Jeff Storey, president and CEO of WilTel Communications, delivered his keynote address at the CompTel/ASCENT convention with the dry humor characteristic of WilTels signature marketing campaign featuring editorial cartoons by Fred Hilliard. Indeed, the kickoff slide was just such a cartoon depicting screaming telecom executives on a roller coaster ride. The caption: Telecom. The thrill ride of American business.
Instead of ignoring the elephant in the room WilTels biggest customer SBC Communications Inc.s acquisition of WilTel rival AT&T Corp. Storey addressed it headlong by saying he was the only one in the room that could not talk about it. He claimed the situation only impacted his presentation with the addition of a single slide: another cartoon depicting two executives facing each other and merging at their heads. The sight looming in the background is morbidly fascinating to two gawkers in the foreground. One says to the other: Try not to look, Ed. Theyre merging.
The giants are getting bigger, Storey says, noting other industry dynamics conspiring to create chaos include a service-delivery structure in flux, continuing technological changes, erratic regulatory policy and irrational pricing behavior.
The good news, he says, is the economy is doing well and telecom will continue to grow. He cited Yankee Group projections for a $420 billion market by 2010 an increase of $40 billion over 2004.
To capitalize on the opportunity, Storey said, competitors must be smart and drive change. This means developing applications, solving customer problems, driving regulatory clarity as opposed to exploiting loopholes and eliminating inefficiencies.
On this last point, he noted that consolidation is just one way of becoming more efficient, and urged competitors to partner and outsource for scale.
The bottom line is we need to grow free cash flow, he says. Lets not forget the lessons of the last five years. We learned a lot about fiscal discipline. Storeys comments were teed up aptly by opening remarks from outgoing CompTel/ASCENT CEO Russell Frisby, who said the real measure of the competitive industrys successes lies in its continued service to consumers and businesses. Were still here. That is the victory.
We are survivors, added CompTel/ASCENT Chairman Sherm Henderson, president and CEO of Lightyear Network Solutions, noting that more than half of the companies at the trade show were not in the telecom business in the same manner as they are today.