Charles William "Charlie" Ergen (born March 1, 1953) is an American businessman and is the co-founder and current Chairman of the Board, and former President and CEO of Dish Network and EchoStar Communications Corporation. He stepped down as CEO in May 2011 in favor of Joseph Clayton. He remains Chairman of the Board of both companies. Ergen resumed as CEO upon Clayton's March 31, 2015 retirement. Ergen owns 52 percent of Dish and Echostar shares and holds 88 percent of its total voting power.
With an estimated 2014 net worth of $17B, Ergen is reportedly the wealthiest person in Colorado.
In 1980 Ergen, his future wife Candy, and Jim Defranco started a new business called EchoSphere Corporation, investing $60,000 to purchase two C-Band antennas, targeting rural Colorado. They drove around the Denver metro area on a small budget, selling satellite dishes from the back of their truck.
In 1990 Ergen pushed EchoStar into the big leagues by raising $335 million in junk bonds and purchasing orbital slots for satellites. Two years later, EchoStar got a DBS license from the Federal Communications Commission, giving the company its own geostationary orbital slot. In 1993, EchoStar Communications was incorporated. Under Ergen, EchoStar’s net income doubled to $20.4 million, in 1993.
Under Ergen, DISH was the first satellite provider to offer two-way high-speed internet access and the first to introduce a Digital video recorder in a set-top box. He was also instrumental in making satellite receivers available for under $200. In 2012, the Big Four Broadcasters, NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox filed a suit against Dish Network after it launched AutoHop, a technology that records broadcasting programming and plays it back without commercials. DISH filed a suit seeking a declaratory judgment asserting the legality of the judgment. Preliminary injunction by Fox to block the service was denied. Ergen has stated that DISH’s present focus is on acquiring a significant share of the spectrum for cellular wireless services. Dish is also looking for a partner to build a wireless network, with Google and AT&T speculated to be potential partners.
Ergen companies are famous for their use of legal tactics. Ergen said, "I may be the only CEO who likes to go to depositions. You can live in a bubble, and you're probably not going to get a disease. But you can play in the mud and the dirt, and you’re probably not going to get a disease either, because you get immune to it. You pick your poison, and I think we choose to go play in the mud." Various significant lawsuits in which Ergen has been involved include:
CNN described Ergen as having the “classic startup mindset.” He is known to be an aggressive and fierce entrepreneur with a country-boy image that belies his competitive nature. Ergen highly thinks that sports are “a great preparation for being a billion-dollar company competing against hundred-billion-dollar companies. You learned to step on their foot so they couldn't jump." Ergen is also known to take employees and interns on hiking trips every year.
Ergen is perceived as being difficult and unpredictable in negotiations. AT&T attempted to acquire Dish only to have the deal fall apart at the last minute. In 2013, Ergen angered his counterparts in negotiations to acquire Sprint by making a direct bid for Sprint's Clearwire subsidiary. Dish later walked out of those negotiations. Ergen's supporters call his negotiating style patient and prudent.
Ergen is well known for his frugality. His office is furnished with second-hand couches and he does not fly first class. Ergen used to sign all the checks his company issued but currently signs only checks for $100,000 or more.
For years, Dish employees were required to clock in at the beginning of their day using fingerprint scanners. This measure angered many employees. The fingerprint scanners were eventually removed. Badges were previously used to monitor the arrival and departure of employees. The company started using fingerprints after Charles Ergen noticed some employees helping each other swipe their badges for them. If an employee is late an email is sent to human resources. Human resources will in turn contact the employee's manager, possibly even Charlie Ergen himself. Multiple former employees said it was common for Ergen to scream publicly at executives for arriving even minutes late. At a quarterly meeting, Ergen worried that some employees might not make it to work on time in case of snow. He encouraged employees to book rooms at nearby hotels in bad weather but only at their own expense. Ergen does not allow employees to work from home.
Judianne Atencio, who worked as Dish's head of communications for over ten years, said, “I didn’t have a life for 10 years…I couldn’t even have a dog.” There were times when Ergen screamed at her so loudly that she packed and left, only to be persuaded to return from the parking lot by a board member. Speaking of Ergen, she also said, “He’d always been so dismissive of employees. Like we were just cattle to be put into a pen.”
In a video interview, Ergen claimed that he is easy to work with for "high achievers."
Ergen also reportedly treats analysts and major shareholders poorly. Craig Moffett, senior analyst of U.S. telecommunications, U.S. cable, and satellite broadcasting at Sanford C. Bernstein once requested time with management to learn about how Dish does business. Ergen told him, “We’re too busy creating value around here to sit down and talk about it. Thanks but no thanks.” Chris Marangi, a money manager for Gamco Investors, which held about 4 millions shares in Dish, said that the company is very uncooperative. He says that despite traveling to Denver frequently has never been able to get a meeting with Ergen or any other Dish senior manager. “They’re probably the least transparent company of any I’ve ever dealt with."
Ergen was born into an Episcopalian family in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on March 1, 1953, the fourth of five children born to Viola (née Siebenthal) and William Krasny Ergen. His mother was one of the first female accountants in the state of Minnesota. His father was an Austrian immigrant who was working in Sweden as a nuclear physicist, and left Europe prior to World War II. His father coined the phrase "China Syndrome". His parents married in Minnesota in 1944 and then moved to Camden, New Jersey, before settling in Oak Ridge where his father accepted a position at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Ergen received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and an M.B.A. from Wake Forest University. He was a professional blackjack and poker player.
He is married to Cantey ("Candy") McAdam. They have five children. They live in Littleton, Colorado. Ergen is an avid mountain climber who has scaled Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Aconcagua in Argentina and Mount Everest base camp in Nepal. He is a member of the Colorado Mountain Club and has climbed all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks. Besides mountain climbing, his interests include poker and pickup basketball.
In June 1991, Ergen was named ‘Master Entrepreneur of the Year’ for the Rocky Mountain region by INC Magazine. Two years prior, he had been honoured with a Home Satellite TV Association Star Award. Ergen played a key role in fighting for American consumers’ rights to watch local television channels via satellite, which became a reality after the Satellite Home Viewer Improvement Act was passed in 1999. He has been an advocate of video competition issues and testified before the Congress, in this regard, on numerous occasions. He was recognized with a Rocky Mountain News’ Business Person of the Year Award in 1996, and honoured a second time in 2001.
Ergen also won the Frost & Sullivan 2001 CEO of the Year of the Satellite Industry. In 2000 he was named ‘Space Industry Business Man of the Year.’ Ergen was named one of the ‘World’s Best CEOs’ by Barron’s magazine in 2007. He was also mentioned in Forbes Magazine ‘Top Ten CEOs’ list. Ergen co-founded the Satellite Broadcasting and Communications Association.
"We joined the Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in ’48 when we came here."