Cable Guy: John Malone: Wiring Europe

John Malone has been American cable's smartest operator and toughest dealmaker. But he's finding it hard to translate his success overseas

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What the shy, aloof son of a General Electric engineer doesn't enjoy is managing people. "I hate having 35,000 employees who need to be patted on the back," Malone told Broadcasting and Cable magazine. "Just give me a corner somewhere where I can sit and scheme." When he's not scheming, Malone likes to sail off the coast of Maine with his wife Leslie, whom he met at the beach the summer before starting college. He also enjoys gardening at his Colorado home and delving into a political biography or a thick company report.

One firm he follows closely is AOL Time Warner. Documents filed with the sec earlier this year show that Malone is trying to renegotiate with the FTC an agreement he made in 1996 that restricts his stock ownership and voting rights in what has since become AOL Time Warner. Some analysts believe Malone would like to shake up the stumbling media giant. AOL Time Warner opposes lifting the FTC's restrictions on Malone.

Friends say, though, that Malone's main focus is on Liberty Media and Europe. He has lost millions not only on AOL but also on investments in Teligent and ICG, and he's determined to redeem his reputation. Malone, whom Al Gore once famously dubbed Darth Vader, can handle being called almost anything--except, of course, a loser.

--With reporting by Thomas K. Grose/London, Chris Franz Koehl/Cologne, Eric Roston/New York and Andrew Rosenbaum/Amsterdam

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