Ralph de la Vega, CEO, AT&T Mobility and Consumer Market
What makes him powerful: Under de la Vega's guidance, AT&T Mobility continues to benefit greatly from its exclusive deal with Apple to carry the iconic iPhone in the U.S. market. In third-quarter 2009, AT&T Mobility added 2 million wireless subscribers, a record number for the company, bringing its total base to 81.6 million. In addition, AT&T activated 3.2 million iPhones, the company's largest amount to date, with nearly 40 percent of those activations from customers new to AT&T.
But de la Vega is not banking on the iPhone alone to keep AT&T on its growth track--and with good reason--in a recent earnings call de la Vega hinted that the company may be losing its exclusive deal with Apple soon. To compensate for that potential loss, the company has been growing its smartphone portfolio and cleverly leading the way with its emerging devices division. In the past year, AT&T's emerging devices division has partnered with Jasper Wireless to help it activate and provision devices and has racked up several high-profile ereader deals with the likes of Amazon, Sony and Plastic Logic.
A long-time telecom executive, de la Vega has been praised for his ability to navigate tough situations. This skill will certainly come in handy in the months ahead. AT&T is currently facing an enormous obstacle in the FCC's decision to impose net neutrality rules, which if passed will have a big impact on AT&T's wireless business and its spectrum assets. During the 700 MHz spectrum auction, the carrier paid extra for spectrum that did not carry open-access stipulations. If the FCC imposes net neutrality regulations, the move would essentially negate the premium AT&T paid by retroactively placing similar open-access stipulations on AT&T's network.
In his role at AT&T and as the incoming chairman of the CTIA, de la Vega has been an outspoken critic of the FCC's plan. At the recent CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference in San Diego, he defended the U.S. wireless industry's competitive positioning, saying that the U.S. indeed is a competitive market with 173 wireless carriers and one of the lowest airtime price-per-minute ratios of any country in the world.
As if heading up the second-largest wireless carrier in the U.S. and chairing a major industry association isn't a big enough job, de la Vega also managed to find time to write a book about his life as a Cuban emigrant and the lessons he learned from this experience. The book, "Obstacles Welcome: How to Turn Adversity into Advantage in Business and in Life," is available in hardback and (of course!) in digital for the Amazon Kindle. --Sue