Dealerscope 2019 Hall of Fame: Joe Clayton, DISH Network
In Las Vegas, the land of the showman, Joseph P. “Joe” Clayton, who died in November at 69, was an undisputed headliner – a towering figure at so many Consumer Electronics Shows for so many seminal product introductions. There are few who would disagree about his leadership role in ushering into the collective consciousness technologies and formats whose market presence, now taken for granted, have helped to shape how the public accesses and enjoys home and mobile entertainment in their everyday lives.
His 40-plus-year industry career spanned tenures at a roster of companies where he spurred innovation in the development and promotion of CE products, telecommunications, satellite radio and satellite TV broadcasting.
A native of Louisville, Ky. and the son of a liquor store owner in nearby Bardstown, Clayton never strayed far from his roots, attending Louisville’s Bellarmine University through college and attaining an MBA in 1973 from Indiana University.
It was then that his 24-year stint with RCA began. From the marketing associate level in New York City, he moved up the career ladder, honing and mastering his natural skills in product marketing and sales when, in 1992, he was named Executive Vice President, Marketing & Sales, Americas & Asia, of Thomson S.A., GE’s CE Division, which had bought RCA.
Through 1996, Clayton shepherded the RCA brand of televisions and VCRs as well as the industry rollout in 1994 of DirecTV digital satellite system – a key product introduction for both the industry and for Jackson, Miss.’s Cowboy Maloney’s Electric City, chosen as the place to showcase the launch because of Clayton’s longstanding relationship with them.
Eddie Maloney, president, had known Clayton since the late ’70s. “Back at that time, we were buying through a distributor for RCA and we went to a meeting in New Orleans, and Joe was there. A good businessman, and so friendly. Joe was Joe.
“When we launched DirecTV June 17, 1994, he had picked us not because of how big we were, or anything like that,” Maloney recalled. “He had the relationship with us, and we were very flexible.” And Clayton stuck with the retailer, relying on them to showcase the Valentine’s Day 2002 launch of Sirius Satellite Radio and also, the DISH debut that included the Hopper digital video recording platform. “He wanted to work again with us because of the success he had with the other two launches. It was because of the personal relationship with Joe – and he knew we would do our job.”
In the late ’90s, Clayton joined Frontier Communications – then Frontier Corp., a fiber optic network developer and long distance phone carrier, and was at its helm as CEO when it acquired digital content distributor and Internet access company GlobalCenter. He went on to become North American region president of the company that acquired Frontier – international communications carrier Global Crossing – and served there until 2001, when he was named CEO of Sirius Satellite Radio, which later became SiriusXM after its merger with XM Satellite Radio, as satellite radio got its start.
Clayton was pivotal in the growth of Sirius’s market valuation from $40 million to $5 billion. And while there, he led the expansion of its retail presence to 25,000 locations, saw subscriber numbers reach the one million mark, and brokered high-profile deals including the signing of radio personality Howard Stern.
He became Sirius chairman in 2004 and served as such until 2008. He also served as a director of EchoStar Corp. from 2008 to 2011.
His retirement in 2015 as president and CEO of DISH Network, where he also oversaw the start of the OTT (over-the-top) Sling TV service, capped this long stretch of executive positions.
Clayton was also a former chair of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), CES’s producer, and was named a CTA Hall of Fame honoree in 2008.
A Belief in Giving Back
Bigger than life, Clayton impressed not only with a résumé filled with achievements but also with his forceful personality and ability to garner both respect and deep admiration from those both in the industry and outside it whose lives he touched.
And he believed in giving back. At Bellarmine, Clayton endowed a scholarship in his late mother’s name. The family name also graces a campus piazza and is on the university stadium.
At retailer Cowboy Maloney’s, Eddie Maloney (far left) and Con Maloney (far right) flank DISH’s Stan Kozlowski and Clayton
His wife, Janet, his daughters, Megan, Kelly, Kathleen and Molly, his son, John Paul and his grandchildren survive him – as does his history of service within the industry.
“Joe inspired commitment: one thing he asked of our employees was to do ‘one more,’” recalled Charlie Ergen, co-founder of DISH and chairman of the board of directors for DISH and Echostar. “What was ‘one more’ action you could take for your customer, for your team, your company? Joe — ever the showman, the communicator, the leader — never failed to signal his dedication, and so, when he asked for ‘one more’ from his team, he got it.
“His passion for standing up for the consumer, for making technology accessible to all, was contagious, Ergen continued. “Joe will not only be remembered for the groundbreaking products and technologies he brought to consumers and his passion for the consumer electronics industry, but also as an inspiring leader and friend. His legacy will be that he was one of the most respected and beloved executives in the industry.”
Added Eddie Maloney, “There are certain people and luckily, we have a number of them in our lives, like this. Some people, when they walk in the room, you just smile. And Joe was one of those people.”