In the early 1970s, Richard Branson was one of the first iconoclasts who crafted the idea of a “CEO as company mascot.” His presence and leadership helped launched the Virgin empire. Like so many entrepreneurs who followed, like T-Mobile CEO John Legere, that influence is hard to miss.
Legere, one of MIT Sloan School of Management’s most infamous alumni, appears to be part of a new wave of high-powered executives who predicate their leadership style on their equally high-powered personalities. Much like Elon Musk or Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Legere has become notorious for shooting from the hip in situations we haven’t come to expect from our traditionally buttoned-up business leaders.
Legere explained in an HBS Op-Ed, “Public attitudes have shifted about the rhetoric and candor we want and expect from leaders; people want authenticity, not canned phrases full of legalese.”
Early Life & Education
Legere was born third of five kids in the small New England mill town of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. At St. Bernard’s Central Catholic School, Legere was a competitive runner who planned to become physical education instructor. As a U-Mass undergrad, he opted to pursue a career in business when he discovered the median take-home pay of a public school teacher. After U-Mass, Legere completed an MS at Sloan and an MBA at Fairleigh Dickinson, followed by Management Development certificate from HBS.
Legere’s first major gig out of graduate school was at AT&T, where he served as chief executive for AT&T Asia and head of AT&T Global Strategy and Business Development between 1994 and 1997, followed by a yearlong stint as President of AT&T Solutions.
After AT&T, Legere worked at Dell between 1998 and 2000, where he served as Senior VP, COO for European, Middle Eastern, and African Operations and President of Asia Pacific Operations.
Between 2000 and 2011, Legere served as CEO of Global Crossing, where “he led the organization through bankruptcy and eventually an acquisition by Level 3 Communications.”
In 2013, Legere accepted an offer to lead T-Mobile. The decision came after a few aimless years in which Legere confessed in an in-depth Fast Company profile “he found himself lost in Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, taking up expensive hobbies, and buying his first Ferrari. His most important decision was what to have for lunch.”
According to Business Insider, Legere hopped aboard and “radically overhauled [both] T-Mobile’s product and culture,” which involved “transforming himself into the embodiment of the brand.” He elaborates in a CNBC interview, “The trick for me is, I really believe that I act, behave, and speak the same way my customers do. I say what they think on behalf of them. If you look, most of my colorful nature and antics is to drive change that benefits customers.”
In an HBS Op-Ed, Legere explained the unlikely origin of his innovative “Un-Carrier” strategy from a press conference at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas:
After one question during the Q&A, I just snapped. I went on a rant. I said, ‘I saw more honesty on a Match.com ad than on AT&T’s coverage maps.’ My remarks were spontaneous, but I meant them. The online video went viral, which proved how much pent-up consumer hostility there was toward this industry.
Instead of back-pedaling as most CEOs instincts would instruct them to do, Legere decided to put his money where his mouth was. In an uncharacteristically and aggressively customer-friendly move, Legere’s “Un-Carrier” strategy nixed contracts and roaming fees. In the process, it almost singlehandedly “took the struggling American property of Deutsche Telekom and turned it into the country’s third-largest and fastest-growing carrier.”
Legere has seemingly shaped his public and social media persona around the combustible energy that emerged during his unplanned Consumer Electronics Show outburst—to resounding success. He regularly calls out Verizon and AT&T for their lackluster service on Instagram and opts for complete transparency when it comes to company meetings and decisions. Legere even hosts a popular live Facebook cooking show every week entitled “Slow Cooker Sunday” that has attracted upwards of 500,000 viewers.
He explains: “At most large companies, CEOs are overly diplomatic: They never say anything negative about anyone publicly, and many even avoid speaking a competitor’s name. That’s an old-school approach. I’m different. I grew up as a competitive runner, and I thrive on rivalry—it’s just part of who I am. I like winning, but I enjoy it even more when I’m making someone else lose.”
The post Alumni Spotlight: John Legere, T-Mobile CEO – MIT Sloan appeared first on MetroMBA.