November 1, 1999
Unmasking Telecom’s Unlikely Heroes
The 30 Most Influential People in Competitive Long Distance
With no flowing capes or masked faces, these executives named in the following pages might be mistaken for ordinary guys. And for the most part, they are. But we’ve singled them out for this the third annual compilation of the most influential people in the competitive long distance industry. Those that have made the list did so for different reasons. We would not suggest that any are truly heroic merely on the basis of their influence on the current state of the industry or even for the leadership of their individual companies. (After all, it is their job, and one each is well compensated for it.) However, we would suggest that each has been given or cultivated a rare genius that makes them stand out as if wearing colored leotards and matching knee-high boots. There are those who have Superman-like invincibility–take our No. 1 pick, for example. And there are those who are reluctant defenders of telecom’s little guys against anti-competitive evil (Nos. 13, 16, 17 and 18). But, frankly, most of these mystery men can just shovel really well.
So put on your hard hats and thick skins and read on. If your hero didn’t make the cut, don’t fret. Tell ’em to buy something–another company, a publicist or, better yet, a gadget-filled utility belt.
1. Bernard J. Ebbers
Superpower: Perhaps the only list-maker known by his first name only, “Bernie” may be the closest thing to celebrity in the long distance industry. His audacity continues to astound and amaze colleagues who watch in disbelief as he pulls off one mega deal after another–his most recent a pending merger with Sprint Corp., which may be the biggest U.S. corporate combination ever and would unite the No. 2 and No. 3 long distance companies in the world. One analyst likened his deal-making proclivity to a hobby wherein he is collecting telecom assets the way others collect cars or priceless paintings.
Years ago he predicted that a little long distance company like his LDDS would buy up an MCI or Sprint. Now it seems he got both. The ink barely dry on approvals for his acquisition of MCI, Bernie has done it again and, if all goes well, he also will secure the one thing that has so far eluded his company–a lucrative wireless business. To get to this point, however, there have been hundreds of mergers and acquisitions along the way, including IDB WorldCom and WilTel.
When three-fourths of all large deals miss financial targets, Bernie continues to deliver even when analysts have poo-poohed his latest deal. His is the best performing stock in communications.
Alter-egos: President and CEO, MCI WorldCom Inc.
When the Cape Comes Off: Mr. Ebbers may have learned a thing or two about offensive strategies from his stint as a high-school basketball coach.
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