He spent long hours working and traveled for work regularly. Sailing in Maine and cattle ranching outside of
May 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
this is the type of book you might need to read more than once to truly understand everything that happened.
I tried this on paper first. but it wasn't getting er done, so thankfully for me it was available on audible.
didn't like: some of the information they chose to include? like who cares. complicated terms. needed a reference dictionary if you're not familiar with all the terms and their meanings.
liked: fascinating story. sets the scene in history for the luxuries we have now, both in interne
Sy. C
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read - highly recommended for anyone with an interest in business. John Malone started at TCI at an extremely difficult time in the business (high debt, having to deal with regulators in multiple cities, etc) and the baptism by fire probably helped to forge his signature hard headed, frugal and opportunistic capital discipline. Not all Buffett's book recommendations are equally good but this probably stands among the best (at least for the business reader). ...more
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating read. Really the first time I've read a book that has simultaneously felt like history to me, but recent memory to my mother. I asked her if she remembered the introduction of the TV remote, for example, and she could very easily. But being a young person, I of course was not alive for most of cable's history. So all in all that was a neat experience. Will write up more formal thoughts after review with book club. ...more
Sep 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Classic American entrepreneurial story.

Great overview/context on the evolution of the telecom industry in America.

Includes many great anecdotes about other famous leaders in this time (Ted Turner, Brian Roberts, etc.)

Like Warren Buffett and Berkshire, fascinating to follow how someone beats the market so consistently over a long period of time.
Brian Doyle
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finance
A worthwhile deep dive on John Malone's career and the cable industry broadly. Well researched and moves along at a reasonable pace. The tone of the author regarding Malone could best be described as 'fawning', however, to the point of being at times distracting. Also for all the discussion of the famous Liberty tracking stocks, there is not a clear, cogent explanation of how they work legally. ...more
Jamie Pastore
Jun 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
A good biography of a great operator. Malone's overriding concern with his business interests and operating efficiency makes him a rather unsympathetic and often dull subject of a biography, but the history of the industry and the creative financing explanations help supplement his lack of interesting personality. ...more
Boris Kalendarev
I never appreciated John Malone or the cable business as much as I do after reading this book. Malone's financial engineering and tactful negotiation skills exemplifies why he is the Godfather of cable. ...more
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best business books out there on one of the savviest businessmen and dealmakers in time. Gives insight into history and development of telecom industry as well as John Malone's rise to prominence. Read it if you are interested in the way business actually works. ...more
Interesting story that is told in a meandering and monotonous style. Unfortunately the author didn't delve into the details of how all the deal making that makes up the spine of the book actually worked. But ultimately enjoyed it. ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it liked it
A very interesting story, but book is in need of an editor. Feels like the writer was a bit of a scatterbrain in some chapters and many parts, especially towards the end, are mere rambling of facts and numbers.
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100 likes · 16 comments
“Forget about earnings. That's a priesthood of the accounting profession," he would preach, unrelentingly. "What you're really after is appreciating assets. You want to own as much of that asset as you can; then you want to finance it as efficiently as possible." 6 And above all else, make sure that the deals you do avoid as much in taxes as is legally possible.” 1 likes
“Forget about earnings. That's a priesthood of the accounting profession," he would preach, unrelentingly. "What you're really after is appreciating assets. You want to own as much of that asset as you can; then you want to finance it as efficiently as possible." 6 And above all else, make sure that the deals you do avoid as much in taxes as is legally possible. And then some.” 0 likes
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