Benefactor shares secrets of his success


Dick RobertsDDick Roberts, retired chief executive of TeleCable Corp., speaks to students in the School of Media Arts and Design on Sept. 18.ick Roberts, retired chief executive of TeleCable Corp., spoke to students in the School of Media Arts and Design in the first in a series of lectures designed to connect SMAD majors with media professionals.

When Roberts joined TeleCable, a division of Landmark Communications, in 1968, the company had about 14,000 subscribers in the Norfolk area. When he sold it in 1994 to industry giant TCI for $1.4 billion, TeleCable was the 18th-largest cable company in the country with more than 750,000 subscribers in 15 states in the South and the Sun Belt.

During his talk, Roberts focused on ethics as a fundamental business principle, and he imparted three of TeleCable’s customer-service axioms that still resonate today: “One, treat others as you would want to be treated; two, the customer is not always right (although we needed them more than they needed us); and three, we knew that if we followed one and two, that profit would follow.”

Roberts also referenced one of his ancestors, the pirate Bartholomew Roberts, as a means of illustrating TeleCable’s practice of “trading up” — taking the ideas of others and improving upon them. 

He took questions from the audience on a range of topics, from what he looked for in a prospective employee, to his personal leadership style, to negotiations to win new franchises and bring innovative product offerings like The Weather Channel and CNN into the fold. 

Roberts also shared personal stories, including how he met his wife, JMU alumna Shirley Hanson (’56) Roberts. The couple has made JMU a beneficiary of their philanthropy. One of their gifts helped establish The Shirley Hanson Roberts Center for Music Performance, part of the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts.

“JMU is a special place,” Roberts told the students. “I’ve never heard anyone say they didn’t love it here. Take full advantage of this time.” 


Sept. 22, 2014

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Published: Monday, September 22, 2014

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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