Charlie Ergen, the fiery leader of satellite broadcaster Dish Network Corp., is relinquishing his position as chief executive and president at the company he founded and has tightly controlled for more than 30 years.
Joe Clayton, a former head of satellite radio broadcaster Sirius XM Radio Inc. who has become close to Ergen since joining the board of Dish's sibling company EchoStar in 2008, will assume his duties. Meanwhile, Ergen will retain his role as chairman.
"There's a lot to say grace over on a daily operational basis here," Clayton said in an interview. "With [chief executive] Michael Dugan at EchoStar and me here, this will free Charlie up to do the thing he is good at, which is to put a strategic direction in place."
Similarly, three years ago Ergen gave up his job as CEO of EchoStar, a satellite technology and set-top box company that spun off from Dish in 2008. He remains the controlling shareholder and chairman of both companies.
By naming the 61-year-old Clayton, Ergen is signaling that he isn't seeking enormous change at the company. Nonetheless, the departure from the top management role of an executive whose name has always been synonymous with Dish in the media business and on Wall Street is significant.
Clayton, who was involved in the 1994 launch of Dish competitor DirecTV Inc. while at electronics company RCA Thomson, takes the job at a crucial time when online platforms are stealing consumers' attention away from traditional television and some question whether satellite is able to compete.
However, Clayton said Dish, the No. 3 cable and satellite television provider with 14.2 million subscribers, plans to launch additional online services in order to grow.
"You can be a digital company and a satellite company," he said. "There are other services we might add in the Dish family, recognizing that going forward it's a digital world."
The management change comes several weeks after Dish Network completed its surprise $320-million purchase of struggling movie-rental chain Blockbuster, which the satellite company is expected to use to launch an online movie service. Dish also this month settled a long-running legal dispute with TiVo Inc. over patents related to digital video recording and is being sued by Starz Entertainment and Walt Disney Co. over its decision to provide subscribers a year of the Starz pay TV channel for free.