The former hard-charger is referred to in the piece as "the John Wayne of telecom." I agree, but only inasmuch as The Duke never created a shred of shareholder value in his career, either. (See Letter to Ed Whitacre.)
And do shareholders really want someone perceived as wooden, unapproachable, and out of touch -- sorry, macho -- along as their tour guide to a digital future?
Contrast "John Wayne" Whitacre's career with that of BT's CEO Ben Verwaayen. Say what you will about Ben-Hur, he's the one who will leave the legacy of a truly transformed incumbent carrier.
Whitacre's AT&T did get really big really fast, but its wireless assets have emerged as the telco's shining star -- the crutch that props up the rest of Ma Bell's old bones.
U-verse is an impressive effort, no doubt, but the key talking point on U-verse is that the company again failed to leave its past behind. To wit, only phone companies are obsessed with preserving phone wires. The rest of the world wants something more... I dunno, this century?
Still, check out this bit of the USAT story. It's just too good:
In the annals of the U.S. telecommunications industry, a few names stand out. Alexander Graham Bell and Theodore Vail are among them.Though he's probably old enough, I wouldn't put Whitacre in the same peer group as Bell and Vail. He's more like Exxon's Lee Raymond. He stayed the course, retired in style, and left legions of people wringing their hands about the future.
Bell invented the telephone. Vail infused the Bell Telephone System with business discipline and a greater sense of purpose.
Add one more name to the list: Edward Whitacre Jr.
— Phil Harvey, Barely Managing Editor, Light Reading