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At XM, Boldly Going

Panero earned his MBA at night at Baruch College but learned mostly by studying his mentor. Panero "was incredibly curious about my management style," said Aurelio, now retired from Time Warner Inc. "He'd say, 'Do you have a few minutes? I was kind of curious about that meeting we had this morning . . . the way you handled that situation. What was your thinking about it?' Sometimes it was annoying. I'd say, 'Hugh, can we talk about this some other time?' But I was impressed."

"Dick ran New York City government during one of the most challenging and disruptive times. He knew how to get significant things done in a challenging environment. You can learn a lot from him," Panero said.


XM Satellite Radio chief executive Hugh Panero, who joined the company in 1998, keeps his office door open, shouting over to Chairman Gary M. Parsons during the work day. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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At Time Warner Cable, Panero quickly proved himself, helping launch one of the first high-capacity cable systems that offered more than 100 channels, including a large offering of pay-per-view channels. In doing so, he had to master complex technology, subscription sales, customer service and marketing -- all skills that would become crucial when building XM. Panero left in the early 1990s to run Request Television.

Panero is, by all accounts, a demanding task master who keeps a close eye on his deputies, said Jeffrey Bernstein, a former Request executive who remains close to Panero. At Request, if members of the senior management team slacked off, they knew Panero would call them out in front of their colleagues, Bernstein said. Panero also had little patience with jargon. "He'd say, 'Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes.' "

Panero also fought for his own, his former colleagues said, whether it was demanding higher salaries for them or defending them against petty slights. Panero and his crew of displaced New Yorkers stood out around the Denver headquarters of Tele-Communications Inc., which co-owned Request TV with News Corp.

Once, Bernstein recalled, a TCI human resources official asked Panero to do something about the hemlines worn by a female executive. Panero replied, "What, are you kidding?"

In 1998, Request TV merged with rival Viewer's Choice. Panero wanted to be chief executive of the new company, but he was perceived as a TCI executive. The board wanted a neutral party from outside the company, and Panero was forced to move on.

At the time, friends of Panero recalled, he was crushed. It was the greatest disappointment of his professional career to be passed over not on merit but because of office politics.

Leaving Request proved serendipitous. As Panero cast about for a new direction, he was approached by a headhunter who was looking for a chief executive for a start-up then called American Mobile Radio Corp.

One of Panero's first tasks was to come up with a catchier name -- XM.

"I would have never thought of that," Parsons said. "That's why we hired him."


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