From Publishers Weekly
There is much more fall than rise in this riveting account of AT&T's disastrous recent history from USA Today telecom reporter Cauley. While offering only a brief look at AT&T's long, iconic history, Cauley digs in with gusto near the end of Robert Allen's reign as CEO and chairman in the mid-1990s, when the company lost precious years as its long-distance cash cow began wasting away. Cauley is hitting on all cylinders by the time she reaches the heart of the book, the period after Allen was belatedly deposed and Michael Armstrong came to power. Armstrong latched onto cable as AT&T's lifeline to the future, a laudable vision that, the journalist makes mercilessly clear, was butchered in execution. As Armstrong's team overpaid for second-rate companies and bobbled the complex integration issues, the stock market implodes, taking with it the company's capacity to manage its debt load; the competitive pressures, along with WorldCom's massive fraud, destroyed the margins in long distance. Add it all up and you have what Cauley characterizes as a "perfect storm."
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In July 2004, when AT&T announced that it would stop marketing long-distance phone service to consumers, it sent a shock wave through the financial community and through the hearts and minds of ordinary people as well. Today the company has already been broken up and swallowed by competitors. How could one of the oldest, most respected, and most dependable American companies be brought to the brink of financial ruin in a few short years? A combination of bad management decisions and worse market timing brought about the perfect storm. Cauley gives a historical overview of American Telephone and Telegraph, beginning with Alexander Graham Bell himself, but focuses primarily on the events around the turn of the new millennium, when former IBM executive Mike Armstrong took over amid twin crises of price wars and internal conflicts. It is a grueling day-to-day account of how ego, bureaucracy, and changing times killed off a beloved institution. David Siegfried
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