Almost 20 years after the corporate balloon he helped inflate burst— I still don’t know what to think about Adelphia Communications founder John Rigas, who died this week at the age of 96.
I worked for him for a couple of years just before he was sent to federal prison and the company was bankrupted.
It’s was a bizarre moment… sitting in my Adelphia middle manager’s office watching video of him being lead off in handcuffs on the NBC Nightly News, with the reporter making reference to “Adelphia’s management team” being arrested– somewhat chilling, since that could have described me at that point.
I had to lay off a handful of friends and co-workers because they were hired using the convoluted process that was a part of Adelphia’s shell game style of bookkeeping.
In the end, my job, and the jobs of all of my friends at the Empire Sports Network and WNSA Radio were lost. I was mostly unemployed for a year.
I personally lost thousands of dollars in talent fees and retirement earnings— many lost much, much more.
But as far as Mr. Rigas himself— the honorific still feels appropriate— in each of the many personal interactions I had with him, I always found him to be warm, kind, and humble.
After his arrest, though, little things began making sense.
The story I most often tell about Mr. Rigas is about the time I went to his office to interview him. He was gracious and welcoming to me. Also in the room were two executive managers whose salaries were both well into six figures.
As Mr. Rigas and I made small talk before the interview started, he excused himself and called a quarter-million dollars’ worth of Vice Presidents over by their first names and asked, “Can one of you get me a cup of coffee?”
The two men, with very important high-ranking jobs and tremendous responsibility within the company, nearly killed each other racing for the door to be able to get “the boss” his coffee first.
The whole ordeal felt sinister and abusive in the moment, and it was proven that this incident was reflective of the way the company was run all the time.
I learned a lot from Mr. Rigas and from working within the corporate structure he lorded over, and nearly all of it was “the way not to do things.”
There was what I can only imagine to have been genuine personal kindness to my face— but that doesn’t mesh with the ruthlessness with which he and his family played with and damaged the lives of their employees, including many of my friends and many reading this right now.
May perpetual light shine upon him.
May we also learn from the selfishness, greed, and power thirst that knocked him from his great heights.