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GCI buyer headed by billionaire

April 15th, 2017 | Annie Zak, Alaska Dispatch News Print this article   Email this article  

The Colorado-based media conglomerate that just announced its acquisition of Alaska telecom company GCI has ownership shares in a wide array of companies, and is headed up by a billionaire known for big, complicated deals.

Liberty Interactive Corp. has a 38 percent ownership in HSN Inc. and owns QVC Inc., both home-shopping companies, and also owns Evite and online retailer Zulily.

The company also has a stake in online lending company LendingTree, an investment fund focused on Israeli tech companies, software company Quid, and more.

Liberty first traded publicly on the Nasdaq in 1991 under the name Liberty Media Corp., according to the company's website. The company's history in the 1990s and 2000s is full of mergers, including with Tele-Communications Inc. and Ascent Media Group Inc., before changing its name to Liberty Interactive Corp. in 2011.

John Malone, chairman of the board of Liberty Interactive Corp., has an estimated net worth of about $7.6 billion, according to Forbes.

Many articles about Malone note his penchant for complex business deals. In a 2015 story, The New York Times wrote that two business announcements from Liberty exemplified "how he can spin an intricate web of investments." That same year, an article in The Economist said Malone is "revered as a genius by investors and executives in the telecoms and cable businesses," and "he has struck more deals than perhaps any other tycoon in the world."

This isn't the first time Malone has done business with GCI. The Alaska-based company was previously part of Malone's Tele-Communications Inc.

"This transaction with Liberty Interactive brings GCI back full circle, as GCI was part of TCI until 1986," GCI President and CEO Ron Duncan said in a statement Tuesday.

GCI's stock skyrocketed on the news of the deal Tuesday, up more than 60 percent at closing. Stock for Liberty Interactive's QVC Group was up about 2 percent.

GCI is one of just three Alaska-based companies publicly traded on major exchanges. The other two are Northrim BanCorp, Inc., and GCI competitor Alaska Communications. GCI provides internet, telephone and cable service to residential and business customers, and also owns several television stations around the state.

Now Alaska's largest telecom company, GCI was incorporated in the state in 1979. Co-founders Duncan and Bob Walp worked out of an apartment in Anchorage's Bootlegger Cove neighborhood to launch GCI "with financing help and guidance from some of Duncan's business contacts — including his mentor, cable visionary John Malone," according to an Anchorage Daily News article from 2004. Malone was a professor at Johns Hopkins University when Duncan was an undergraduate student there, the article said.

Since then, GCI has grown to employ about 2,300 people, most of them in the state of Alaska. The company is working on expanding high-speed internet service to rural parts of the state through its TERRA network, which stands for Terrestrial for Every Rural Region in Alaska. GCI operates a 4,482-mile digital undersea fiber optic cable system that links the company's networks in Alaska with networks in the Lower 48. The company generated $934 million in revenue in 2016.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2018.


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