AND DALLIED AND IS NO MORE
It is now official.
BellSouth Corporation has gone with the wind, or more precisely, gone to
San Antonio, Texas. People have been asking me what I think of the
takeover of my alma mater by its former Bell System country cousin,
Southwestern Bell, now known as the “new” AT&T. To quote Rhett Butler,
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Adios.
corporation in America at its birth in 1984, BellSouth is no more.
Kaput. Killed by a management unwilling or unable to compete in the
high-tech world in which it found itself, and outmaneuvered and
outhustled by a once-sleepy Regional Bell Operating Company that we used
to refer to derisively as Taco Bell. Had I known they were going to
swallow up my old company, I swear I would have been nicer.
It is interesting to
note that most of BellSouth’s top management was not invited to be a
part of the new company. I guess the new AT&T didn’t want to run the
risk of one day being subject to a takeover from Dairy Queen.
Corporation had numerous opportunities to grow and expand over the
years, including buying Sprint, MCI and parts of the old AT&T, but
management could never bring itself to pull the trigger. Southwestern
Bell’s management evidently had no such fears of failure. They snapped
up former rivals Ameritech and PacTel, as well as AT&T, while BellSouth
management downsized, outsourced, dithered and dallied.
should not have ended so ignominiously. At the time of divestiture from
the “old” AT&T just 23 years ago, the corporation consisted of two very
strong telephone companies, Southern Bell and South Central Bell, and a
game plan to compete vigorously in whatever unregulated businesses we
thought would best fit our future, including the nascent cell phone
business — later to be known as “wireless.” We were located in the
fastest-growing territory in the country. We had the best customers, the
most dedicated employees, and the strongest financial position of the
seven original Regional Bell Operating Companies. Wall Street analysts
described us as “the Right Company in the Right Place at the Right
Time,” and we were. Those were exciting and challenging days. We were
doing everything for the first time, and doing it well. For seven
straight years, Fortune magazine rated BellSouth as the Most Admired
Company in the telecommunications industry. Southwestern Bell wasn’t on
the radar screen in those days.
I retired from the
company in 1994 as vice president of public relations to join the
Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. Somewhere between that time and
now, the company culture changed, and not for the better. It grew smug
and complacent and timid. It squandered the hard work and dedication of
a lot of people who had helped to make BellSouth a major player in
While management was
hard at work converting a corporate powerhouse into a takeover target,
they also created new and innovative ways to make their retirees feel a
part of the team, particularly one former officer who also happens to
write a widely distributed newspaper column. A high-level executive
confronted me at a company gala in front of a group of retired officers
and spouses, and with no preamble announced to one and all that I was
full of doggie-poo (not his exact words, but you get the idea) regarding
some of my political opinions, with which he obviously disagreed. He
really didn’t have to go to all that trouble. A simple “Thank you for
your years of service to the company” would have sufficed. Ironically,
Mr. Potty Mouth helped engineer BellSouth’s demise. I hope he enjoys his
for the new AT&T, it can be headquartered in San Antonio or on Mars for
all I care. The one thing I do care is that some anonymous corporate
bean counter doesn’t all of a sudden consider me and the other BellSouth
retirees as “cost causers” and start boogering around with our pensions.
We earned every dime of them, helping build a damn good company that
deserved a much better outcome than this.
Printer-Friendly Version Here
((Must have Acrobat Reader
here for a free download!)