- On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that T-Mobile head John Legere was in consideration for the CEO role at WeWork.
- WeWork, under its parent the We Company, has been led by the co-CEOs Sebastian Gunningham and Artie Minson since cofounder Adam Neumann was ousted from the role in September.
- Legere has led a massive turnaround of T-Mobile since becoming CEO in 2012 by investing in its network, customer service training, and customer acquisition, and making himself the personification of the brand in a flood of marketing.
- The move could make sense for WeWork, which is desperate to recuperate its image and find a path to profitability, but makes less sense for Legere, who stands to gain tremendously from seeing through the Sprint merger he orchestrated.
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Not even two months after a failed IPO and the ouster of its cofounder CEO, Adam Neumann, WeWork’s parent, the We Company, is looking for a new leader. And one of those candidates, according to the Wall Street Journal‘s Sarah Krouse and Maureen Farrell, is T-Mobile US head John Legere.
It’d be a move from one outspoken, long-haired chief executive to another, but the similarities pretty much end there. Whereas Neumann was able to use his vision and eccentric charisma (at least in some eyes) to build a global startup and raise billions from private investors, he was unable to translate that into a style that reassured public investors. Legere, on the other hand, was able to take T-Mobile from its position firmly in fourth place among America’s top telecommunications companies and make it the country’s fastest growing, since taking over in 2012.
He took the company public and invested heavily in its network and revamped its corporate culture, transforming a company known for its bad cell service and customer service alike, into one that not only overtook Sprint but is set to merge with it next year. For the We Company, Legere’s skillset may represent a path to brand recuperation and profitability. But ahead of the Sprint merger he not only orchestrated but has fought for for the past two years, it would seem unlikely that Legere would leave for another major challenge in an industry he has no experience in.
Neither the We Company nor T-Mobile has responded to the report, but we’ve gathered some insight into why Legere would even have made it onto We’s shortlist.
Transforming a company and himself
When Legere’s headhunter told him in 2011 that there was an interview opportunity to be the CEO of T-Mobile, Legere said he found the idea “laughable and really not something he’d do,” Legere told us in 2016. The company seemed hopeless.
But he was in a strange time in his life, he said — he had just sold Global Crossing, the telecom company he’d led for 10 years, and gotten divorced in the same month — and the recruiter was his friend, so he decided to give it a shot.
He met with René Obermann, the head of T-Mobile’s parent company, Deutsche Telekom. He told Obermann there was only one way the company could fail in the United States: “Do exactly what you’re doing — nothing.” The only way T-Mobile could work, Legere explained, was by overhauling every aspect of its business and distinguishing itself in all ways from market leaders Verizon and AT&T.
Obermann liked Legere’s attitude and offered him the job, which he took in 2012. In his early days, Legere wrote a manifesto, but it wasn’t like the one Neumann wrote for WeWork, proclaiming that its core business of co-working space would “elevate the world’s consciousness.” Legere’s manifesto declared the T-Mobile he was about to build as the “Un-carrier,” the one that would highlight all of the reasons why customers would hate their wireless carrier, like hidden fees and unbearable customer service — and do the opposite.
It can be hard to imagine now, but Legere used to have slick-back hair and a penchant for suits, Intl he decided that part of his brand turnaround would involve him as the personification of the new T-Mobile. He settled on long hair, a black jacket, and as much branded clothing in the company’s magenta hue as possible. To accompany that, he decided to attack his three rivals relentlessly (which sometimes got a bit excessive) and develop a memeable online presence through social media, liberally using promoted posts for silly but attention-grabbing videos like his “Slow Cooker Sunday” cooking show.
He had the company invest heavily in its network so that its service could be on par with the market leaders, eliminating its primary weakness, and he took the company public. To help reinvigorate his company’s culture and improve customer service, he initiated a stock program for employees and started making all of his corporate presentations available to all employees.
He told us that one of his main messages for all of these all-hands presentations was, “Listen, if some of this doesn’t make sense to you, what should make sense is the reason I’m telling you — I respect you as an owner and as a partner.”
Legere also made a section in his calendar book that contains a color-coded list of how many times he’s visited each of T-Mobile US’s major call centers. As he said in our 2016 interview:
“It’s not that complicated. I go in, they meet me outside, we take selfies as I stand like a piece of furniture, I tell them about how things are going — but most importantly, I say thank you and help them see that their behavior and their work has driven the culture of the company that’s changed the industry and the whole world. It’s a bit of a love affair.”
Like Neumann, Legere built somewhat of a cult of personality around himself, but with Legere it was always part of his mission to bolster his company’s core brand, rather than getting into Silicon Valley theatrics for their own sake.
An unclear future but clear advice
Last year, Legere announced alongside his former Twitter foe and Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure that T-Mobile was going to take over Sprint, with T-Mobile fully absorbing its rival and accelerating T-Mobile’s trajectory ahead of the shift to 5G networks that will likely launch in the early 2020s. Claure left to join Softbank — which now controls WeWork — but Legere buckled down for a long fight with regulators wary of anticompetitive practices.
He’s won approval from the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission, and is now weeks away from confronting the final barrier, a group of state attorneys general taking him to court. If the deal finally goes through, it will likely be next year, and part of the deal is that Legere is CEO of the new company. He’ll also benefit financially from the merger. All that said, like everything in the WeWork saga, it’s hard to predict what will happen next. But whoever ends up leading the We Company has a lot of work cut out.
When we spoke with Legere, he told us that he could distill his advice for running a large corporation: “Listen to your employees, listen to your customers, shut the f— up, and do what they tell you.”