3. Ralph de la Vega, CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Market

ralph de la vegaWhat makes him powerful: Although former AT&T Mobility CEO Stan Sigman is credited with negotiating the exclusive Apple iPhone deal last year, Ralph de la Vega is the executive who made the iPhone a mass market consumer device.

By offering the next-generation iPhone 3G at a consumer-friendly price of $199 with a two-year contract, de la Vega made the iPhone affordable for everyone. Of course, de la Vega accomplished this by having AT&T subsidize the iPhone 3G, a risky move for the carrier because it's likely the subsidy will negatively impact the company's earnings in the short-term (2008 and 2009). 

But de la Vega has been adamant in his belief that the long-term rewards for this strategy will pay off. He expects AT&T to experience a significant uptick in data usage and reduction in churn. And it's likely that the carrier is also stealing lots of customers from its competitors. That trend, if true, will soon be apparent when the third-quarter wireless operator earnings results are revealed in the next couple of weeks. 

AT&T is making up for some the costs of subsidizing the iPhone 3G by charging consumers a higher monthly fee for unlimited data usage. New iPhone 3G customers are paying about $30 per month for unlimited data. Of course, they will also reap the benefits of faster data because they will be using AT&T's HSPA 3G data service instead of the slower EDGE service.

Although there have been reports of performance issues with some iPhone 3G devices, AT&T has been steadfast is saying that its HSPA network is performing fine. And consumers don't seem overly concerned because the devices have been flying off the shelves. Just three days after it was introduced in July, Apple reported that it had sold 3 million iPhone 3G devices.

A long-time telecom executive, de la Vega has been praised for his management skills and his ability to navigate tough situations. He is credited for overseeing the successful merging of Cingular Wireless with the former AT&T Wireless when the two companies combined in 2004. Through his leadership, the company was able to change all the former AT&T stores into Cingular stores overnight.

Earlier this month, de la Vega was promoted to his current role, which has him overseeing not just AT&T Mobility but also heading up all consumer marketing, sales, content and converged services, customer care and operations for both wireless and wired. Expect to see de la Vega's shrewd iPhone moves translate to similar strategies in other areas of the company.

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3. Ralph de la Vega, CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Market