Discuss Leadership Style at AT&T within the Foundation of Human Skills (F.H.S) forums, part of the PUBLISH / UPLOAD PROJECT OR DOWNLOAD REFERENCE PROJECT category; AT&T Inc. is the largest provider of fixed telephony in the United States, and also provides broadband and subscription television ...
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Leadership Style at AT&T
Leadership Style at AT&T - May 9th, 2011
AT&T Inc. is the largest provider of fixed telephony in the United States, and also provides broadband and subscription television services. As of 2010, AT&T is the 7th largest company in the United States by total revenue, as well as the 4th largest non-oil company in the US (behind Walmart, General Electric and Bank of America). It is the 3rd largest company in Texas by total revenue (behind ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips) and the largest non-oil company in Texas. It is also the largest company headquartered in Dallas. In 2010, Forbes listed AT&T as the 13th largest company in the world by market value and the 9th largest non-oil company in the world by market value. As of January 2011, it is the 20th largest mobile telecom operator in the world with over 96 million mobile customers.
Southwestern Bell Corporation was founded in 1983 as a Regional Bell Operating Company following the break-up of the original AT&T as a result of the United States v. AT&T antitrust suit. The company changed its name in 1995 to SBC Communications Inc. and again in 2005 to AT&T Inc. after it purchased its former parent company, AT&T Corporation. The newly merged company took on the iconic AT&T logo and stock-trading symbol (NYSE: T, for "telephone").
The current AT&T reconstitutes much of the former Bell System and includes ten of the original 22 Bell Operating Companies along with one it partially owned (Southern New England Telephone), and the original long distance division. The company is headquartered in downtown Dallas, Texas.
As technology changes, presumably there’s also the challenge of adapting AT&T’s culture. Stephenson agrees. “It’s some of the most important work we’ve done over the past few years.
“Think about our history. My predecessor, Ed Whitacre, did a great job of acquiring and assembling a terrific set of operational assets, and each of the companies had its own culture, its own personality and ways of doing things. It was clear to me that for those assets to perform at their optimal level, we needed to blend into a single identity and culture – a consistent way of thinking about things, a consistent style of execution. We intend to be ‘One AT&T.’”
Stephenson says that such cultural change takes a great deal of work. “I use the analogy of a very large ship. When you set something as big as our company in motion, it tends to keep going in the direction it is headed. So, we’ve really worked hard at it. We developed a new management training program that regularly brings people together from across the company. We have an extensive leadership development program. And we’ve put a lot of effort into communicating across the company and at all levels. We have more face-to-face meetings and we use video and intranet webcasts.”
Stephenson has said that two of the most important qualities for a management team are trust and speed – but how do those two values co-exist? “We have a closeknit senior executive team. We know each other, spend time together, work together and, as a result, we have confidence in one another. There’s trust that the next person will do the right thing, and there’s trust in each other’s ability to execute and play their position. That kind of trust helps you move quickly; it increases your speed. When it’s absent, you can see it – more checks, controls and processes. That’s bureaucracy. Building a team where there’s a high level of trust is really important.”
As the interview comes to a close, we ask Stephenson about the sort of questions he is asked by young managers who are just getting started at AT&T. “They’re interested in all sorts of things – our strategy, market plans, all the things we’ve discussed today. The most important thing I tell them is that we are looking to develop leaders.
“Companies like ours succeed when they have good leaders throughout the business. Leaders are people who get things done, and that takes courage. Leaders build teams and lift them up, and inspire others to collaborate and innovate. And above all, leaders never miss in terms of integrity. These things are always important, and they’re really important for this company, in an industry where things are moving so fast
Today, shareholder control of many companies has been inadvertently aggregated to a few highly influential and demanding institutional investors. Their tolerance for inept management, lack of operational understanding, and wasted invested capital is zero. Adding to this high-stakes environment, the corporate scandals of the past few years have eroded public trust and confidence in corporate leadership. Government and industry regulators have stepped in to take greater oversight responsibilities and liberties.
At the same time, industry growth has slowed from the blistering pace of the 1990s, and margin pressure has risen because of increased commoditization and competition from low-cost geographies. Traditional approaches to increasing shareholder value–such as acquiring companies, diversifying, and finding new markets, geographies, and channels for products and services–are often insufficient.
In short, the days of the rock star CEO are over. Non-flashy, results-driven, operationally-savvy executives are winning today’s high-profile CEO posts, and getting market and shareholder credit for knowing what’s important. These executives are passionate about inventing new ways of structuring their business operations and economics for competitive advantage. Enter a new breed of leader: the Operational CEO.
Operational CEOs are relentlessly focused on outperforming the competition.
Operational CEOs realize that today’s business environment requires a mastery of operational strategy. Two great examples: Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott and General Electric’s Jeffrey Immelt. Although they hail from different industries, these executives understand the importance of operational matters that were previously delegated outside the C-suite. And they make those matters central to their companies’ growth strategies.
Scott’s passion for operational details has fueled Wal-Mart’s ability to ruthlessly drive cost out of its operating model. And the company’s resulting ability to offer customers lowest-price goods at standard margins has made Wal-Mart the gold-market standard for low-cost operations.
For Immelt, the challenge was to raise GE’s average organic growth from 5 percent, where it has been for the last decade, to 8 percent. While the company has made an art form out of continuous incremental process improvement, Immelt realized this would not be enough. And so he pushed his management team to undertake bold moves that require them to place big bets. GE has since invested more than $5 billion in 80 initiatives–which the company calls “imagination breakthrough projects.” These projects are changing the very way GE thinks. While it is too soon to measure the benefits, early indications are very positive.
Recent executive appointments demonstrate that this trend is only increasing.
When Mark Hurd took on the CEO post at Hewlett-Packard last year, industry analyst firm the Gartner Group commented, “HP had two solutions to consider: One was to change the strategy, and the other was to change the operational basis of the company. They chose to go with the operational approach . . . Mr. Hurd is that kind of ‘Operational CEO’—someone who will not be jetting around, talking about the world economy instead of tending to the nuts and bolts.”
And a Wall Street Journal article recently explained why Randall Stephenson, AT&T's chief operating officer, is rumored to have the inside track on the company’s soon to be vacant CEO spot by saying, “What has endeared Mr. Stephenson, 45 years old, to Wall Street is a very blunt and charismatic style. He has been a patient and competent sideman to Mr. Whitacre and is known for his rapid recall of matters at hand. Like Mr. Whitacre, he is a very hands-on manager and focused on the minutiae of his business.”
Increasingly, delivering shareholder value will depend on a company’s ability to define strategies that yield operational innovation and drive execution excellence. And by all accounts, the world is realizing that an Operational CEO is best equipped to lead that charge.
AT&T: Randall Stephenson. A smooth-talking former financial whiz from Oklahoma, CEO Stephenson is now in the business of persuading federal regulators to approve AT&T’s $39 billion deal to buy T-Mobile. That would seem to kill any thought that the company might supplement its U-verse television service by buying a satellite company such as Dish Network. Last year AT&T slowed its spending to build out U-verse, although it remains an active challenger to cable. The company’s stock rose 4.6% last year – mostly due to the strength of its wireless phone and broadband business. Stephenson’s pay fell 6.8% to 27.3 million ($1.5 million salary, $12.7 million in stock awards, $494,731 in option awards, $5.1 million in cash incentives, $7.1 million improvement in pension, and $417,410 in other compensation). That’s 2.9 times higher than the average for the other 4 AT&T top execu
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