Jim Kennedy '70
A conversation with Cox Enterprises Chair Jim Kennedy
Thanks to the dizzying forward progress of technology, the media and communications industries have undergone big changes in recent years. And DU alum Jim Kennedy (BSBA ’70) has played a major role in all of it. As CEO of Cox Enterprises from 1998–2010, Kennedy guided his private, family owned company through the fastest-changing business landscape in human history. What started as a small newspaper company in 1898 has grown to almost $15 billion in revenue. Today, Cox also owns television and radio stations, cable television systems, website AutoTrader.com and vehicle remarketing service Manheim. In 2010 Kennedy took a step back from day-to-day involvement with his businesses, though he is no less committed to causes he’s passionate about. He recently endowed three professorships in DU’s Morgridge College of Education and plans to become more involved in conservation.
Q What’s your current involvement with Cox Enterprises now that you’ve retired from the CEO position?
A I’m still the chairman of the company. I’m still there a good bit of the time. The newspaper portion of the business is under real pressure and struggling. Newspapers need to figure out how to live in an electronically delivered news world. And they need to be able to monetize all the content they produce that is now delivered free. One of my sons reads five papers a day and none are in print and all are free. So we have to figure that out. Our biggest business is Cox Communications, the cable business. We’re getting into wireless, which — combined with the powerful pipe we now have in homes — makes our business even stronger. We need to find more things we can do to deliver information into people’s homes and find more ways to get added value out of that pipe. Our other businesses — radio and TV — those are mature businesses but they’re still good businesses. Manheim is the largest automobile auction company in the world, and it’ll continue to do well. AutoTrader.com is our fastest-growing business. The automotive industry has been really hit in the last two years, but we do well online — that helps.
Q You’ve said newspapers need to learn how to make money on the Internet. What’s been the effect on radio and TV?
A Not as big an effect on television and radio. If you look at the numbers radio and television deliver, they’re still darn good, but the more ways people have to get news, entertainment or information, it segments the market. If someone’s on the Internet they may not be watching television or listening to radio. [Radio and television are] still able to deliver good audiences for their advertisers — not as good as they used to be, but I don’t know what is.
Q How did you decide to help out the Morgridge College of Education?
A Obviously, I’m a graduate of DU, and for a short time I was on the board and I got to witness what [Chancellor Emeritus] Dan Ritchie did for the University. Dan and I had developed a little bit of a rapport, and I told him when I could, I would make a financial contribution to the University. He directed me toward the [Morgridge College of Education] and said that’s where we needed the help. I have a great deal of gratitude for the University and what they did for me at a time in my life, and so I made my gift and I wanted it to go to where the University of Denver felt like they needed it the most. I think education can be a key that unlocks opportunities for all kinds of folks, and higher education is so crucial in our society. As things become more complex and we need to solve an ever-increasing number of problems, highly educated people can do that, and I’m excited to have a small role in helping DU do that.
Q You have quite an interest in conservation. I notice you serve on the board of DU — and by DU, I mean Ducks Unlimited — and other conservation organizations. Why?
A My mother had a great love of the outdoors, and she instilled that in me. When I came to Colorado, I really enjoyed — I hate to sound too corny — the majesty of the West, whether we were hunting, fishing, hiking or skiing, and I thought, “This is just so wonderful.” Frankly, going back to Hawaii, where I grew up, and seeing what happened there with the overdevelopment, I’m reminded of Joni Mitchell’s old lyric, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” … she wrote it about Hawaii. I hate for that to happen. I want my grandchildren to see the great open spaces, so I’ve been very active in conservation my entire life.
Q I read that you were a cyclist and then quit at age 50. Has anything filled the void?
A All outdoor activities. I took up golf at age 53, and I’m whacking away at that stupid thing and my competitive nature has calmed down a bit. I retired a year ago and I started surfing again like I did when I was a kid and traveled to Fiji. I have a place in Montana where we spend more time. I’ve got plenty of things that fill in the holes.
Q Are you a hunter and fisherman as well?
A You go back to Teddy Roosevelt, whose love of the outdoors came as a result of being a hunter. I think consumptive users tend to care about [the environment] the most. So it makes good sense, but I don’t know that everybody appreciates that, and the more urban dwellers you have, they don’t understand that either. I’m fortunate that all three of my children hunt, to one degree or another. I’m a bow hunter for big game purely, and I only hunt with traditional equipment so I’ve spent a lot of time hunting and not much getting.