• United States

AT&T’s Bernard talks about her new role

Jan 13, 20034 mins

AT&T Business head Betsy Bernard talks about her management style, what’s driving AT&T’s growth these days, what it’s like being a female leader in a male-dominated industry, and more

Betsy Bernard heads AT&T Business, which despite 3,500 layoffs announced last week remains the company’s most important division with 4 million customers and $20.4 billion in revenue for the first three quarters of 2002. Bernard took the helm in September after leading AT&T Consumer. As president Bernard also heads up international ventures, network operations and AT&T Labs. About 55,000 employees fall under her leadership. She recently spoke with Network World Senior Editor Denise Pappalardo about her new role and AT&T’s future.

How does heading up AT&T’s business division differ from managing the consumer side of the house?

It’s significantly larger and far more complex. In this role I have not only product management, sales and service delivery, which was the responsibilityI had at [AT&T Consumer], I also have all of the network organization and all of [AT&T Labs] and all of the product groups. The scope is much larger, and within the market itself, the complexity of the service lines and customer set is different.

What are your goals for AT&T Business?

Our priorities are to first and foremost to take advantage of the unique market we find ourselves in. With our competitors focusing on testifying and dealing with creditors, we are focused very much on … gaining market share and taking business away from them.

What is driving growth and what will strengthen AT&T Business?

In terms of growth, we are taking share. We expect growth in local, global, managed services and IP. We are the largest [competitive local exchange carrier]. Local services represent a huge growth opportunity, as does managed services and IP. We are clearly the IP traffic leader, and we will extend that leadership role on an ongoing basis.

How did you come to this point in your career at AT&T?

I’ve been in the telecommunications industry for 25 years starting as a college intern at AT&T. Of that 25 years, 20 have been with AT&T. Of that 25 years, 23 has been in the business markets organization. So the way I left AT&T after 18 was that [David Dorman], who was at that time president of Pacific Bell, convinced me to come work for him. Five years later he convinced me, more easily the second time than the first time, to come back to AT&T.

How would you describe your management style?

Pretty simple. Success is all about how effectively you communicate with your employees. First of all being clear what the vision of the business is [with employees]. That is the responsibility of the leader, and that can’t be delegated. How we’re going to go about getting to that vision and how we’re not going to get there, and then describing what their role is in that journey.

You’re a female executive in a male-dominated industry. What’s that like, and how has it changed in the last 25 years?

When you say male-dominated, I think our industry is one of the leaders in diversity at all levels. There’s nothing like losing a big federal case to fuel diversity, which happened to the Bell system [around] 1975. There was a consent decree with the federal government after it alleged the Bell system was not being supportive enough of women. The Bell system put in a very disciplined process to ensure all people had opportunities regardless of sex or race.

Our statistics in terms of women in leadership positions are best in class. When you look at CEOs and presidents in our industry, such as Pat Russo [CEO at Lucent], Betsy Bernard, Carly Fiorina [chairman and CEO at HP], Patricia Higgins [CEO at collocation service provider Switch & Data] or Sue Swenson [CEO at Leap Wireless] they all have one thing in common: They all came up through AT&T. I never thought that I was in a minority or unique. I was building a career.