On January 24th, John Stanton was the speaker in the Albers Executive Speaker Series. John has a long and distinguished career in the wireless industry and has been part of the industry since its very beginnings. He focused on the unintended consequences of government regulatory efforts in cellular.
Three decades ago ATT was a monopolist in the telephone industry, and in an effort to create more competition, the federal government created eight successor regional phone companies. On top of that, the government wanted to create the wireless industry and struggled with how to distribute operating rights. First, it attempted an application process trying to select the most qualified applicants, it then moved to a lottery, and finally an auction. In each case there were challenges, and an end result was that it took over ten years to distribute the licenses. This put our wireless sector well behind companies in other countries.
Because the resulting distribution of companies lacked scale in an industry with huge capital needs, a wave of consolidation naturally followed. This ultimately resulted in our current duopoly, with ATT and Verizon controlling 80% of the market and Sprint and T-Mobile struggling to stay in business.
We have come full circle. We started out in the US with a monopoly, and now have a duopoly.
When you stop and think about it, the wireless industry is an amazing story. At one point, John said there were six billion cell phones being used around the world. Three decades ago the number was zero. What an incredible expansion story of an industry!
John's story was about how to navigate this unpredictable and volatile environment. His three recommendations were:
- Work with a great group of people who are good at what they do and enjoy working with each other.
- Be agile in your decision making. You need to be able to react to changing circumstances.
- Never run out of cash! Good advice for any start up business!
John also acknowledged that along the way his businesses had been lucky. They may have benefitted from the mistake of a competitor or just happened to be in the right place at the right time (such as one of the lotteries for cellular rights!). Frankly, it was refreshing to hear John acknowledge the role of luck. Too many successful people are not willing to do that.
I am currently reading the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. It is a good book, and one of the topics Kahneman takes up is the role of luck in success. He notes that too few people are willing to acknowledge the role of luck in their success, so it is interesting to have John as an exception to the rule. I have long held the view that luck is underappreciated, so I naturally am very receptive to this concept! By the way, Susan Weihrich gave me this book to read. Wonder what she intended for me to learn from the book?!
John was asked about the value of mentoring in his career development. He shared with the audience the most valuable advice he received from one of his mentors:
- Be slightly underpaid
- Be fiercely competent
- Be mobile, as in be willing to move to opportunities in new places and organizations.
John's visit was another great opportunity for our students to hear from a very successful business leader. He was a pioneer in shaping a new industry. Those people are hard to find, and when you find one, you are really lucky! :}