A few things we all can learn from Denny Strigl

roger entner neilsenFor me, the most interesting and most important part of being an analyst is to meet with the decision makers of the telecom industry and get an understanding of their personalities, their personal history, what drives them, what motivates them, and how do they think. Why is that? Numbers and facts don't make decisions, people make decisions.

In the telecom industry, all the industry leaders look at basically the same set of numbers, read the same analyst opinions and come to often radically different conclusions. In addition, over time the company adopts the personality of the CEO--the proverbial culture change. Verizon Wireless is very much a company embodying the personality of Denny Strigl.

Business comes first. I met Denny Strigl for the first time in 2001 when I worked at the Yankee Group. The first thing I noted when I came to his office was the utilitarian nature of set up of office. None of the opulence or frivolities that you often hear about when it comes to CEOs.

Another example: The merger of Airtouch, Primeco, GTE and Bell Atlantic Mobile was bound to be problematic. Some leaders would coddle their new colleagues and make them feel good in their new corporate home. The newly formed Verizon Wireless focused from day one on business. It did not matter where you came from, if the executive focused on the business and delivered results, then he or she had a bright future with the company. Several companies merged or were spun out during that time and Verizon Wireless merger was the by far most successful one--by focusing on the business.

If something works, stick with it. Just about everyone knows that Verizon Wireless stands for the network. One of its advertising slogans, "Can you hear me now?" has become a phrase in everyday life. Verizon Wireless has relentlessly hammered this network superiority message into the heads of many Americans. For how long has this been going on? When I moved to Washington, D.C., in the early 1990s, the tag line of Bell Atlantic Mobile, the predecessor of Verizon Wireless was: "The difference is in the network."

If it does not work anymore, abandon it and don't look back. In 2002 and 2003, the wireless industry fought tooth and nail the introduction of wireless number portability slated for November 2003 after successfully delaying the introduction several times in the prior years. The opposition to the introduction of WNP was lead by Verizon Wireless and CTIA. Public sentiment and pressure from the FCC and the Hill shifted more and more towards actual introduction.

I had invited Mr. Strigl to speak a wireless event and in a surprise to everyone (including me) he announced that Verizon Wireless would support the introduction of WNP by November. Quickly everyone else fell into line again. A year later with a lot of grumbling among regulators in the background, Denny Strigl, announced at the same event that from that date forward Verizon Wireless would pro-rate early termination fees--then an industry first, now common among all carriers--defusing the issue. This willingness to step away when the circumstances have become untenable instead of fighting a losing war is a hallmark of Denny's leadership.

Put a premium on execution and attention to detail. Legend has it that once upon a time Mr. Strigl unannounced stepped into a Verizon Wireless store. He was not greeted, the doormat was not straight, a light bulb was out, and the phones were not polished. After a few minutes of solitude in the store, he called one of his key lieutenants and told him to come to the store and fix it.

This episode teaches that one can delegate authority, but not responsibility. When the leader of the company makes even seemingly small things like burnt out light bulbs in a store his issue, it filters down through the organization and everyone- from top to bottom--pays attention to it and executes.

I am sure that there are many more things we all could learn from Denny Strigl. I know I will miss him and his shrewd moves that have mixed up the industry and kept us on our toes. For the last two years, Denny has been President of Verizon Communications overseeing all operations, wireless, residential, and business and has brought the same spirit that he instilled into the wireless organization to the other parts of the company. Even without Denny's direct involvement Verizon is a formidable competitor. While he will leave the organization physically at year's end, his spirit will remain there and will continue to guide the decisions of the company.

Roger Entner is senior vice president and head of research and insights for the Telecom Practice of Nielsen. For ongoing insights from Nielsen on this and other topics, visit NielsenWire.com.

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