John Malone, Chairman of Liberty Media — SiriusXM’s largest shareholder Reuters/Rick Wilking
- John Malone, controlling owner of Liberty Media, is one the US’ richest men with a net worth of about $9.3 billion.
- The billionaire began his career as a “cable cowboy” in research & development at Bell Labs
- He went on to oversee some of the biggest deals in cable and entertainment, with forays into sports, ranching, and more.
SiriusXM announced Monday that it had made an offer for digital streaming company Pandora in an all-stock deal worth $3.5 billion. Liberty Radio (a subsidiary of Liberty Media) is Sirius’ largest shareholder, with a 70% control of the satellite radio company — and its chairman, John Malone, has had his hands in some of cable and entertainment’s biggest deals of the past decade.
Under his watch, some of the world’s biggest cable operators have undergone deals that have shaped the way nearly everyone consumes media in their home and on the go.
And even while you might not know his name, chances are you’ve used a service or watched a channel with connections to Malone, a cable pioneer and one of the US’ largest landowners. His other interests are as far-flung as race cars, the Discovery Channel, and the Atlanta Braves.
Here’s just a small taste of his diverse investments:
- He is largest stakeholder of Liberty Media, which is worth $24 billion.
- He owns 28% of Discovery Communications, which just sealed a $14.6 billion deal for Scripps.
- He owns a quarter of Liberty Global, the largest international cable company with 29 million subscribers.
- He owns 8% of the publicly traded Atlanta Braves.
- He owns 2.2 million acres of land, making him the single largest landowner in the US.
But the media mogul wasn’t just born into his $9 billion net worth. Here’s how one of the richest and most powerful people in American business rose to prominence.
John C. Malone was born to parents of Irish descent on March 7, 1941, in Milford Connecticut, a suburb about two hours north of New York City.
He attended the prestigious Hopkins School in neighboring New Haven, graduating with a National Merit Scholarship in 1959.
The school, founded in 1660, is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the country. But Malone didn’t always feel that he fit in.
“I was neither a preppy nor a town kid,” Malone said in 1994. “So I put a lot of energy into athletics.” He got letters in fencing, track, and soccer. “It was raw drive, not skill,” he says.
He has since donated $25 million to fund school’s science center, which bears his name.
After high school, Malone stayed in New Haven and attended Yale University. He graduated in 1963 with a degree in electrical engineering and economics.
He has since donated $50 million to the university’s engineering school, where some professorships bear his name.
Sticking with the Hopkins name (but no relation), Malone headed to Baltimore to study industrial management at Johns Hopkins University, receiving a master’s in 1964.
In 2011, Malone made the largest donation to the university. His $30 million donation has funded construction of a new, 56,000-square-foot research building for the Whiting School of Engineering.
Malone’s introduction to the telecoms industry came as a student in the electrical-engineering program at New York University and Bell Labs.
Now owned by Lucid Technologies, Bell Labs is named for the telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The lab is credited with developing many telecom innovations, including the laser beam, the programming language C, early calculators, and radio transmission.
Malone returned to Johns Hopkins in 1967 to do a doctorate in operations research.
Ph.D. in hand, Malone joined the prestigious consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in New York.
In his three years consulting for large companies such as General Electric and IBM, Malone quickly learned of Wall Street’s disdain for cable companies.
As any consultant will tell you, it’s not easy work. Tired of the constant travel, Malone left McKinsey, and took a huge pay cut, to join General Instrument in 1973.
Malone ran a GI subsidy know as Jerrold, which produced minicomputers like the one above, for the burgeoning cable TV industry. GI would be sold to Motorola years after Malone’s departure.
At Jerrold, Malone met Bob J. Magness, who in 1973 offered him the job of CEO of his almost bankrupt cable company, Tele-Communications Inc.
So Malone and his wife, Leslie, headed west to Colorado to try to save the company, which had only 400,000 subscribers and $12 million in annual sales. Worse, the company owed creditors $132 million. Malone wasted no time getting to work.
By 1990, Malone had successfully grown TCI into the biggest cable company, with 8.5 million subscribers.
John C. Malone, CEO of Tele-Communications Inc., and Raymond W. Smith, right, chairman and CEO of Bell Atlantic Corp., at their joint news conference in New York City, October 13, 1993. They announced the proposed merger of their two companies.AP Photo/Richard Drew
In 1993, TCI and Bell Atlantic proposed a merger that would have been the largest in American telecommunications history. Then-Vice President Al Gore supported the merger as a way to improve American infrastructure. But the companies could not agree on the terms of a merger, and the deal to fell through, as The New York Times reported.
Instead, Malone shopped a merger to AT&T, which purchased TCI in 1998 for $32 billion.
In today’s terms, the sticker price of AT&T’s acquisition was $48.5 billion. The buyout was a bold step for AT&T, giving it a shot at offering local phone and high-speed-internet service to millions of homes across the country.
TCI’s subsidiary, Liberty Media, would remain a separate publicly traded company, with John Malone still at the helm.
From his corner office in Englewood, Colorado, just south of Denver, Malone has served as chairman and briefly as interim CEO. He is largest stakeholder in the company after nearly three decades.
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Under his watch, Liberty’s reach has expanded from providing cable service to owning the networks broadcast on its infrastructure. Over the years, Malone has gobbled up the Discovery Channel, Virgin Media, QVC, Lionsgate (which owns Starz), Game Show Network, and more.
His ruthlessness angered regulators, who often criticized the company for its near monopolies in many markets. Al Gore called him Darth Vader, according to a profile by Ken Auletta in a 1994 issue of The New Yorker.
Inspired by a summer spent on a family farm in Pennsylvania, Malone decided put his money in land.
Bell Ranch in Colorado was one of the first purchases made by Malone on his path to becoming the largest individual landowner in the US. He also owns land in New Mexico, Wyoming, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland
He owns just over a million of acres of woodlands near Boothbay, Maine and into neighboring New Hampshire, where he maintains a home keeps his sailing yachts.
Many locals, however, were worried about how Malone might use the land, given his conservative tendencies. Malone sits on the board of the libertarian Cato Institute and has donated large sums to Republican political campaigns.
All these deals — and his 2.2 million acres of land — have earned Malone the nickname ‘Cable Cowboy.’
His prize-winning race horses almost certainly contributed to the nickname as well.
Malone purchased 800-acre Bridlewood Farms in Florida for $14 million in 2013. Tapwrit, owned by Malone, won the 2017 Belmont Stakes.
Beyond land and houses, Malone has returned to his family’s roots, buying up multiple high-profile hotels and castles in Ireland.
Malone acquired the 32,668-square-foot Humewood Castle — located on 427 acres in County Wicklow in Ireland — for $11 million. He also owns hotels in Dublin.
Vodafone Chief Executive Vittorio Colao delivers a keynote at the Mobile World Congress in BarcelonaThomson Reuters
In May 2018, Vodafone announced that it has agreed to acquire Liberty Global’s operations in Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. The deal consists of €10.8 billion ($12.7 billion) in cash paid to Liberty Global and €7.6 billion ($8.9 billion) of existing debt that Vodafone will take on.
SiriusXM buys Pandora for $3.5 billion in stock
As cable operators and traditional radio companies constantly seek to evolve, Sirius XM Holdings said Monday September 24 that it would acquire Pandora for $3.5 billion in an all-stock transaction, creating the world’s largest audio-entertainment company.
Liberty Radio, a subsidiary of Malone’s Liberty Media, controls 70% of Sirius XM.