Mark Dzuban: A Decade at the Helm of SCTE
"I have another mission for you."
That's the way Mark Dzuban recalls how Tony Werner, then the CTO of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), approached him in 2008 about taking the helm of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) , the industry standards and training organization that was in search of a new leader... and a fresh approach.
Werner noted that Dzuban had experience in cable (they both worked together at AT&T Broadband) and in science and technology (Dzuban is late of Bell Labs), and had some success with startups such as Cedar Point Communications, a VoIP tech pioneer.
Now the cable industry wanted Dzuban to take a leadership role at SCTE and to help maintain and expand the organization's relevance. Plus, cable leaders wanted the new SCTE head to establish clearer definitions between SCTE and other industry organizations such as the NCTA (now known as the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association ) and CableLabs , while also developing more collaboration with those groups.
And he'd need to put a fresh set of eyes on Cable-Tec Expo, the industry's annual tech-fest, reinvigorate SCTE's standards efforts, and move the needle on SCTE's membership base. There was a lot to be done... and plenty for Dzuban to think about.
Within another half hour, Dzuban remembers taking a call from Mike LaJoie, then the CTO of Time Warner Cable. "You need to do this," he told Dzuban.
The full court press was on.
Following a process that spanned some six months and the vetting of what was said then to be nearly 100 candidates, Dzuban took the SCTE job in early 2009, and has been at the helm ever since. (See Dzuban's the Man.)
"It was a good process," Dzuban says, recalling that it involved talks with a broad mix of C-level industry execs. "It was rigorous, there's no question about it. I've been in the military and served in Korea and grew up in a lot of enterprise [situations] and did work with TCI and John Malone and cable franchising, so the challenge certainly was not something I was afraid of. I just wanted to understand what it was."
And Dzuban, who endured a health scare that caused him to miss the 2016 Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia, has no plans to hang up his spurs anytime soon. He's committed to leading SCTE through the end of 2025.
Before taking the SCTE gig a decade ago, Dzuban "thought about retirement several times, and said it's not for me," he explained. "I thought [SCTE] was not only a good fit, but I love the business, and thought I could contribute. It was an opportunity to really work on programs [I enjoy] and could execute on them."
And plenty has changed under Dzuban's watch.
In addition to transitioning the organization from primarily focusing on field engineering to acting as the industry's applied science arm, he has greatly boosted SCTE membership -- it's up past 19,000, compared to about 14,000 when the pursuit of Dzuban began.
SCTE, which hired its first CTO in 2010 and will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in June, has also launched a new training development program called Cortex. The program implements a micro-version of the computerized BAT (Basic Attributes Test) training techniques that the US Air Force uses for training. SCTE has also broadened its international presence (the International Society of Broadband Experts, or ISBE, is its global brand); shored up and expanded its standards program; and moved into such areas as energy management, the Internet of Things and a relatively new working group for the Generic Access Platform for standardized nodes; and, very recently, locked in the organization's first patent. (See Why SCTE Is Plunging Into Patent Pool and Using a Lego Approach to Cable Node Upgrades .)
SCTE's new ten-year plan includes a focus on Cable-Tec Expo, which will be held in New Orleans this year before toggling primarily between Denver and Atlanta in the years to come. It's also working on training for cable's newly branded "10G" initiative, as well as a follow-up to its Energy 2020 program that will pursue a new set of goals for 2025. (See CES 2019: Cable's 10G Tech 'Will Work' and SCTE Unveils 10-Year Plan .)
Next page: Dzuban reflects on the past decade and what's ahead for SCTE
Light Reading Senior Editor Jeff Baumgartner recently caught up with Dzuban to reflect on the past ten years at SCTE and what's ahead. An edited transcript follows.
Light Reading: As you look at your role at SCTE, how has it changed the most in the past ten years?
Dzuban: If you're going to run a business, you have to understand where your strengths and where your weaknesses are. Here's what I'm good at and here's where I could use some additional set of eyes and someone to bounce a few ideas off of.
Most of my background was starting companies new. Rebuilding a company is totally different. There's infrastructure and people and process here already that now needs to be considered on how to get to the next level.
At SCTE... there were a lot of methodologies and approaches that were done for a long period of time. So how do you change that? It was a different model I had to learn [compared] to a startup, where I could hire folks that I knew and where their skills were and were proactive and entrepreneurial. Part of the learning with me is, how do I work with people and evaluate the process, put plans together to modify it? You can't do it in one sweep. You can't move the train off the tracks and not deliver. You have to make these changes while executing and continuing to improve the skill sets of the people and the relationships with others in the industry, like NCTA and CableLabs and The Cable Center , and WICT [Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) ] and CTAM [Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM) ].
I learned how to play within the rules of a non-for-profit while organizing a spirit of culture that took time, because not everybody adapts in a timetable. And some people don't adapt at all. It's not a matter of who's good or bad; it's a matter of who aligns with the needs of the business and business that has to be agile and almost reinvent itself pretty frequently.
It's taken a while but I'm just thrilled with our team. I think we're in a good place.
Light Reading: You mentioned that SCTE had to go through a rebuilding. How has SCTE evolved the most in the past ten years to deal with all of the changes occurring in the broader industry, whether it's competition and consolidation and other factors that are affecting the industry? (See Five Signs That the US Cable Industry Is Fracturing .)
Dzuban: Once you do the analysis of what do we need to do different, then you can build the organization to change. We brought in our first CTO. We needed those technical skills.
One of the significant changes, from a not-for-profit perspective, was there were folks who were sitting here waiting for direction from volunteer leaders who were very busy. I changed that paradigm to not be passive, waiting for things to fall from the sky. It's to take initiative and to be proactive to solve problems and not passive and waiting for a volunteer to tell you what to do.
We created a cultural difference... Everybody needs to take a leadership role. And to inspire others.
We're all here because we love our jobs. It's not just a paycheck. That was a big change. It was not just a job. Some folks came in late and left early. That can't happen. This is a dedication... a real commitment, and you need to love what you do.
We have an NPS [Net Promoter Score] program. We annually look at our scores. What does the market feedback say?
Light Reading: NPS scores is a measurement that a lot companies rely on. How has SCTE fared?
Dzuban We had some challenges with changes at Expo through consolidation. They [the cable operators] are all focused on the bottom line and getting folks focused on doing their jobs. And there's consolidation in the vendor community.
Our NPS scores have shown that we can do better and I think Zenita [Henderson, SCTE's VP of marketing and business development] and the team responded to the NPS scores, which we navigate by and made some very significant progress and I think actually a quantum leap from some of the things we needed to do.
Light Reading: Another change that comes to mind is your greater international focus with the other piece of the organization. Why was that necessary and what drove the decision?
Dzuban: As we solved problems in North America, the whole notion of these problems were fundamental physics in many cases [that can be applied] on a global basis. As LGI (Liberty Global) emerged, there was certainly more interest from an international basis. Certainly things stepped up in Latin America. Expo also started to see attendees go from 30 to 40 to, at last count, 60 countries that were very interested in what we do.
And a lot of content we have is fundamentally English content that just requires translation because the physics is the same. Now we have [programs and materials in] German, we have Spanish, we have translations that we are looking at in Chinese and Japanese, and we'll probably see that this year -- and other languages through partners that do the translations in the right dialects.
It's not taking a lot of energy, but it's expanding the footprint with far more influence around SCTE and our ability to drive our mission, which is to accelerate the deployment of science and technology to the advantage of our industry.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading