Chairman and chief executive officer, AT&T Wireless
Born: 1947, in Momence, Illinois.
Education: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, BS, 1969; Harvard University, JD, 1972.
Family: Son of Donald D. (lawyer) and Dorothy Ann Joost Zeglis (English teacher); married Carol Jane Hamm; children: three.
Career: Sidley and Austin, 1973–1978, associate; 1978–1984, partner; AT&T, 1984–1996, general counsel; 1997–1999, vice chairman and president; AT–T Wireless, 1999–2004, chairman and chief executive officer.
Address: AT&T Wireless, 7277 164th Avenue NE, Building 1, Redmond, Washington 98052; http://www.att wireless.com.
■ A seasoned telecommunications attorney, John D. Zeglis was appointed president of AT&T in 1997 and chairman and CEO of AT&T Wireless in 1999. Despite his lack of formal business training, Zeglis rose to the top ranks of AT&T management owing to his vast knowledge of regulatory policy and long acquaintance with the company's executive inner circle. Zeglis drafted the momentous divestiture plan that broke up AT&T in 1984, and he masterminded the company's legal strategy during the telecommunications revolution of the 1990s.
Zeglis was born and reared in Momence, Illinois, a small farming town where his father was a respected local attorney for more than five decades. The eldest of three boys, all of whom followed their father into law, Zeglis distinguished himself as a basketball player and golfer in high school. After graduating at the top of his class, Zeglis enrolled at his parents'
alma mater, the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he earned a business degree in 1969. He then went to Harvard University to study law, graduating magna cum laude in 1972 and serving as senior editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review . Zeglis then spent a year studying antitrust law and economics in Europe on a postgraduate Knox Memorial fellowship.
Zeglis's impressive credentials and intelligence attracted the attention of partners at Sidley and Austin, a prominent Chicago law firm whose clients included AT&T. Zeglis was hired as an associate in 1973 and made partner in 1978. During his early years at the firm Zeglis gained valuable experience in telecommunications legislation while working on an important Federal Communications Commission rate case.
In 1982, when AT&T acted to settle a massive antitrust suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, Zeglis was placed in charge of writing the court-ordered divestiture plan that broke AT&T into seven regional, or "baby Bell," telephone companies. AT&T (American Telephone and Telegraph) was the parent company of the monopoly Bell telephone system, making it one of the nation's largest corporations. Zeglis's key role in devising the complex breakup plan, implemented in 1984, was regarded as an ingenuous feat that solidified his relationship with AT&T, a company he had served for many years as outside counsel.
In 1984, after the breakup took effect, Zeglis was hired by AT&T to work on its legal staff and within 10 months became the company's general counsel. During the next decade Zeglis was intimately involved in the formulation of AT&T's government and regulatory policies as the company defended itself against new long-distance competitors and reorganized its corporate structure in the face of a rapidly changing telecommunications industry. While working behind the scenes as AT&T's chief legal advisor, Zeglis gained access to the company's power center as a trusted and indispensable witness to high-level strategy sessions and board meetings. Zeglis also formed a close relationship with Robert E. Allen, who became the CEO of AT&T in 1988.
As Allen's right-hand man, Zeglis took on an increasingly vital role in the company's business planning and management activities. During the mid-1990s Allen placed Zeglis in charge of orchestrating a second AT&T divestiture, at the time the largest voluntary corporate breakup in U.S. history. The result was the creation of two publicly traded spin-offs, Lucent Technologies in 1996 and NCR Corporation in 1997. Zeglis was also a key decision maker behind AT&T's purchase of McCaw Cellular Communications Corporation in 1994 and AT&T's failed bid to merge with SBC Communications in 1997.
When Allen resigned as CEO in 1997, it was widely speculated that Zeglis would be tapped as his successor. However, concern over Zeglis's lack of experience, as well as his leading role in the SBC Communications debacle, caused him to be passed over in favor of C. Michael Armstrong, the former CEO of Hughes Electronics Corporation. As consolation, and in an effort to keep Zeglis from accepting an offer to become the CEO of the power company Illinova, Zeglis was named the vice chairman of AT&T in June 1997. Later that year, in a gesture of confidence, Zeglis was promoted by Armstrong to president of AT&T. Over the next two years Zeglis presided over AT&T's wireless, consumer, and international operations and helped manage AT&T's newly acquired cable television assets with the 1998 purchase of Tele-Communications Incorporated (TCI).
In 1999 Zeglis assumed a new position as the chairman and CEO of AT&T Wireless. Under Zeglis's guidance, AT&T Wireless upgraded its networks, improved customer service, and went public as a tracking stock in 2000, a move that raised $10.6 billion. In 2001, with AT&T stock plunging, AT&T Wireless was spun off from its parent company, leaving Zeglis to head one of the largest independently owned and operated mobile phone companies in North America, with 22 million subscribers.
By 2004 AT&T Wireless had become the third largest U.S. mobile service provider, behind Verizon Wireless and Cingular Wireless, and had begun to lose customers as a result of botched upgrades and a new federal regulation that permitted cellular customers to switch services without changing their phone numbers. After posting first-quarter losses in 2004, the company was sold to Cingular Wireless for $41 billion. With the dissolution of AT&T Wireless, Zeglis indicated that he would leave the telecommunications business to pursue other interests.
Well liked and praised for his brilliant legal mind, Zeglis was an avid hiker and sports fan who won many friends during two decades of loyal service to AT&T. What he lacked in star-power charisma Zeglis made up with his good-natured personality and wry sense of humor. He was known to carry Trivial Pursuit game cards in his pocket for recreational quizzing and, if needed, to defuse tense business meetings. Zeglis described himself as "the Forrest Gump of the telecommunications industry." Recalling his central position amid the regulatory and technological upheavals that transformed AT&T, Zeglis told Commerce InSight , "By sheer dumb luck, I've been right in the eye of the storm of every major controversy in telecommunications in the last quarter of the twentieth century."
See also entry on AT&T Corp. in International Directory of Company Histories .
Cauley, Leslie, and Stephanie N. Mehta, "Can Zeglis and Hindery Work Together?" Wall Street Journal , June 26, 1998.
Horovitz, Bruce, "How the Leaders, Their Firms Stack Up Zeglis," USA Today , June 25, 1998.
"John Zeglis: A Standout," Commerce InSight , University of Illinois Commerce Alumni Association, Summer 1999, http://www.business.uiuc.edu/insight/summer99 .
Keller, John J., "Legal Eagle: Who Is John Zeglis and Why Is a Lawyer on AT&T's Short List?" Wall Street Journal , September 5, 1997.
Mills, Mike, "The No. 1 Question at AT&T," Washington Post , September 10, 1997.
Rosenbush, Steve, "AT&T's Zeglis Is Likely Front-Runner for CEO Post," USA Today , July 21, 1997.
Schiesel, Seth, "AT&T's New No. 2 is Without Rivals," New York Times , July 17, 1997.
Woolley, Scott, "Zeglis the Zealot," Forbes , May 27, 2002, pp. 58–59.
Young, Shawn, "Wireless Leader: In Zeglis, AT&T Trusts," USA Today , May 4, 2000.