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Tough Calls: AT&T and the Hard Lessons Learned from the Telecom Wars
by Dick Martin
From Publishers Weekly
Former AT&T PR head Martin records his take on Ma Bell's descent from blue chip royalty, offering an insider's view of the corporation's struggle to reorient itself to a world in which its longtime cash cow¡ªlong-distance service¡ªwas becoming a profitless commodity. CEO Michael Armstrong's late '90s attempt to counter this trend by expanding into cable, wireless and business services forms the centerpiece of the book. Ultimately, AT&T ran out of time as the overly exuberant market collapsed and the company had to break itself up once more, this time in order to stay afloat. The journey was highlighted by mega-deals, leadership missteps, PR blunders and outright fraud. Martin also offers an eye-opening analysis of the impact of MCI WorldCom's fraudulent financial statements, which, he says, lowered AT&T's sales by $5 billion per year. Martin lightens the endless carnage with portraits of the telecom industry's top players, describing, for instance, how a new AT&T president was unable to tell the reporters at his first press conference the name of the long-distance company he uses at home. The result: "Run AT&T? He apparently couldn't even spell it. And so forth." There are lots of good PR and leadership lessons here. (Nov.)Forecast:Anyone sussing out AT&T's remaining potential¡ªor hurt by the telecom bubble's demise¡ªis a potential customer here.
Martin, head of AT&T's public relations during the tenure of CEO C. Michael Armstrong, describes Armstrong's leadership and that of his predecessor from 1996 to recently, when the company was acquired by Comcast. (Armstrong did not participate in the writing of this book.) The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was a death sentence for stand-alone, long-distance service, from which AT&T derived 80 percent of its revenues and 100 percent of its profits. Armstrong arrived in 1997, assuming one of the greatest challenges in American business, and designed the right plan for the company. He would have survived some mistakes but lacked the time to overcome years of fraud perpetrated by his main competitor, MCI Worldcom. While Martin focuses upon missteps, we also learn of Armstrong's successes, including wireless and data business acquisitions and developing a $4 billion outsourcing program in less than four years. Martin, a public relations veteran with 20/20 hindsight who conducted numerous interviews for this book, presents an important corporate story with lessons for those fighting today's battles. Mary Whaley