Robert Gessner, retired president of MCTV in Massillon, was born, raised and lived in Stark County most of his life, except for college and his early working years.
He has been married to Nancy for 45 years. The couple has two children, Suzanne and Catherine; two great sons-in-law; three grandchildren; and their dog Skuppers is also retired.
Gessner graduated from Washington High School in 1972. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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After returning to Stark County, he went to work for MCTV, which was founded by his parents, and remained with the company until several years ago.
“I wanted to work at MCTV after college,” he said. “My father understood that there was really no opportunity for me at that time, so I had to be patient. I have held a number of jobs in television, wholesale consumer goods and insurance in Cleveland, New York, Minneapolis and Detroit. In 1978, my father asked me to come home to launch HBO (a major factor in the rapid growth of cable television), computerize MCTV’s billing system, and expand marketing to consumers. I worked for MCTV for 40 years, I retired on April 19, 2019.”
Could you elaborate on your work with your family?
MCTV was created by my parents. Dad always gets the credit, but it would never have happened or been successful without Mom. My father was an impulsive person. Mother gave a sticky and regulating effect. The company really started in 1963 when Doc Williams (my mother’s father) passed away. My father was a “cableman” in New York at the time.
On the way home from the cemetery, my father saw all the TV towers and decided to build a system in Massillon. My roles have changed over the years as MCTV has evolved from CATV to cable TV, digital TV, broadband and phone.
My youngest daughter Catherine is the next generation leader of MCTV. The timing of my departure was difficult for him, as COVID disrupted his plans for the company’s future path. He had to make all the tough decisions about COVID. He did a great job leading MCTV during this difficult time. Of course, he couldn’t have done it without the great team at MCTV.
Why did you decide to retire?
In 2001, I developed a list of best practices for successful succession in family businesses informed by a year-long course at Case Western Reserve University.
This led to a discussion with Katherine about her interest in joining MCTV and an agreement on her goals before returning. I could work more, but what’s best for MCTV is having a young lead. This is Catherine.
What have you been doing since you retired?
Three things. First, economic development. I am the chairman of the Stark Economic Development Board (SEDB). Ray Hexamer (SEDB President) has assembled a great team and, with a dedicated executive committee and generous community support, has made great progress in attracting, retaining and growing major industrial companies; is the most effective way to increase the level of economic wealth of our local economy.
Second, charity. I have been very fortunate and have always been interested in giving back. Beyond charitable gifts, I think philanthropy also means personal effort. I love working with the crew at Habitat for Humanity. It feels great to put on a tool belt and work with a group of giving, caring people.
Third, recreational activities. I spend a lot of time reading. I also took up beekeeping as a hobby to improve Nancy’s flowers.
What are three strengths you believe Stark County has to offer?
Stark County’s natural resources, infrastructure and talent are fundamental to growing the wealth of our economy and citizens.
Stark County is blessed with a pleasant climate, abundant water, fertile soil and a central location. We have first class infrastructure for transport, education and communication. And we have a hardworking, highly skilled workforce.
These strengths position Stark County very well to take advantage of upcoming opportunities for economic development.
One for fun: if you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, who would they be and why?
My grandfather Gessner was a brilliant physicist with a great sense of humor, but I know his life was full of some great stories and adventures that are not fully known today. I did not have the opportunity to talk with adults. It would be great to have that chance.
Isaac Newton is one of history’s greatest scientific minds, as well as an alchemical mystic. I would like to ask about this interesting paradox. How would he explain having one foot in the past and one foot in such a different future? And my grandfather would love to join me with Isaac.
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