The wireless industry is a little less exciting today now that John Legere has stepped down as CEO of T-Mobile a month earlier than expected. Not that his replacement, long time lieutenant Mike Sievert, isn't capable of running the company, but Legere's style is-shall we say-unique. He became CEO of T-Mobile in September 2012 and quickly threw out all of the B-School rules that they teach wannabe executives.
Legere didn't wear a suit and tie to the office preferring to don a magenta T-Mobile t-shirt on most days. His hair was grown out to rock star length, and instead of being genteel with the competition, he often mocked and attacked them. And boy, did he get results. At the time he joined T-Mobile, it was dead last among the four major U.S. carriers. But Legere soon turned the carrier into the most innovative and fastest-growing among the majors. He did this by getting rid of two-year contracts and subsidized phone purchases in 2013. A year later, Music Freedom gave customers free music streaming without taking a hit to their data caps
. And later that year, Data Stash introduced the U.S. to rollover minutes
Legere called Verizon and AT&T "Dumb and Dumber"
That is the thing about John Legere; unlike the CEOs of other wireless firms, he is a fan of the mobile industry. During his tenure, he would talk about wireless pain points and would work on ways to end them. And when he saw a rival try to pull the wool over consumers' eyes, the executive would blast them in his inimitable way. Take AT&T's 5G Evolution for example. Despite featuring a 5GE icon that compatible phones display on their status bar
when connected to the network, 5G Evolution is not 5G. It is an enhanced version of 4G LTE and Legere considered this to be dishonest.
So last April Fool's Day, T-Mobile announced PhoneBooth"E"
which was described as a sound-proof "vertical, rectangular cube" that would be found all major cities and would allow T-Mobile customers to make calls without the ambient noises of the city in the background. Frankly, we didn't know that it was an April Fool's Joke until watching the video. In the clip that accompanied the press release, Legere said that you know the PhoneBoothE is real because T-Mobile tacked an "E" at the end of the name.
Other times, Legere was not as subtle. Every holiday season he would release a video that was usually hilarious and at the same time, insulted Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint
. He referred to Verizon and AT&T as "Dumb and Dumber" and his favorite punching bag was AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. But here is the thing. Any executive can only get away with this type of behavior if he is producing results and Legere was. T-Mobile continues to lead the industry with net additions of postpaid phone customers, the gold standard for quarterly metrics in the business. And as his company continued to grow, so did Legere's personal fan club. Unlike most CEO's, Legere reached out to consumers. His employees loved him too. When he was named the best CEO in the wireless industry in 2019 for the fifth consecutive year, he received a 99% approval rating from company employees.
As an example of some of the excitement that will be gone from the industry with Legere's departure as CEO, we can always look back to the night of April 11th, 2015 when he got tangled up in a Twitter fight with Donald Trump
. Legere was staying at a Trump property in New York City when a drummer playing on the street drew the ire of the T-Mobile executive. He called the front desk and the drummer was shooed away. In a tweet, Legere praised Trump's hotel staff which somehow set off the future president. Trump tweeted that "T-Mobile service is terrible! Why can't you do something to improve it for your customers. I don't want it in my buildings." Trump continued by tweeting "T-Mobile service sucks and it took a Trump to call him (Legere) out." And in a case of the pot calling the kettle black, Trump insulted Legere's long-ish hair style. Legere responded by telling Trump that he was checking out immediately.
So as T-Mobile embarks on a new era, completing the merger with Sprint, it does so without the man who turned the company into a force in the wireless industry. He also showed that you can be wildly successful as an executive without following stuffy B-School rules.