Bernard, Betsy 1955–
Former president and chief executive officer of consumer long-distance unit, AT&T
Born: May 16, 1955, in Holyoke, Massachusetts.
Career: American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T), 1976, summer intern; 1977–1995, various positions including account executive, sales manager, operations manager, and product manager; Pacific Bell Communications, 1995–1997, president and CEO; Pacific Telesis, 1996–1997, head of Business Market Group; Avirnex Communications, 1997–1998, president and CEO; U.S. West, 1998, president and CEO of Long Distance; 1998–2000, executive vice president of retail markets; Qwest Communications, 2000–2001, executive vice president of national mass markets; AT&T, 2001–2002, president and CEO of consumer long-distance unit; 2002–2003, president.
Awards: Sloan Fellowship, Stanford University, 1988; Honorary Doctorate of Laws, Pepperdine University, 2003; Emerging Leader of the Year Award, Women's Vision Foundation, 2003.
■ Betsy Bernard spent much of the 1990s on Fortune magazine's list of the 50 most powerful women in business, eventually rising to 12th in 2003 before her resignation from AT&T. She was respected for her toughness when making difficult decisions. During her years as a top executive, she adhered to a set of ideals that had begun forming while she was in college and were shaped and refined when she became a feminist in her 30s.
Bernard was born and raised in Massachusetts, where she was inspired by her mother, a radio personality, television talk-show
host, and writer. She credited her experiences while attending Saint Lawrence University, especially a semester spent in Kenya, with helping her learn to cope with work outside her comfort zone, which helped her tackle ever-more-challenging tasks during her career. Her employment at AT&T began during her junior year in college when she received a call from a recruiter; in 1976 she interned at AT&T Long Lines in Albany, New York, where she first developed a passion for the telecommunications business. By 1979 she was running an office of 50 people in New Jersey. During her first 18 years at AT&T she worked in finance, marketing, strategy, and customer ser vice.
In 1995 Bernard left AT&T to become president and CEO of Pacific Bell Communications. From there, she became the head of the Business Market Group of Pacific Telesis but wanted to return to being a CEO; thus, she took charge of the high-tech startup Avirnex Communications. She then moved to U.S. West, helping the company earn $9 billion in annual revenues before it became part of Qwest Communications, where she helped develop the company's markets.
In 2001 Bernard was lured back to AT&T with the promise that she would eventually become the CEO of a new spin-off company. At the time, she took charge of long distance, network services, AT&T Labs, and AT&T's business division. Altogether, she oversaw more than 55,000 employees; the business division alone was a $27 billion concern, with four million customers. On October 1, 2002, Bernard became AT&T's first woman president; but all was not well. In 2003 AT&T Business laid off 3,500 workers in an attempt to stabilize its bottom line. Further, AT&T was no longer planning on spinning off the company that Bernard had been expected to lead. Thus, in April 2003 she and Dave Dorman, AT&T's CEO, began arranging for her departure from the company. She left on December 1 of that year in the hope of finding employment as a CEO elsewhere.
Bernard noticed the rarity of women and ethnic minorities in executive positions in her industry, and she tried to enhance the chances of advancement for people she believed had been subject to discrimination. She cited Abraham Lincoln as her inspiration, saying her goals were "to lift artificial weights from all shoulders,/To clear the paths of pursuit for all,/And to afford an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life" (Bernard, August–September 2003). To this end, in 2000 she established the Emerging Leaders Program at AT&T, 60 percent of its members were women. The intent of the program was to provide mentoring for management employees.
Among the ideas she taught were that performance and communication with employees were essential for success. With respect to the former, one should lead by example by actually putting in the hours necessary to achieve one's goals. With respect to the latter, clear communication of instructions and of goals to be attained was considered crucial.
SEVEN GOLDEN RULES
In addition to being a powerful business leader, Bernard may be remembered for her "seven golden rules of leadership," which she enumerated at the Women & Diversity Leadership Summit on October 24, 2002 (Bernard, December 15, 2002). The first of these rules was that "everyone's time is valuable." Wasting employees' time costs businesses money and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in lost productivity in America every year. Further, a leader's wasting the time of his employees, for instance by making them wait before commencing meetings, is demoralizing and tends to suggest that wasting time is acceptable.
Her second rule also employed the use of basic courtesy: "No temper tantrums." Bernard thought displays of ill temper were infantile. She observed that such behavior created a corporate climate in which managers, their subordinates, and their subordinates' subordinates all communicated violently, thus degenerating interaction to the point of nonsensicalness. Bernard herself was noted for her calm demeanor. Effective communication was also the basis of her third rule: "Get to the bloody point!" A leader should know what he or she wants to say before speaking and should be concise. A wandering discourse leaves subordinates guessing as to what their boss wants.
The fourth rule, "Be candid," was a further refinement of the communication essential to leadership. Talking entirely about success was mere "bragging" in Bernard's view; employees needed to know exactly what the problems were so that they could try to fix them in their everyday work. Her fifth rule, "Just say thank you. And mean it," noted that a successful manager is one who shares credit and recognizes that no business organization succeeds without the cooperation of many.
Bernard was particularly mindful of her sixth rule, "Integrity is everything," after the Exxon and Enron scandals of the early 2000s. For her, integrity was reflected in daily behavior and in the way in which managers treated the work of their employees. She knew of and reviled business gatherings where company money was lavishly spent on luxuries such as $600 bottles of wine. Employees had worked hard to earn that $600, and wasting company money in such a fashion communicated to them that their work was not valued.
Her final rule: "If you don't know, who does?" A leader should have "vision" and should know what is needed and how to get it. In her mind, a brilliant person with every asset but "vision" would be a poor leader. People need to know what they are supposed to achieve in order to work together toward a common goal.
Bernard is a member of the board of directors of Bearing-Point, Principal Financial Group, United Technologies Corporation, and URS Group.
See also entry on AT&T Corp. in International Directory of Company Histories.
sources for further information
Bernard, Betsy J., "Leadership and Diversity," Executive Speeches, August–September 2003, pp. 16–19.
——, "Seven Golden Rules of Leadership," Vital Speeches of the Day, December 15, 2002, pp. 152–156.
Black, Jane, "AT&T's Betsy Bernard Goes the Distance," BusinessWeek Online, May 29, 2003, http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/may2003/tc20030529_5598_tc111.htm.
—Kirk H. Beetz