Comcast taps its ex-SEAL, Neil Smit, to lead bulked-up cable group

Should Comcast Corp.'s $45-billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable be approved, the company plans to dispatch its ex-Navy SEAL.

Neil Smit, Comcast Cable chief executive and a former Navy SEAL, this week was named Comcast’s go-to guy: the executive who would closely oversee the integration of at least 8 million Time Warner Cable customers into Comcast, which already has nearly 22 million video subscribers.

That means Smit also would be the point man overseeing upgrades to Time Warner Cable’s systems in New York and Los Angeles, where 1.5 million homes have Time Warner Cable service.

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“Neil Smit will help lead this for us, and the track record of what’s been happening at Comcast Cable is something that we’re very, very proud of,” Comcast Corp. Chief Executive Brian Roberts told Wall Street analysts on a conference call Thursday to discuss the proposed merger.

Smit, 55, is respected in the industry for his skills managing sprawling operations. His star has been on the rise at Comcast since shortly after he joined the Philadelphia cable giant in 2010.


Comcast’s customer retention rates have improved significantly, and in the most recent fiscal quarter, Comcast reached a milestone.

It was the first time in nearly seven years that Comcast signed more customers than it lost. In the October-through-December quarter, Comcast posted a net addition of 43,000 video subscribers.

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The acquisition is subject to approval from Comcast and Time Warner Cable shareholders, as well as the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Smit was unavailable for comment Friday, a corporate spokeswoman said.

He previously was CEO for about five years of the smaller Charter Communications. He went to Comcast in March 2010 to manage Comcast’s cable systems when its former cable chief, Steve Burke, was preparing to segue into the top role at NBCUniversal.

Interestingly, it was Charter that got jilted this week by Comcast, when Comcast executives abruptly halted discussions about ways Comcast could participate in Charter’s bid for Time Warner Cable. Instead, Comcast quickly put together its own bid to gobble up 100% of Time Warner Cable, the nation’s second-largest cable company.

Before working at Charter, Smit served as president of the America Online Access Business, overseeing Internet access services, including AOL and Netscape ISPs. He also worked for a stint as chief operating officer of MapQuest.

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Before getting into the Internet business, Smit was a regional president with Nabisco and worked in various management positions at Pillsbury.

But he’s no doughboy. For nearly six years, Smit served on active duty with the Navy SEAL teams. He retired from the Navy as a lieutenant commander.

Comcast in 2012 provided Smit with a compensation package valued at $18.3 million. That was about 30% less than that of Burke, the chief executive of NBCUniversal, even though Smit’s side of the house brings in nearly twice the revenue NBCUniversal does.


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Twitter: @MegJamesLAT