The Importance of Being Entrepreneurial

Rocco Commisso ’71SEAS, '75BUS Delivers the Frank N. Magill Lecture

Feb 28 2020 | By JESSE ADAMS | Photo Credit: Mike DeVito

Rocco Commisso ’71SEAS, '75BUS addresses the audience at the 2020 Magill Lecture.

Approach everything you do with an entrepreneurial mindset, advises Rocco Commisso ’71SEAS, '75BUS—and he should know. The chairman and CEO of cable giant Mediacom started that enterprise from his basement in 1995.

“I’ve knocked on doors whenever I’ve needed to, and it’s because of that knocking and perseverance and lots of luck, that I’m here today,” Commisso told a crowd February 20 at Columbia Engineering’s annual Magill Lecture in Science, Technology and the Arts. The series highlights pioneers who bridge the gap between artistic and scientific endeavors.

Born in Calabria, Italy, Commisso came to the Bronx at age 12, and worked his way to a full scholarship at Columbia as a soccer player even though his high school lacked a soccer program. Studying industrial engineering, intent on becoming a manager, he co-captained the university’s first soccer team to make the NCAA playoffs. Later, while working at Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, he earned his MBA—and served as class president—at Columbia Business School, hoping to go into investment banking.

“It was heaven for me, the only thing I had to do was work hard,” Commisso recalled.

Later, he entered what was then the small niche of cable television, and spent a decade shepherding Cablevision Industries Corporation from the 25th to the eighth largest company in the sector.

In the 1990s, seeing the media landscape transform, he founded Mediacom Communications Corporation, geared at delivering content to underserved rural communities. Twenty-five years later, after taking the company public and then private again, Commisso has built Mediacom into the nation’s fifth-largest cable provider, with over $1.7 billion in annual revenues.

“I would urge anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur: Make sure you control your destiny, don’t let the investors control you,” he said. “I’ve turned down hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars from the best of the best… all because they wanted to control me as opposed to letting me control myself.”

Commisso has recently ventured into the sports business, purchasing professional soccer teams the New York Cosmos and ACF Fiorentina in Florence, Italy. The acquisitions continue his lifelong passion for the sport, which he has championed at Columbia for decades: the university’s soccer stadium is even named in his honor.

“I was always an entrepreneur wherever I was, even when I worked for large corporations,” Commisso told the crowd. “Go out and make some mistakes because now’s the time to do it.”

 

I would urge anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur: Make sure you control your destiny, don’t let the investors control you.

Rocco Commisso
’71SEAS, '75BUS

Rocco  Commisso ’71SEAS, '75BUS (far left) poses with students and Dean Boyce (far right).

Watch Rocco Commisso ’71SEAS, '75BUS give this year's Magill Lecture