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.

Corporate Leadership, LinkedIn Series

Some Minuses, but More Plusses Emerge from our “Always On” Digital Lives

Reposted from Dan Hesse's LinkedIn series on Executive Leadership and Corporate Responsibility. The following was published March 7, 2016. 


I had the pleasure of sitting down with NPR’s Steve Kraske for 30 minutes to discuss a number of topics I’ve been exploring over the past eighteen months, including how the mobile internet is transforming lifestyles and industries (we discussed advertising and banking as examples). Interview audio available here

The mobile internet improves our economy and the GDP’s of countries around the world, and it’s democratizing education, but this “always on” world also brings with it new concerns in areas such as written and spoken language and threats to our “fast-twitch-wired” teens like cyber-bullying, texting, and cell phone addiction (FOMO).  Early mobile music devices required file compression and unfortunately, lower fidelity, but “missionaries” like Neil Young are bringing high fidelity to mobile music using new technology.

The “internet of things” will usher in the next wireless growth phase, and it will bring many new capabilities and advantages to our lives, especially as we age.  Smart appliances, sensors, mobile medical monitors, robotic personal assistants, artificial intelligence, self-driving vehicles, social media, speech-to-text, and text-to-speech will extend independent life and make our senior years more enjoyable. 

But, all of the data about us being collected creates new privacy and security concerns.  Apple’s position vs. the FBI is timely in that we need to have an open and comprehensive national discussion and establish new laws to deal with the utility vs privacy and security trade-offs emerging as a result of technological advances.

Overall, it’s an exciting time, and in spite of the new issues and problems that come with our new digitally-connected lives, I believe we’re better off, especially if we’re vigilant about and openly discuss the changes our new digital lifestyles entail.  

Corporate Leadership, Award

Is a Digitally Connected World a Better Place? | Vital Speeches

Dan comments on the the plusses and minuses of a digitally connected world in this address, originally appearing in Vital Speeches. Published June 2015.


We are living at a time when technology is changing the world at a pace never before experienced in human history. Of all technological advances, in my view, the one that is changing the life we share on this planet the most, whether one lives in a G8 country or in the developing world, is the mobile Internet.

These dramatic changes bring with them many plusses, but also some negatives and risks. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed
ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function” is perhaps a good theme for this talk.

I’m not claiming to have a first rate mind, but I have learned a bit about telecommunications during a 37-year career in the industry. Will Rogers said it well, “Everybody is ignorant, only
in different subjects,” and perhaps this could apply here as this is one of the few subjects I don’t feel ignorant about.

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Corporate Leadership

A CEO Worth Emulating

This article, reviewing Dan Hesse's corporate leadership, originally appeared on Talent Zoo's Digital Pivot blog. Published January 2013. 


As someone who grew up watching a parent run a business, I’ve always paid attention to CEOs who rise to the forefront of media attention. Many of them, like the revolving door of those unfortunate souls in charge of RIM, incur nothing but a growing disappointment in heads of major corporations and a concern for the future of our country.

However, Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, long ago earned a place in my heart. Although Sprint may not be the chief carrier in the nation, his manner of running a business is an inspiration to any current or aspiring entrepreneurs.

While other major cell-phone carriers remain faceless corporations, whose customers continually have nothing but ill to speak of them, Sprint has featured Dan Hesse in its commercials for years, a move that gives consumers a name and a face to associate with their cellular provider. This decision alone stands head and shoulders above the choices of other major carriers, who hide in the shadow of their brand and never emerge to address or appreciate their customer base.

Hesse has even, at times, invited customers with complaints about their cellular service to email him directly. Prior to that, when it became apparent that Sprint customers were increasingly dissatisfied, Hesse took steps to ensure that Sprint rose from having one of the worst customer service departments in America with whom to deal to having the absolute best.

Coming from a very technology-proficient family, and being a person who can occasionally be hard on mobile devices, I have personally been a thorn in Sprint’s customer service department at times, but have always had my issues resolved quickly and in the best way possible for all parties. If more CEOs truly took the time to listen, sincerely, to customer complaints, it would surely do wonders for the economy.

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