Sunday, December 10, 2006

You Will and They Didn't

Empty promises delivered...by someone else.  Back in 1993, just before I left the company, AT&T released a series of advertisements narrated by Tom Seleck dubbed the "You Will" campaign.  These commercials described great things that AT&T will bring to consumers in the future from vast remote electronic libraries, to automated toll taking, to video on demand.  All most every innovation described in these commercials was successfully brought to market but not by AT&T.

Other companies capitalized on these innovations that frequently began in Bell Labs.  AT&T was unable to execute or capitalize successfully on a single innovation mentioned under its own name.  Although the Labs housed some of the greatest minds in science and engineering, management did not have the skills to harness probably the greatest pooling of IP in history.  One arguable exception is video on demand that the "new" AT&T is delivering with Uverse.

These failings are indicative of a company that orchestrated one of the biggest breakups in history only to completely decimate the resulting organization.  Divestiture was orchestrated by the top executives and lawyers of AT&T to maximize what they thought were its greatest opportunities:  long distance phone service, computers, and international reach.  The operating companies were perceived as a burden with their capital and labor intensive operations.  Besides the AT&T management assumed that they would still dictate the operating companies' future because they would be their biggest customers and exclusive equipment supplier.  WRONG!

What the DOJ, Judge Green, and Bob Allen and Company took apart, the free market put back together.  Last week Lucent was reunited with its distant offspring Alcatel.  If FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell is allowed to vote on the AT&T/BellSouth merger, then the U.S. will be down to three strong regional, full-service telephone companies. 

At the trivestiture that separated AT&T, Lucent, and NCR, Bell Labs was divided up among the three companies.  Neither AT&T nor Lucent Technologies was able to successfully capitalize on the innovations from their respective laboratories as described in the "You Will" advertisements.  Now that the new AT&T is being managed by old SBC executives and Alcatel-Lucent by Alcatel executives, the innovations have a better chance of materializing into profitable business opportunities. Maybe it is time for AT&T to dust off the "You Will" campaign and spruce it up.  This time they may be right.