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December 12, 2007

Darth Vader

John Malone
Title: Chairman, Liberty Media; CEO, Discovery Holding Company
Age: 66
Years in Industry: 44 (started at Bell Labs in 1963)

Why Him? Call it convergence, but something just felt right about putting Dr. John at the top of our list this year. Consider the confluence of events that began in late ’06 and largely culminated this year: His deal to take DirecTV off of Rupert Murdoch’s hands turned Malone from a cable legend into… a cable legend who just bought the Death Star. Meanwhile, he was working his Machiavellian magic over at Discovery Communications, luring managerial wiz David Zaslav from NBCU to the Discovery family with marching orders to clean house and pump up that Discovery Holding stock price into a galaxy far, far away. The next thing we know, the guy who basically gave Malone the now well-known “Darth Vader” moniker wins a Nobel Prize. And all of this happens on the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars. Think about it: Darth Vader was once a loyal Jedi but succumbed to the Dark Side. And here we have Malone—the guy who basically turned the cable industry from a collection of Mom-and-Pops to the mega-industry it is today—running cable’s nemesis DirecTV all while pulling the strings at Discovery, one of cable’s most recognizable brands. Could all of this be some kind of bizarre coincidence? A meaningless juncture of random situations and occurrences? We think not. This is the fateful power of the Force at work. Malone has reasserted himself into the multichannel universe. And regardless of whether he’s fighting cable’s battles at the old TCI or trying to steal cable customers through DirecTV, Malone proves time and again that he’s really the smartest guy in the room. And as for his turn to the Dark Side, remember that this Yale wiz-kid started his career at Bell Labs. Ah, yes. It all comes full circle, my young padawan.  MG

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