As CFO sackings go, Kent Kalkwarf's firing by Charter Communications was a blindside hit.
For months during a grand-jury investigation of Charter's accounting practices, it was the COO, David Barford, who was under the microscope, having been put on paid leave by the company. CFO Kalkwarf, meanwhile, seemed a key player on CEO Carl Vogel's housecleaning team. Shortly after an informal SEC inquiry was announced in November, the big St. Louis based broadband communications company — controlled by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen — announced plans to restate two years of results and have KPMG LLP do a re-audit.
So when both Barford and Kalkwarf were unceremoniously "terminated" in December after a Charter board meeting, it came as something of a shock to observers.
"Kent had been on the road with Carl, representing the company, just two weeks before," says Ted Henderson, a Denver securities analyst for the St. Louis firm of Stifel Nicolaus & Co. Charter, which named EVP Steven Schumm as interim CFO, said only that the firings "follow a review by the company of various matters," including some relating to the grand-jury probe. The company, which launched "a rigorous corporate-compliance program," noted that it was told that no board member was an investigation target. (Neither Kalkwarf nor Barford was a director.)
Trying to connect the dots — in the absence of a grand-jury indictment — Henderson guesses that Kalkwarf's dismissal means that Vogel became disappointed with his CFO during Charter's review of the accounting issues. A message left on Kalkwarf's home phone wasn't returned.
One farfetched theory about the firing appeared in the St. Louis Business Journal, which said that Kalkwarf did 13 years with Arthur Andersen before joining Charter in the mid-1990s. Charter is now "a step closer to severing its ties" with Andersen, the paper said. (Charter replaced Andersen as its auditor last year.)
While Charter's SVP of communications won't discuss Kalkwarf's exodus, he does dismiss the theory about Andersen ties being cut. "That's pretty ridiculous," says the spokesman, whose name, by the way, is David Andersen.