David N. Watson
Growing up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., Dave Watson aspired to be a professional soccer player or coach. He played center midfield on the University of Richmond team and went so far as to get a U.S. Soccer coaching license. Although he didn’t continue in sports, building and coaching strong teams has always been important to him.
The son of an attorney, Watson thought he might pursue a legal career while he studied political science at the University of Richmond. Instead, he got into the wireless phone business. It was 1984, and the recent breakup of AT&T had made new spectrum available. He opened a Washington, D.C. sales office for Bell Atlantic Mobile, and then moved two years later to Metrophone, a privately owned mobile company where he handled marketing and sales. By 1991, Metrophone’s owners had decided to sell the company and were entertaining a number of offers. Comcast wasn’t among the likely suitors, but was interested in getting into the mobile business. The company recruited Watson for a senior marketing job which he declined.
A few weeks after he turned down the offer from Philadelphia, Metrophone announced it would be sold to Comcast. Assuming he was already out of favor with the new owner, Watson figured he’d soon be out of a job. When a carful of Comcast executives arrived at the office, he was ready for the axe to fall, and he was surprised when CEO and founder Ralph Roberts asked to meet with him privately. “I figured it was better to be fired by the founder than by someone who was mad at me.” Instead, he says, “Ralph told me, ‘we want you to stay.’ That was a remarkable thing for him to do for someone who was very anxious.”
Watson joined Comcast Cellular Communications as head of sales and marketing and advanced to president. He led the company until it was sold in 1999. That’s when he entered the cable industry as Comcast Cable’s executive vice president of marketing and customer service. The industry was just starting to get real competition from DBS providers. With his experience in a highly competitive telecomm sector, Watson was the right man for the job. “I thought cable had incredible potential,” he remembers. “It was a great thing to see the engineers thinking ahead to how we’d build this next-generation network.”
Watson moved to operations in 2004 as Comcast’s executive vice president of operations, becoming chief operating officer, then president and CEO in 2019. Along the way, he has led the transition from analog to IPTV, rolled out high-speed data, introduced gigabit speeds, and overseen the development of commercial business services. Far removed from the soccer field, Watson remains focused on his team: “If you’re part of a team, your job is to make the team successful. If you’re leading a team, make sure the members are great. Once you find opportunities, do something about them.”