Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Whitacre Deals for Communications Empire

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Whitacre Deals for Communications Empire

Article excerpt

SAN ANTONIO -- On May 9, Edward E. Whitacre Jr. looked relaxed as he welcomed friends to his daughter's wedding at the First Presbyterian Church here.

Nothing in Whitacre's demeanor provided a hint that the chairman of San Antonio-based SBC Communications was engineering the second- largest merger in corporate history, a $62 billion combination with Ameritech of Chicago.

"It was all pretty frantic," Whitacre said in a brief interview. "I was trying to act nonchalant. You sure can't tip off anybody that something's going on." Those who know Whitacre weren't surprised that he moved smoothly from an important family affair that Saturday to completing a huge business deal the next day. Under Whitacre's guidance, SBC (formerly Southwestern Bell) has grown from being one of seven Baby Bells to the nation's most admired telecommunications company for three years in a row, according to an annual Fortune magazine survey. Whitacre reiterated that he wants SBC to be a global telecommunications player. Eventually, "there will probably be four or five of them, and we'd like to be one." Competitor Bernard Ebbers, chairman of Jackson, Miss.-based WorldCom, has been a Whitacre critic, saying he doesn't believe SBC's claim that it welcomes competition in its local markets. But he acknowledged, "It's a very, very well-run company. I'll give him that." If the deal with Ameritech is approved by federal regulators, Whitacre will head the nation's second-largest telecommunications company after AT&T, with an estimated $41 billion in revenue. It's all pretty heady stuff for a boy from Ennis, Texas, a small town south of Dallas, and for a guy who started stringing line for the telephone company while studying industrial engineering at Texas Tech University. Despite his high-profile position today, Whitacre, 56, usually shuns the media spotlight and rarely grants interviews. Interviews with a broad spectrum of people, including Whitacre's friends and his critics, reveal an insight into a man who is bold, confident and shrewd, yet disarmingly frank and down-to-earth. "Obviously, Whitacre is bold and decisive if you look at what's happened to SBC," said George Brandon, an editor at Telecommunications Reports Daily, a trade publication based in Washington. Brandon and others praise Whitacre for knowing when to do deals and when to abandon them. SBC was the first Baby Bell to merge with another with the 1997 acquisition of San Francisco-based Pacific Telesis Group. Whitacre followed that up by striking a deal to buy Southern New England Telecommunications. Yet he ditched a planned joint venture with Atlanta-based Cox Communications in cable television, and last year ended negotiations to merge with AT&T. The SBC chairman, who describes his job as "fun -- most days," also is blessed with the common touch. …

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