Interview, Corporate Leadership

How Creative Destruction Transformed Telecommunications

Dan sits down with CEO Forum Magazine to discuss how the Internet and digital world were formed, as well as the direct impact this development will have on the telecommunications industry moving forward. The following was featured in the April edition of CEO Forum Magazine


Robert Reiss: Prior to becoming CEO of Sprint, you were CEO of AT&T Wireless and witnessed firsthand the formative years of digital. Can you share some inside-the-scenes historical perspective?

Dan Hesse: You mentioned AT&T. It was back in the early 80’s and our main business back then was voice telephony. That was the core business – remember “reach out and touch someone?” But during that period, we were given two new technologies to start using ourselves. One was email. This was long before the internet – an “intranet” called AT&T Mail. The second was voicemail, but not from the point of view of you call somebody, miss them, and get their answering machine.
The primary new application of voicemail was allowing the user to record a message and send it through the network. These new applications were moving us away from analog, using digital bits, both email and voicemail, to disrupt the core business. The first big “aha moment” was the ability to shift time. If I wanted to send somebody a message at midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning, I didn’t have to worry about waking them up. I could send and receive messages whenever I wanted to.
Time shifting is now a big deal in all types of media. For example, it has changed cable television. If you have a DVR or you get your programs over the internet or overthe-
top, you watch when you want to watch. You create your viewing schedule, not the schedule of the TV networks.
But what was so instructive for me very early in my career was the notion of “creative destruction.” Our primary business was real-time voice telephone calls. We were coming up with new concepts that were going to compete directly with the core business. What made these time shifting tools even more useful was mobility, where place, which had been so important in our landline world, lost relevancy. As soon as I got a car phone in the mid-80s, I learned how much more powerful voicemail could be because place was no longer important. I used voicemail to send and receive messages, while in my car (hands free, of course!). It used to be time and place were critically important. Now, time wasn’t important and with mobile phones, place wasn’t important either. The real game-changers I learned about early on were time shifting, place shifting, and the power of creative destruction.