Why 1.2 million people want to work for Comcast

William J.T. Strahan (left), executive vice president of human resources, and Robert Kissinger, senior group director of user experiences.
William J.T. Strahan (left), executive vice president of human resources, and Robert Kissinger, senior group director of user experiences. (MICHAEL S. WIRTZ / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 31, 2012

Comcast Corp. topped $100 billion in value on the stock market this month, a dazzling measure of its national economic reach.

And here's another: 1.2 million people applied for jobs in 2012 at its three subsidiaries, Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal and Comcast-Spectacor: 4,650 per business day.

That's not as many as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, whose namesake stores processed about five million job applications, but more than the 280,000 job seekers who sent resumes to 401(k) investment giant Vanguard in Chester County.

"We're no longer a cable company, we're a world-class technology company. But that's old news," said William J.T. Strahan, the cable division's high-energy, Philly-bred executive vice president for human resources. He launched his career in 1984 as a human resources trainee at a Macy's in King of Prussia.

The new news, Strahan said, is that Comcast is becoming "one of the great companies in America. . . . It's remarkable the passion people have and the forward-leaning sense of what we can do here."

Comcast's 16,400 hires this year in Comcast Cable replenished turnover in mundane jobs, such as call center operators, and deepened the employee pool in networking, Web design, user experience, home security, and software integration.

The Philadelphia company, transforming itself from a utility-type cable-TV distributor into a high-tech and media giant, now competes with Silicon Valley companies for entrepreneurial talent who can develop mobile and online products as part of its "TV Everywhere" initiative - watching TV shows and movies on smartphones, tablets, and laptops.

It has a 1,000-engineer unit, called Comcast Labs, with operations in Silicon Valley, Denver, Seattle, Washington and Philadelphia, and employs 40 individuals with doctorates working on, among other projects, next-generation video.

Comcast also employs 30 recruiters to identify new hires for its headquarters complex in Center City. "We think it's pretty cool to work here, and we put a lot of up-front time into hiring people here," said Strahan, who in addition to recruiting has responsibility for employee training, wages and benefits. He reports to Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable.

Philadelphia has attributes that could entice a new employee to the city. But it's not a media capital like New York, a bright-lights entertainment town like Los Angeles, or an entrepreneurial hive like San Francisco.

Comcast officials are quick to promote other traits of the steady-she-goes, newly hip, Philadelphia: The Comcast Center is dazzling - no one can miss it from the airport. The city is livable and bikeable, the cultural amenities unmatched, the real estate comparatively inexpensive.

People hired at Comcast, Strahan said, realize they will work at an organization with massive scale: 19 million Internet customers, 22 million cable-TV subscribers, and sprawling NBCUniversal, all under one corporate umbrella.

"We reimagine industries, invent new technologies, and are the creators of movies, TV shows, theme-park rides and experiences that thrill and entertain millions of people every day," the company says on its new website, www.comcastcorporation.com, which was designed in part to help applicants navigate its business units.

Comcast's value on the stock market was about $97 billion on Friday, down from $100 billion because of broader Wall Street concerns over the fiscal cliff negotiations between President Obama and congressional Republicans.

As in all companies, employees get hired in many ways at Comcast - through networking, headhunters, or just shooting an online application and resumé to the company.

In the cable division, 70,000 job seekers did this on average each month in 2012, about 840,000 for the year. The division's massive human resources database now contains the names of four million people who have applied in recent years.

Company officials say one sure-fire way for applicants to disqualify themselves is rudeness during the process.

NBCUniversal, 51 percent owned by Comcast with major operations in Florida, New York and California, handled 347,920 job applications. More than half, 195,000, were for for jobs at the Universal Studios theme parks.

Stadium manager Comcast-Spectacor, based in South Philadelphia, processed 30,000 applications.

Strahan, a local through and through, lived his early childhood years in Southwest Philadelphia, 60th Street and Kingsessing Avenue near Mount Moriah Cemetery. When he was 5 years old, the family moved to Upper Darby. He graduated from Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill and Villanova University with a degree in theology, commuting via the old P&W trolley line and believing he would be a college professor. He married Marie, also of Upper Darby, and earned a law degree from George Mason University in Virginia. They have two teenage sons.

Strahan speaks with pride of the 1,600 people Comcast hired in the Philadelphia area this year. The company employs 10,700 in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties.

New employees, Strahan said, breathe life into city neighborhoods, among them parts of Grays Ferry, areas north of Spring Garden Street, and the Italian Market.

One of those new employees is Robert "BK" Kissinger, 39, who two weeks ago closed on a townhouse in Northern Liberties after relocating from the San Francisco area, where he worked for video-game company Electronic Arts. He says the townhouse is for him, girlfriend Andrea McCulloch, and their cat, Klaus.

Kissinger will lead a team in Comcast's "user experience" group that develops Xfinity's cross-platform products - TV, mobile, Web, and computer.

"There was trepidation moving away from that beehive of activity," Kissinger said of the Bay Area. "But it's the chance to create an entertainment experience for millions of people that will be the best on the market. As a designer, that's a dream job."

Kissinger said he believed he could help "redefine the TV experience." People can be overwhelmed with the hundreds of channels and thousands of on-demand options. There isn't the same frustration with the Internet, which has tools - browsers and social media - to help users find what they want.

At Comcast they ask questions, Kissinger said, like, "What does TV even mean?"


Contact Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @bobfernandez1.

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