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Editor's Note: Veterans Advantage salutes Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Lowell McAdam. Below is our August 2009 exclusive interview naming McAdam a Veterans Advantage "TopVet" award winner, citing his leadership at the time with Verizon Wireless.
Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell C.McAdam is a product of hard work and a passion for leadership and technology. With a belief in building Verizon Wireless from the ground up, he expresses great confidence in the talent and persistence of those he leads. He’s also the product of a first-rate military education.
“It was an honor for me to be part of it,” he tells Veterans Advantage in an exclusive interview. "It’s a great way for anybody to start any career, no matter what they are involved in. The things you learn in the service will stay with you your whole life.”
Lowell McAdam served in the Navy’s Engineer Corps, at datelines as far away as Okinawa, and as local as San Diego. As a kid growing up in rural upstate New York, he studied hard, played sports and helped make ends meet for the family by working as a school janitor. ”I think I was very fortunate to work for some really outstanding leaders in the Navy and the Marine Corps,” says the leader of the nation’s largest voice and data network, with 86 million customers and nearly $50 billion in 2008 revenue. “You are doing things that matter. They can be life and death situations, and they are certainly important. And you must learn early on the meaning of delivering on your commitments, doing what you say.”
Lowell McAdam's biography is impressive. He was named the top gun at Verizon Wireless in January, 2007 after serving since 2000 as the company’s COO. Prior to that, he was the CEO of Primeco, a wireless joint venture of Vodaphone’s AirTouch and Bell Atlantic, the “Baby Bell” predecessor of parent company Verizon. He has served as vice president-international operations for AirTouch Communications and was lead technical partner for cellular ventures in Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Italy, Korea and Japan. He joined AirTouch as executive director of international applications and operations in 1993. From 1983 to 1993, he held various executive positions with Pacific Bell, including vice president of Bay Area marketing and general manager of South Bay customer services.
FROM ROTC TO C-SUITE
Partly influenced by his brother’s service in the Navy, and a desire to be an engineer, McAdam landed a Naval ROTC Scholarship, earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cornell and later an MBA from the University of San Diego. He spent six years in the Navy's Engineer Corps and is a licensed professional engineer.
In the Navy, McAdam designed and built a wide range of strategic projects. “[I received] great technical learning as well as leadership learning,” he recalls.
“[I was in charge of] a lot of very important things that needed to get done. We built nuclear weapons magazines, runways, hospitals.” McAdam was even involved in the construction of movie sets for the blockbuster 1980s movie “TopGun” starring Tom Cruise as a hotshot Naval aviator.
But make no mistake about it; running a multibillion dollar business – and the largest wireless provider to the federal government – is his calling and his passion. While studying for his MBA, he met an influential professor at USD who taught him a key to business: “Hold up a problem like a diamond and look at it from different perspectives. The problem may seem insurmountable from one perspective, but if you flip it around, you may find it to be solvable. I use this technique at Verizon Wireless where we look at a lot of problems with our senior management team and turn them into opportunities."
“There’s a ton a technology here [at Verizon Wireless], but then it’s all about selling it and tailoring it to meet customers’ needs. That’s the part I enjoy the most – finding out what customers want and working and seeing that we are meeting it as a business. Profitably, I may add.”
POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS FOR ALL WHO SERVED
Verizon Wireless prides itself in recognizing and acknowledging military service. The company was honored by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) for preserving jobs and benefits for those who deploy overseas. It has special policies in place to suspend service or billing for customers who are called to service. CEO Ivan Seidenberg and COO Dennis Strigl of corporate parent Verizon Communications are also military veterans. “We are very focused on having positive relationships with anybody in the military, whether they work for us or not,” McAdam says. “We do all those things, and this is something that Ivan, Denny and I pay attention to…There should be no penalty, nothing but positives for going off to protect the country.”
The message is clear to the company’s staff, too.
“My transition back into my current position was relatively seamless only in part to the ongoing support from my manager and fellow co-workers. For without them, my work load could have been daunting,” notes Christian Kant, an Iraq war veteran and inventory coordinator at Verizon Wireless. The self-described Marine “grunt,” and 10-year Verizon Wirleless employee, started working out with McAdam after they met at the corporate gym.
“Being a veteran, like Mr. McAdam, he had given up of his time, family and friends, and -- if it was necessary -- his life. I know that if an individual is willing to do that, then there is no one better suited to be in control of such a great and strong company as Verizon Wireless. Only in America.”