Over the past 10 years, the telecommunications industry has changed dramatically. In 2004, the industry was still predominantly selling wireline services like VPNs and unified communications. The industry was trying to rebound from the 1990’s dot com and telecom bubble bursting coupled with a series of scandals led by the WorldCom bankruptcy. It really wasn’t until the iPhone was initially released in 2008 that mobility took over as the primary source of revenue for the telcos. It’s hard to believe that we’ve only recently been mobile and unplugged. As the industry has changed, so have the individuals who have been its greatest influencers.
#1 (tie) Randall Stephenson – CEO AT&T; Lowell McAdam – CEO Verizon
Verizon and AT&T combined have 2/3 of the wireless market share in the US, so both Randall and Lowell are the 800 lb. gorillas in the industry. Both succeeded two dynamic CEOs that each built their companies through strategic mergers and acquisitions that for the most part rebuilt the Bell System into two huge entities. Both men served as Chief Operating Officers of their companies (Stephenson was COO of SBC Communications in 2004. In 2006, SBC purchased AT&T Corp. and took on their name). Both also have first names that end with two L’s. That’s about where their similarities end.
Although Stephenson began his career in information technology, he rose up the ranks holding a series of finance positions until he was named CFO of SBC in 2004. McAdam was a licensed engineer and spent six years in the US Navy Civil Engineer Corps. Unlike Stephenson, McAdam didn’t work for one company for his entire career. He was an executive at Pacific Bell, ironically an AT&T company. He was also an executive at AirTouch Wireless which was a Bell Atlantic (former Baby Bell now part of Verizon) and Vodaphone owned joint venture.
Of the two, Stephenson seems to have a more aggressive business plan. He attempted to acquire T-Mobile and is in the process of acquiring DirecTV which will make AT&T the second largest subscription TV service in the US. Both executives have made key decisions and acquisitions that will enable their companies to offer advanced services the other telcos cannot offer.
#2. John Legere – CEO T-Mobile
John Legere was also an executive at AT&T, as well as at Dell and Global Crossing. Prior to becoming CEO of T-Mobile in 2012, he was CEO of Global Crossing where he led the company out of bankruptcy and acquired rival telco Level 3 Communications. Like Lowell McAdam, Legere serves on the CTIA Board of Directors.
As CEO of T-Mobile, Legere has been somewhat of a maverick introducing the “uncarrier” strategy of low monthly subscription fees without any contract. T-Mobile will even pay any penalties customers face when they break contracts with their other carriers. The latest twist in the “uncarrier” strategy is to include Wi-Fi calling and texting, which doesn’t eat into your cellular plan. While T-Mobile has acquired millions of customers through this strategy and has greatly increased their market share, they are operating at a loss. It will be interesting to see if Legere will either figure out how to acquire customers and turn a profit, or will he make T-Mobile an attractive acquisition target. Stay tuned.
Legere is not a boring guy by any stretch of the imagination. Last year he crashed AT&T’s party at the CES show (and was thrown out!) CNET has called Legere, the most dangerous man in wireless.
#4. Masayoshi Son – CEO – SoftBank Mobile
Masayoshi Son is the CEO of SoftBank Mobile, now the #2 wireless carrier in Japan. His net worth is in excess of $22 billion making him the richest person in Japan. In 2013, Forbes listed Son as the #45 most powerful man in the world.
In 2013, SoftBank acquired Sprint, the third largest wireless carrier in the US. Son then set his sights on T-Mobile. However, in August 2014, Son announced he was not only giving up on acquiring T-Mobile, but he fired long time Sprint CEO Dan Hesse citing the need to rid Sprint of its “loser mentality.”
Like Legere, stay tuned as Son will make things exciting in the wireless world.
#5. Jeff Kagan – Telecom Industry Analyst
When Jeff Kagan talks, people listen. Dick Martin, former Executive Vice President of Public Relations at AT&T called Jeff Kagan “the most quoted analyst in the telecommunications industry.” AdWeek magazine has listed Kagan as one of the most influential technology analysts in America and the leading telecommunications analyst. GetVOIP.com has listed Kagan as one of the top 50 VOIP experts to follow on Twitter. Kagan has served as a judge for the CTIA Compass Intelligence Awards Panel which recognizes “visionary service providers, OEMs, hardware, and software vendors in the mobility market.” He has also served as judge at the CTIA Emerging Technology Awards. Kagan has been invited to appear before the FCC and Congress to give his opinion on the state of the wireless and wireline industries. Kagan was member of the US Speaker of the House of Representatives high tech roundtable.