Every company starts with a spark of entrepreneurship. For Cox Enterprises, it started with James M. Cox, a former schoolteacher and news reporter, who, at the age of 28, set out to own a newspaper. Over a century later, that family business earns more than $18 billion in annual revenue and employs more than 60,000 worldwide.
The three major subsidiaries of Cox — Communications, Media Group, and Automotive — help millions stay informed through the news, connected through the speed of technology, and moving through the company’s 20 automotive brands, which impressively affect 3 out of 4 vehicle purchases in the U.S. Why the success? Arguably, it could be attributed to the Atlanta-based company’s dedication to maintaining a spirit of innovation.
Cox Enterprises has proved that its dedication to entrepreneurship is invigorated more than ever. In the past year, has dramatically impacted the Atlanta startup scene. The company served as the catalyst to bring global accelerator Techstars to the city. Later, they partnered with five major corporations to ignite the startup commercialization program, The Bridge.
At the helm of this change is Alex Taylor, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Cox Enterprises. His logic to using Cox’s influence to boost entrepreneurship in Atlanta is seemingly altruistic over self-serving. It is simply about making the city more successful. For Hypepotamus, he shares why.
Cox is an 118-year-old family business. How does Cox Enterprises continue to pursue innovation?
We think about innovation in three areas — our core businesses, adjacent spaces, and new business opportunities. We focus on how they will evolve. The classic example is the newspaper, but the newspaper audience will continue to transform through digital and into an enterprise newsroom. There is also an evolution from analog to mobile video. Then there are additions to accompany our core businesses, like home health and telemedicine through our cable connections. One is a company called Trapollo that provides support to commercial operations at clinics and hospitals. They offer a home tool for diagnostic information that can improve patient outcomes by doing it remotely. It’s an adjacent space. There are also new business opportunities, things that are not part of our core, things that we are interested in exploring.
Explain your role at Cox as Chief Operating Officer?
I’m the COO of Cox Enterprises, which focuses on our resources and culture. Resources include looking to make sure that we have a good, healthy balance sheet on the investment side. On the culture side, we have the best employees…I’d put our people against any big corporation in the country. Culture supports our team of really loyal people, who bought in and are really engaged. For me, I spend most of my time working with employees and our division leaders and talking about our business. I am going over performance and plans to grow our businesses.
Cox has pushed to integrate startups and entrepreneurship into its operations and development. Specifically, can you speak to how the partnership with Techstars started?
We started with the inherent belief that if our own hometown is more of a startup and new business hub, that we will have a healthier city. We have business in places like Boston, Austin, San Francisco and Denver. I didn’t understand why Atlanta wasn’t known as a major innovation hub, with resources like Emory and Georgia Tech. We did a mission research project in which we interviewed 150 local entrepreneurs. We asked them about us helping out and where the opportunities are. The biggest need was not lack of money or ideas, it was having a place for growth, accelerators to help those ideas. We thought about creating one or getting one. We found that Techstars were available and were interested in Atlanta, but didn’t have a partner. They have a great reputation and great track record. My own cousin Henry was a beneficiary of working with Techstars in Boulder and highly recommended them. I don’t trust anyone more than my own family. It’s been the best money that we ever spent.
Cox is also involved with the commercialization program, The Bridge, a partnership with several companies, including Coca-Cola. Why is it important for Atlanta corporate giants to help foster new business in the city?
The Bridge is similar to Techstars in that it is a connection to help startups. It helps businesses get involved to grow. Although we were already involved in Techstars, it is hard to say no to that.
We are not so much interested in buying a huge portfolio of disparate businesses. We’re looking to grow our core competencies. Our participation in Techstars and the Bridge is really about bringing a good vibe and good mojo for great things in town. We are interested in attracting a good talent pool and offering a good place to live. [We want to show] that Atlanta is very family friendly, a livable town that is great for businesses. The startup tempo and entrepreneurial aspects are part of any good city. We want the city be successful.
How does Atlanta weave into the Cox story?
Our business was founded in Dayton, Ohio, where it operated in for many years. Our founder was the democratic presidential nominee in 1920, losing to Harding. He went back to his business and built more businesses, including in Florida with the Miami newspaper. He bought the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 1939. My grandmother was told to come down for a signing party on December 13th, 1939. It was also the grand opening of Gone with the Wind. She had a great night and met her husband, marrying him three months later. She never left, and that’s how we ended up being here.
How do you see Cox Enterprises growing in the future?
It’s all through innovation, being able to innovate our businesses every few years. In Automotive, there are international opportunities, especially in India and even Europe. The nature of the newspaper is very local, the TV station, too, and cable is a geographical footprint. The innovative [automotive] software offers no defined footprint. There are emerging economic ecosystems being created today. That’s just one big way [where we can grow].
I’m a big proponent of doing better every day. It’s about people, good websites, better content. There’s excitement in reinventing the core businesses. Even newspapers aren’t the same, there are ideas to reinvent local journalism. It’s great to be rethinking our businesses in new ways.