5G and Beyond

What I learned watching John Legere's Instagram call-in show

It's been almost a year since John Legere stepped down as CEO of T-Mobile, ending a truly incredible run during which he remade a failing, fourth-place operator into a real competitive threat to heavyweights AT&T and Verizon.

So what's Legere doing now? Hosting call-in shows on Instagram, for one.

I've been lucky enough to cover Legere since he first stepped out into public as the long-haired, foul-mouthed showman of T-Mobile. Legere injected a breath of fresh air into an industry long dominated by a mostly interchangeable series of staid, dour chief executives. And while his we're-smarter-than-them shtick got a little tiresome after a while, the "uncarrier" innovations he brought to T-Mobile – Netflix on Us, Binge On – were clearly groundbreaking.

However, as T-Mobile's successes grew, Legere began to dabble in social media activities that seemed to go above and beyond his role as T-Mobile's CEO. He amassed millions of Twitter followers. He live-streamed his jogs around New York. He created a show on Facebook called "Slow Cooker Sunday" where he, like, made food with a slow cooker. Millions of people watched this show. He eventually published a slow cooker recipe book with a foreword from Martha Stewart; proceeds from the book go to the charity Feeding America.

I never did quite understand the non-CEO stuff that Legere did on social media. He always wore T-Mobile-branded apparel during his events, but it ultimately just seemed to be a hobby for someone who enjoyed the limelight rather than an attempt to gain more wireless customers.

This all brings me to Legere's new Instagram call-in show, #CallOnJohn. He's been promoting the event on Twitter for a while, so I decided to download the Instagram app to see what Legere might be up to now. [Ed. note: We'll embed the show here but you may have to watch the replay using the Instagram app.]

The show appeared to be set in Legere's home office in his mansion in Florida. He began the show by going over some of the big news from the past few weeks: He watched the Super Bowl, he stayed up for Elon Musk's appearance on Clubhouse, he watched the rise and fall of Gamestop's stock like the rest of us but didn't invest in it. By this point, around 350 people were tuned in to his Instagram show.

Legere continued to beat the drum for T-Mobile. He wore a T-Mobile-branded shirt and talked about the operator's Super Bowl ads. He said it was a "rough life" being a CEO, and he was glad he turned the job over to T-Mobile's current CEO Mike Sievert because "it was my time to go." He said he's playing a lot of golf. His hair was short.

After a bit more friendly banter with viewers, who could type questions and comments to Legere via a chatbox, Legere took a few video calls from the audience. One masked caller from New York City asked Legere if he preferred New York or Florida. Legere said he liked New York City better and commended the caller for wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Another caller, a young woman wearing a hijab, asked Legere what he thought about the current political climate, with President Biden replacing Trump. Legere said that he was "aligning behind the current president" but that he's not a firm supporter of either Biden or Trump. He acknowledged that America remains divided politically, and said that "we've got to just move past it" and work together.

These comments were interesting considering Legere has openly floated the possibility of running for office, though hasn't said anything specific about where or when that might happen.

After around 15 minutes of this, Legere then pivoted to an Apple Watch and iPad giveaway – the stated purpose of the event. Winners were selected via a handful of silly contests, like "if Lifetime made a movie of my life, what would it be called?" The winner was "50 shades of magenta, starring slow cooker." Another contest involved picking Legere's favorite Instagram emoji. (Spoiler: It's the one wearing a mask.)

After another ten minutes of #CallOnJohn, I tuned out.

What to make of all this? Is Legere flexing his social media muscles in preparation for some kind of national political career? Is he restless in retirement and looking for something to occupy his time? Is he looking to replicate the success of "Slow Cooker Sunday" into some kind of new career as a social media influencer? Does he just miss the spotlight, and want to interact with people who appreciate his dad jokes?

I honestly don't know. What I do know is that Legere is a smart guy, and social media savviness is an increasingly valuable skill. I had assumed that Legere might step into another CEO role, either at a big company or a startup, after ending his tenure at T-Mobile. A political campaign would also make some sense, given similar efforts by the likes of Carly Fiorina or Andrew Yang. Whatever he does, it looks like he's going to apply some of the "uncarrier," out-of-left-field strategy to it.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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