When Jim Weigert first graduated from college in the mid-'80s, he took a job as a copy machine salesman.
"You'd just want to get people to listen to you, so I'd wear a tux," Weigert said. "Nobody would kick you out if you were wearing a tux."
To keep secretaries occupied, he often brought a bouquet of flowers and a box of donuts on corporate sales calls. Dressed in a tuxedo and bearing gifts, he was rarely refused entry.
"In sales, you have to think differently," Weigert said.
In a way, Weigert still is in sales, and he still has to think differently -- but on a grander scale.
As Comcast vice president and general manager for the Chattanooga market, he wears an admittedly varied number of hats.
It's often a mix of sales, marketing, service and product design, with a double dose of human resource management and public relations thrown in for good measure, he said.
As head of Comcast in Chattanooga, he's able to bring a lifetime of digital and analog experience to bear on one of the cable giant's test markets, where products are introduced before the rest of the country gets them.
He feels at home here, and isn't afraid to lob a few grenades at his competitors on his home turf.
"There are only 12 residential customers for EPB's gigabit, so I'm glad they're spending money to find uses for it," he jokes.
Though he scoffs at some competitors' efforts to bring new technology to bear in Chattanooga, he's anything but a Luddite.
In fact, Weigert's career thus far has been scattered across the media landscape with one commonality -- he's always been on the cutting edge.
In the 1990s, he oversaw the transition from analog to digital cellphone technology at Ameritech, which later was acquired by present-day AT&T. After the merger, he transitioned to marketing an circuit switched phone system for TCI, then the second-largest cable company in the U.S., before it, too was bought by AT&T.
So he left for Comcast, which at that time was not the media giant it is today.
"I wanted to be part of a smaller company," he explained. "You can make a bigger impact on more people at a smaller company than you can in a big, corporate environment."
Comcast, however, didn't stay small for long. With Weigert's background in emerging technology, he hit the road, launching broadband service in new markets like Mobile, Ala., Knoxville and Chattanooga.
"After we started launching HD content, my job morphed into vice president for new products," Weigert said.
Searching for small
As Comcast grew, he began to miss the excitement of a fast-growing start-up, the thrill of being small and nimble.
So he left.
For several years, Weigert bounced around between phone companies and cable operators, spending much of his time on the road launching new products in new markets.
From HDTV and circuit-switch phones to voice over IP and DVRs, Weigert balanced himself on the bleeding edge of innovation wherever he landed, he said.
But living out of a suitcase took its toll.
"I was spending 60 percent to 80 percent of my time on the road," he said.
He worried that if he continued, his children would grow up without him.
"I have three kids, and I didn't want to be gone all the time," Weigert said.
That's when he made the decision to return to Comcast -- but as a regional general manager, not as a jet-hopping troubleshooter trying to keep track of time zones.
- Age: 48
- Family: Married for 18 years to his wife, Stephanie; three children: Mackenzie, 13; Collin, 12; and Brennen, 8.
- Career: Copy machine salesman, grocery store personnel manager, product marketing, mobile phone and cable executive
- Education: Double major in math and management at Purdue, MBA from Indiana University
- Current job title: vice president and general manager for the Chattanooga market.
He returned to Chattanooga, the market he helped launch for Comcast.
Chattanooga combined the fast-paced innovation he enjoyed with the family values he craved.
It also held in store some pretty serious competition, which is a unique situation for cable operators who usually have one or even zero competitors.
In Chattanooga's past few years, local utility EPB buried gigabit fiber outside more than 170,000 Chattanooga homes, and AT&T launched its competing U-Verse broadband offering.
"I like the competition," Weigert said. "I've always had it, and here you've got Dish, DirecTV, AT&T U-Verse, and EPB is also a big competitor."
As head of a test market for Comcast, Weigert gets to play with the latest toys, including some that are overlooked in the face of competitors' fierce marketing campaigns and government connections.
For instance, Weigert keeps a home automation app on his iPhone that can control his home's power usage. It's part of the same home security package that Comcast has made available to customers in the Chattanooga area this year.
On the other hand, EPB's Smart Grid -- which was designed in part to allow customers to decrease their usage during periods of peak demand -- won't enter the prototype phase until 2012.
But the city-owned utility has received exponentially more attention from government officials and national media, despite the fact that the taxpayer-funded project is unfinished.
"Chattanooga likes to talk about the Smart Grid, but we allow you to control power in your home already," he said. "People are only getting one side of the story, but you can't take the Smart Grid and control your energy."
Telling the story
Weigert, however, isn't worried about the lack of publicity he's received.
"I'm focused on what we can do, and on telling our story," he said.
To that end, he's working with educators, health care providers and small businesses to bring more local content to Chattanooga customers' OnDemand menu.
From offering math lessons to tips on birthing a healthy child, Weigert is using his years of executive experience to enlist others in helping to tell the Comcast story.
He subscribes to the belief that if he helps others achieve their goals, they'll help him achieve his.
With all the new cloud- and mobile-based products Comcast plans to roll out, he's shifting into sales mode -- back to his copy machine roots.
"I'll talk to anyone who wants to listen," he said
Only this time, he doesn't have to wear a tuxedo anymore.
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...