Chief Executive Officer of Verizon
Began at New York Bell as a cable splicer's helper, mid–1960s; served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam; rose through company ranks to serve as assistant vice president for marketing, 1981, vice president for federal relations, 1983, and vice president for external affairs; named president and CEO of Nynex, the successor to New York Bell, January, 1995, and chair, April, 1995; became chief executive officer of Bell Atlantic, the successor to Nynex, 1998, and co–chief executive officer of Verizon Communications, formed by the merger of Bell Atlantic with GTE Corporation, June 2000; became sole CEO, 2002.
Ivan Seidenberg runs Verizon Communications, the largest telephone company in the United States. Seidenberg has been with the company since its earlier incarnation as New York Bell, and rose through the ranks during a period of tremendous growth and new opportunities in the industry. He was considered instrumental in winning government regulatory approval for the series of historic mergers that created Verizon in 2000. With some $67 billion in revenues, the publicly traded telecom giant is one of Fortune magazine's Top 10 companies, but has suffered along with its peers since 2001 in a flagging United States economy and moribund stock market. "The challenge facing Seidenberg," remarked BusinessWeek's Steve Rosenbush, "is to survive the telecom industry's worst downturn without dismembering his creation."
Seidenberg was born in 1946 and grew up in the New York City borough of the Bronx. He began at New York Bell—which was at that time the local telephone company for New York City—in the mid–1960s as a splicer's helper, during the era when direct lines ran from customers' homes to local switching stations to main headquarters. He recalled his first day on the job as a tough one. "I didn't know anything," he told Telephony writer Glenn Bischoff, and just as the shift was slated to end that day, his crew was sent back out to fix a cable failure, and had to work long into the night to repair it. Despite the somewhat poor reputation New York Bell and other local phone companies had during this era, Seidenberg was impressed by the dedication of his co–workers. "It was amazing to witness the mentality of these people—and it has never changed in my 37 years with the company," he told Bischoff.
Seidenberg served two years in Vietnam before returning to New York Bell and taking college courses in the evenings. In 1972 he earned a degree in mathematics from City University of New York, and went on to earn an M.B.A. from Pace University eight years later. In all, Seidenberg spent 16 years attending college part–time, but his career at New York Bell advanced somewhat more rapidly. By 1981, he had been named assistant vice president for marketing, and two years later he was made vice president for federal relations. It was an important job at the company during a significant period: New York Bell was one of the 22 local phone companies that had been part of AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph), the entity formed in 1875 with the invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell. Known as the Bell System or "Ma Bell," it was the largest private business in the world until 1984, when a decade–long suit instigated by the U.S. Department of Justice ordered the smaller Bell companies to form seven regional holding companies, known as the "Baby Bells." New York Telephone merged with New England Telephone to become Nynex.
Seidenberg went on to serve as vice president for external affairs before being named president and CEO of Nynex in early 1995. With Nynex valued at $13.3 billion, the promotion made him head of the most successful of the Baby Bells, but after a 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed for further changes in the industry, Nynex merged the following year with Bell Atlantic, its Philadelphia–based counterpart that provided service to several mid–Atlantic states. Though the Nynex name had now given way to Bell Atlantic, Seidenberg remained chief executive officer, and continued to steer the company toward a more prosperous future. In a 1996 Management Review interview with Jenny C. McCune, Seidenberg hinted at the possibility of his company entering the lucrative wireless and long–distance markets—the latter dominated by names like Sprint and MCI at the time—and was an ardent supporter of less government regulation of the industry. He used an analogy with roots in another large American business sector: "Years ago, people asked, 'What happens when everybody in America has a car?' Well, April Fool," he pointed out to McCune. "Now they have two cars. In some cases, they may have three, whatever. Now we're finding people with not one, but two or three phones, fax lines. So, the intensity of changes is enormous."
Seidenberg was instrumental in another momentous telecom deal: a merger between Bell Atlantic and GTE, a leader in wireless communications and Internet networks, that was completed in 2000. The new entity was renamed Verizon Communications, and became the largest telecommunications company in the United States. Tele.com called Seidenberg "a chief architect in the restructuring of the telecom market" that year. Though there were some initial snags in attaining seamless service nationwide, Verizon proved an immediate success story, "the first of the old regional Bells that can legitimately claim to be a national company," noted Fortune's Stephanie Mehta.
For a time, Seidenberg served as co–CEO with Charles Lee of GTE, but took over the reins completely when Lee retired in April of 2002. Seidenberg was still keenly interested in expanding into all telecommunication sectors—from local phone service and high–speed Internet access to wireless data and entertainment. Moving into new territories was almost a necessity, for traditional "landline" users were in steep decline as the twenty–first century dawned. Verizon also suffered from a general downturn in the telecommunications market in general, as the mergers of the past half–decade—combined with an overall slide in corporate stock values on Wall Street—caused debt to escalate sharply. Seidenberg's company was struggling to manage some $54 billion of its own liabilities at the close of 2002.
In early 2003, Verizon announced an ambitious plan to re–engineer its entire network, trading the old copper wire still in use for a state–of–the–art, fiber–optics network. The move would again allow Verizon to keep old customers and add a potentially large number of new ones, for the new system could deliver not just phone service but digital television, high–speed Internet access, and perhaps even affordable video calls into consumer homes. Despite the immense nature of the company, with some 236,000 employees in 14 countries, Seidenberg is known for his accessibility and polite management style. He answers staff e–mails personally, and often holds brainstorming sessions every few months with employees. Active in several charitable organizations in the New York and New Jersey area that focus on education, he lives in New York City and has two children with his wife, Phyllis. Well aware of the demands of his job, he once described his duties, according to Mehta in the Fortune article, as the "Chief Person in Charge of Bad News."
BusinessWeek, January 14, 2002, p. 63; October 21, 2002, p. 72; March 31, 2003, pp. 68–70.
Communications Today, September 26, 2000.
Forbes, April 16, 2001, p. 68.
Fortune, April 16, 2001, p. 162.
Independent (London, England), December 20, 2000, p. 3.
Management Review, January 1996, p. 10.
Tele.com, February 7, 2000, p. 61.
Telephony, November 18, 2002.