Ever heard of Leo Hindery? Probably not, but in the cable-TV industry he's got quite a rep. At InterMedia Partners, the nation's 13th-largest cable operator, he boosted cash flow 12% and subscribers 4.7% over the last year, double the industry's average rates. Now, Hindery, 49, can make his mark on a much larger canvas: John Malone, chief of sputtering cable giant Tele-Communications Inc., which owns an InterMedia stake, tapped Hindery on Feb. 7 to become TCI's president and heir apparent as CEO.

Hindery is likely to continue TCI's downsizing. With $14 billion in debt, TCI has seen its bond rating fall to near junk status. Its stock is trading below $15, near its 12-month low. Hindery plans to break TCI up into units to provide better customer service, potentially helping it to raise prices and keep customers from jumping to satellite TV. Good ideas, perhaps. But Malone, who remains CEO and chairman, has run TCI with an iron hand for 23 years. The big question now: Just how much leeway will he give Hindery to tune up TCI?

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