Ray Wilkins's career blossomed at SBC Communications, Inc., as the company expanded over the years. Serving as group president for marketing and sales for the telecommunications giant in 2004, this Texas native began his career with the company when it was still Southwestern Bell, the local telephone company. Though his job certainly required him to keep up with changing communications technology in order to serve the voice and data needs of millions of business and residential customers across 13 states, Wilkins remained committed to making SBC a first-rate service provider. "I'm not a technology junkie," he told San Antonio Express-News Sanford Nowlin. "I'm a customer junkie. If you're going to succeed you have to start with the customer and work backwards."
Rayford Wilkins was born on August 9, 1951, in Waco, Texas. He pursued a college education by studying business administration at the University of Texas. Before earning his degree in 1974, he worked a series of retail jobs to help defray his college-tuition costs. Just after graduating, he was hired by Southwestern Bell into its manager trainee program in Houston, at a time when the company was the only local telephone service provider. These local utilities, usually known by their states' names, were part of the AT&T (American Telegraph and Telephone) corporate family, but a lengthy legal challenge forced the companies to split into separate, independently owned regional "Baby Bells" in 1984. Southwestern Bell became one of these, and Wilkins rose through the ranks at its Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio offices. He held a management position in customer service and another with the marketing department, and also worked in the comptroller's office as well. In 1987, he completed the Management Program for Executives at the University of Pittsburgh.
Wilkins was posted to Southwestern Bell company offices in St. Louis, Missouri, in the early 1990s, and was named a regional president in the summer of 1996 for Kansas City. In that position, he oversaw telecommunications sales and service for western Missouri and all of Kansas, and was the top-ranking local executive for the company. The 1996 Telecommunications Act gave Southwestern Bell and the other Baby Bells permission to become national phone-service providers, and Southwestern Bell began moving into larger territory. In 1998 it became SBC Communications when it acquired Ameritech and Pacific Bell, two other Baby Bells. By then Wilkins was serving as president of the company's Business Communications Services in San Antonio, which handled accounts for some three million non-residential customers.
In 1999, Wilkins was made president and CEO of Southwestern Bell, the remaining local phone-service provider, and a year later moved to California to take over as president and chief executive officer of SBC Pacific Bell/SBC Nevada Bell. He became the first locally-based president in charge of operations, marketing, customer service, and network services since the takeover. From its headquarters in San Ramon, California, SBC PacBell served as the leading phone company for California, but was suffering from several customer-service related issues. The company's new high-speed Internet connection service, the Digital Subscriber Line, or DSL, was an offering that was plagued with problems in the first year of its launch. It was a potentially grievous public-relations disaster in the high-tech nexus that stretched from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, and new and waiting customers were irate. Wilkins moved quickly to find and fix the problems, and managed to slice the wait-time for DSL installation from 26 days to six. Determined to improve customer service, he visited the call centers often to boost morale. There were other issues as well: at the time, Californians were logging record numbers of complaints with the FCC over SBC/PacBell service, and the company was also heavily fined for using misleading marketing strategies.
In the next few years, Wilkins helped SBC/PacBell weather a recession and the sinking of the dotcom boom by cutting expenses and hiring new employees only when absolutely necessary. Resorting to such belt-tightening measures would help avoid layoffs, he told Black Enterprise writer Alan Hughes. It was crucial to "recognize the signs, and take action," Wilkins explained, as opposed to the company finding itself, "in a situation where they have to do something drastic and dramatic. And that hurts people."
Wilkins's excellent track record brought him another promotion, this one in May of 2002 to group president for sales and marketing at SBC. This meant that he and his wife, Lorena, would return to San Antonio, where they had lived for several years. His task was to reinvigorate marketing strategies and lure new customers in each of the thirteen states where SBC operates. Wilkins's wife is also a longtime SBC executive, and his stepson is also with the company in Houston.
In his spare time, Wilkins likes to golf and is a collector of sports memorabilia, but he has also been active in a number of local and civic groups in each of the cities that he has called home over the years. These include the Carver Academy in San Antonio, for which he has served on the board of directors, and the San Francisco YMCA. Vintage Foster, a publisher who had worked with Wilkins on a San Francisco-area scholarship program, told the San Antonio Express-News 's Nowlin that he was impressed with Wilkins's generosity and help when Foster was setting up the East Bay Leadership Foundation. "Ray gave me a $50,000 check for the foundation," Foster told Nowlin. "And the next words out of his mouth were, 'Who else do you need me to call?' He's not the kind of guy who just writes a check and moves on. He helped take (the foundation) from concept to fruition. There's very little ego involved with Ray. With him, something's either a good idea or it isn't."
At a Glance …
Born Rayford Wilkins, Jr., on August 9, 1951, in Waco, TX; son of Rayford Sr. and Loyce Wilkins; married Lorena (a corporate executive), July 1, 1978; children: Donovan Campbell. Education: University of Texas, BA, 1974; University of Pittsburgh, Management Program for Executives, 1987.
Career: Southwestern Bell, management trainee, 1974; Southwestern Bell, various positions in customer service, marketing, and in the comptroller's office, 1970s-90s; Southwestern Bell, regional president, 1996-97; SBC Communications, president, Business Communications Services, 1997-99; Southwestern Bell, president and CEO, 1999; SBC Pacific Bell/SBC Nevada Bell, president and chief executive officer, 2000-02; SBC Pacific Bell/SBC Nevada Bell, group president for sales and marketing, May 2002–.
Awards: Minority Supplier Council, CEO of the Year, 1997; National Eagle Leadership Institute, Eagle Award, 1997; Waco Independent School District, Distinguished Alumnus, 2000.
Addresses: Office —SBC Communications, Inc., 175 E. Houston, San Antonio, TX 78205.
Black Enterprise, March 2002, p. 30.
St. Louis Business Journal, March 10, 1997, p. 3.
San Antonio Express-News, July 27, 2002, p. 1D.
San Francisco Business Times, December 29, 2000, p. 27; September 15, 2000, p. 10; September 22, 2000, p. 8.
San Francisco Chronicle, January 7, 2001, p. B1.
"Rayford Wilkins, Jr.," SBC–Investor Relations, www.sbc.com/gen/investor-relations?pid=5687 (September 8, 2004).
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