In the name of Alexander Graham Bell, what happened to the phone company?
Infatuation with cable and the debt it incurred brought AT&T low, demonstrates business journalist Cauley, a telecom reporter for USA Today and three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. For well over a century, the telephone company was the standard investment vehicle for those proverbial widows and orphans, always providing service and never missing a dividend even in times of war or depression. But one day almost a generation ago, Ma Bell gave birth to seven Babies, and she’s never been the same. The Baby Bells have matured. This year, one of them is giving shelter to what is left of the now-destitute former parent, who seems mortally ill after swallowing cable company TCI. Cauley adroitly traces the executive styles of the company’s CEOs, from legendary Theodore Vail and vaunted Bob Allen to Mike Armstrong, former star of IBM. She places the most notable delinquency on feckless Armstrong’s desk. With considerable vigor, Cauley depicts the vagaries of the managerial mind, including the innermost thoughts of the CFOs, the merger and acquisition apparatchiks, and the commanding officers of AT&T’s allies and enemies. An AT&T exec, caught in front of the boss in one of his habitual exaggerations of fact, turns “beet red.” Armstrong asks a better-late-than-never strategic question in a “voice laced with concern.” The struggles are sometimes picayune, more often titanic as the misjudgments mount for the “icon” (to use the author’s singularly overworked word). Cauley sets forth in breezy, sometimes repetitive fashion the shoptalk, the special corporate cultures, and the office politics. Smacking of fact, it’s certainly a lively story.
A saga of missed connections and an early obit of old Ma Bell, in her time a true icon. (8-page insert, not seen)