Robert Allen – The Man Who Steered AT&T Through Difficult Terrains

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Robert E. Allen announced job cuts one after the other when he was the chief executive officer of AT&T from 1988 to 1997. He took charge of the post when the company lost their monopoly in the US phone market. A revolution was taking place in electronics that was merging the world of computers and communication devices. Nobody knew how much the internet and cell phones would change the world. However, Allen, with his strong decisions, led AT&T to success.

Some of his former colleagues say that he did well amidst the difficult situations. “He had to find his way through uncharted territory,” said Michael Sovern, a former president of Columbia University who was on AT&T’s board at that time.

“He did not come on as a big robust personality,” said Harold Burlingame, who headed human resources under Allen. “He came on as a quiet, thoughtful person.”

Some of his colleagues found him remote and he had explanations for that. “I just can’t be warm and fuzzy with everybody all the time,” Allen said. He even admitted his mistakes whenever he made some errors. “If everything we did was absolutely perfect or correct, maybe we’d be given another name and be called God or something,” he said in 1996.

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Allen was the man who presided over 100,000 job cuts in AT&T. In 1996, after announcing another round of job cuts, he bought full page advertisements for AT&T, urging other businesses to hire AT&T’s former employees claiming that their employees are “among the best trained anywhere.”

Robert Eugene Allen died of complications from a stroke on September 10, 2016 at the age of 81. Allen was determined to expand in computers and he had an active participation in most of the AT&T deals made during the period. He was the person who pushed AT&T into cell phone business and lighted the fire we see today in AT&T.

Edward Whitacre Jr, who took over AT&T after Allen, described him as “a classy guy” and said that he has done his best to navigate through a treacherous era.

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