Nobody likes to talk much on the record about Bill Huff, least of all Bill Huff. The 54-year-old bond hedge-fund manager is almost obsessive about his privacy, declining for years to talk to the press and choosing to work far from the rumor mills of Wall Street in Morristown, N.J. But Huff is hardly invisible. High-powered media CEOs such as Time Warner's (TWX
) Richard D. Parsons, Cox Communications' (COX
) James O. Robbins, and Comcast's (CMCSK
) Brian L. Roberts certainly know who he is, especially as they mull a bid for bankrupt cable company Adelphia Communications (ADELQ
That's because Huff's W.R. Huff Asset Management Co., one of Adelphia's largest bondholders, has quietly become a feared but respected force in cable. Through his holdings in cable, telecom, hospitals, and other assorted industries, he injects himself into companies' operations, mostly troubled ones, using razor-sharp elbows with executives, banks, and other creditors to maximize his investments. Sometimes he cashes out. Other times he holds on to his stake and puts his representatives on boards. "Bill Huff has emerged as one of the key players in the industry," says Aryeh Bourkoff, a cable analyst for UBS (UBS
). "It is not a good thing to be caught in his crosshairs," says one investment banker. That's why everyone at Adelphia treads lightly around the investor whose company is estimated to have more than $15 billion under management. Any bids that come in for the cable operator's 5.3 million subscribers will surely face intense scrutiny from Huff, whose representative heads Adelphia's unsecured creditors' committee. Time Warner, Cox, and Comcast execs declined to comment on Huff.