5 Ways Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere Became the Ultimate Disruptor in the Telecom Industry

By Joe Dyer
Director of Experience Strategy & Insight
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In almost every industry where large companies have ruled for a long time, there eventually comes a disruptor that changes the path of how all others operate.

In personal computing, that company was Apple.

In online shopping, that company was Amazon.

In video streaming, that company was Netflix.

In air travel and entertainment, that company was Virgin.

In autos, that company was Tesla.

In cellular carriers, that company was T-Mobile.

Each of these companies took different paths to become disruptive. Despite being in vastly different industries and emerging at different times, all of these companies had one thing in common: A powerful leader with a vision.

Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and John Legere are among the most legendary disrupters of the last 50 years.

But there’s a key difference between Legere and the rest of that group: Legere was not with his company from the beginning. Legere took over as CEO of T-Mobile US in September 2012 and resurrected the company that had become, to some, an after-thought in the mobile phone industry.

The month before Legere assumed the role of CEO, T-Mobile’s stock price was $9.73 per share. The day he stepped down on April 24 of this year, it reached $90.80. That’s an 833% increase.

Legere will forever be known as the man that re-branded T-Mobile into the “Un-carrier,” as they called it, completely changing the landscape of how cell companies operate. The ways that cell phone plans are constructed today are because of Legere’s innovations.

Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere

Legere handed the reins over to Mike Sievert on April 24, a full month before the original transition plan, to pursue other options, but his legend will live on at T-Mobile — and beyond — forever.

Here are five things Legere did before and during his time at T-Mobile that led the company to become such a disruptor.

1. HE LEARNED FROM COMPETITORS WHAT NOT TO DO

Legere sharpened his skills at other telecom and tech companies before making his way to T-Mobile. He worked at AT&T for almost 20 years, rising to president of AT&T Solutions in the late 1990s. He spent time there working directly under Daniel Hesse, the one-time CEO of Sprint.

He then moved to Dell, serving as a senior vice president for two years. Right before he joined T-Mobile, he was CEO of Global Crossing, leading that company through not only a bankruptcy but an eventual acquisition by Level 3 Communications.

At all of these companies, Legere observed what he thought were good and bad practices, and what he knew needed changing once he arrived at T-Mobile.

2. HE ELIMINATED CONTRACTS

One of the first things Legere did as CEO of T-Mobile was to eliminate contracts. This was back in 2013 when contracts were standard operating procedure for all wireless carriers.

But Legere saw an opportunity. T-Mobile simplified everything in its dealings with customers, offering much more straight-forward and lower monthly pricing.

The genius behind this move was two-fold. First, he helped T-Mobile stay away from the bad stigma associated with other low-cost, pre-paid phone carriers, as the company still touted being a competitor to the “big boys.” Second, it opened up a world of possibilities for future disruption, including …

3. HE MADE IT EASY FOR PEOPLE TO UPGRADE

While consumers obviously desire reliable cell phone service from their carriers at a good price, the exciting parts about the industry are the smartphones themselves … and Legere knew this.

Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung were battling to create the best and brightest phones on a regular basis, and customers wanted the ability to upgrade when the newest models were released. The problem, of course, was they were locked into long service contracts, and they had already paid for the phone they have upfront.

T-Mobile eliminated the subsidy for new phone purchases and instead wrapped the payments into a customer’s monthly bill.

Again, this did two things. First, it allowed customers to upgrade their phones much earlier than before, since they weren’t tied to a contract. Second, it allowed customers who didn’t want to upgrade as often to significantly reduce their monthly bill once the phone was paid off.

Today, this is the norm among all cell carriers.

4. HE EXPANDED COVERAGE WORLDWIDE

Cell phone carriers in the early to mid-2010s were somewhat of a conundrum. On one hand, they made it easy for customers to connect to others around the globe. On the other hand, they made it rather difficult for these customers to actually connect while they were abroad — or at least it seemed very expensive to do so.

Under Legere, T-Mobile decided that didn’t make a lot of sense. The company started Simple Global, a program that made international text messages free and also gave customers the ability to connect to low-speed data while they were abroad, allowing them to at the very least check their email.

Eventually, this led to other carriers following suit and expanding international roaming plans. More directly, though, it led to almost every carrier offering free roaming to both Canada and Mexico.

5. HE BECAME THE VERY PUBLIC FACE OF A TELECOM COMPANY

Quick: Name one other executive of a major telecom company.

Most people would be hard-pressed to do so. Telecom executives are usually the soft-spoken, behind-the-scenes type. They don’t often have huge personalities and flair that they like to show off to the world.

That, of course, is not John Legere.

Legere was not afraid to speak his mind, using language and talking about topics that many other telecom execs would cringe at. In the process, though, he had some great ideas that connected him to customers around the world.

He continues to have a huge presence on social media, including Instagram (where he’s constantly posting Stories), Twitter (where he has 6.4 million followers), and Facebook (where he hosted his “Slow Cooker Sunday” cooking show for two years on Facebook Live).

Legere didn’t just make noise in the public, though; he made noise that current and potential T-Mobile customers wanted to hear.

The challenge for T-Mobile now, in its post-John Legere world, is to continue innovating with the same fervor and passion that its former CEO did.

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