Today’s announcement that John Legere will step down as CEO of T-Mobile next year immediately added fuel to rumors that the eccentric executive is intrigued by the challenge of turning around beleaguered co-working giant WeWork. But less than an hour later, Legere squashed those questions, for now at least.
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“I want to be clear; I was never having discussions to run WeWork,” Legere said on a call with analysts and reporters Monday. “And because we had this announcement pending, I couldn’t say that.”
Legere’s contract ends April 30, 2020, and he will step down as CEO after that. Succeeding him will be current President and COO Mike Sievert, a key player in the company’s transformation under Legere.
So what’s next? Legere said he is not retiring, and his status as a future executive free agent is sure to make many company boards salivate. Legere has created a legacy for himself as a driving force behind T-Mobile’s transformation from a wireless also-ran to a major player in the market, shaking up what he called a “stupid, broken, arrogant industry.”
However, until his contract runs out, Legere said he is focused on completing the mega-merger with Sprint and setting up the transition to the next era for the company. Legere said he is already getting interest from other companies that want to turn around their culture.
Here’s what Legere had to say about his future on the call with analysts:
This was kind of an awkward couple of weeks. I want to be clear, I was never having discussions to run WeWork. And because we had this announcement pending, I couldn’t say that. Because it wasn’t complete enough. But it did create an awkward period of time.
I’ve also been clear with my board — and that’s why the announcements are structured as such — I’m not retiring. I’ve got at least 30 to 40 years and five or six good acts left in me. I’m already getting a tremendous amount of input of companies that could use the kind of culture transformation, leadership and things similar to what we’ve demonstrated here.
I can tell you, on my list of things to do: Settle with the AGs and/or win at trial; find the right Christmas present for Mike Sievert; and then help set up the integration and the announcement of the New T-Mobile and the transition to Mike.
Some time, come around May, we’ll look at that. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of speculation and ideas on (Legere’s next job). Unfortunately some of them happened a little prematurely.
Legere noted he has no restrictions on future employment beyond standard industry norms reflected in his non-compete agreement. He also jokingly assured his fans that he won’t turn his back on the company to join one of the two wireless giants he has long referred to as “dumb and dumber.”
“The restrictions are, it can’t be companies I hate, which eliminates AT&T and Verizon from the list,” Legere said.
Since joining T-Mobile in 2012, Legere has helped turn around the company, guiding it to 26 straight quarters with more than one million net customer additions. As CEO, Legere his driven an aggressive campaign in which T-Mobile branded itself the “Un-carrier,” with new pricing strategies, subscriber benefits and promotions that forced rivals to change their own packages and promotions.
T-Mobile’s customer count now tops more than 84.5 million, and the company has become the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier behind Verizon and AT&T.
When Legere came in, T-Mobile was flailing. A distant fourth among U.S. wireless carriers, T-Mobile agreed to be acquired by AT&T for $39 billion in 2009. But the deal fell through in 2011, leaving T-Mobile’s future uncertain.
Legere was appointed CEO of T-Mobile nine months after the AT&T deal fell through. Legere had just led telecommunications company Global Crossing, where he served as CEO for 10 years, through a $3 billion sale to Level 3 Communications in 2011.
Legere spent 20 years at AT&T, leading its Asia operations and serving as head of global strategy and business development. He then had a two-year stint as an executive at Dell before going on to lead Global Crossing.
When he joined T-Mobile, Legere aimed to re-brand the company, and that also required a self-transformation. Aiming to buck the stereotype of “inaccessible suit,” Legere donned a casual magenta-hued wardrobe and made himself available to fans and customers on social media. He agreed to speak at the 2014 GeekWire Summit only after GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop switched from AT&T to T-Mobile, and tweeted Legere with proof that he had made the switch.
Referring to himself as “Batman,” Legere injected his personality into his role, becoming known for guzzling Red Bull, running marathons, dropping f-bombs and attracting fans with his popular Slow Cooker Sunday cooking show.
“I think the question that most investors are focused on in the wake of this is, what’s going to happen to Slow Cooker Sundays?” joked analyst Jonathan Chaplin of New Street Research on the call Monday morning.
“When the time is appropriate, I’m fielding offers from cable TV stations,” Legere replied, as the executives around him broke into laughter, “because frankly I have 10 times more viewers than Gordon Ramsay and the rest of them combined.”
Sievert has traditionally been a little more buttoned-up in his style and rhetoric, but he clearly revels in Legere’s irreverent tone. One test will be whether Sievert can maintain the momentum and culture Legere established while also putting his own stamp on the company.
Legere is sure to receive interest from a variety of companies looking to tap his unique leadership style. He will remain on T-Mobile’s board, and even after his tenure as CEO ends, he doesn’t expect to change his approach much.
“In some way, I am going to be connected with T-Mobile as it relates to the brand, or I’m just going to be a T-Mobile brand fanatic,” Legere said. “You can expect to see more of the same. I’m going to be that crazy guy outside the shareholder meeting, who may happen to own 5 percent of the stock.”