Cover Story
Leadership That Rings True: <nobr>AT&T</nobr> President and Alumna Betsy Bernard Is Guided by Golden Rules



She developed a personal business philosophy that propelled her to one of the top positions in America’s corporate ranks, and at 48 years old, Betsy Bernard, MBA’81 (M), is determined to lead AT&T back to the top of the telecommunications world.

“It’s a good, practical philosophy that seems obvious; the real challenge lies in trying to fulfill it,” Bernard says. Based on the Biblical “Golden Rule,” the philosophy (see “The Seven Golden Rules of Leadership”) “has all the elements of that classification, but the rules are a challenge to our character as people.” She has built her professional career around these simple rules, and it has paid off. Bernard was appointed president of AT&T in November 2002 and with the announcement became the first female president of AT&T.

“It’s a great job with unique challenges, and that’s what makes me excited to go to work every day,” she says.

Moving Up the Line

Bernard is not a stranger to AT&T. While still a junior at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., she began an internship with AT&T Long Lines. “I didn’t know what ‘long lines’ meant,” she laughs. “But it was the long-distance unit of AT&T and after graduation, I spent the next 18 years with AT&T in operations, marketing, strategy and finance positions.”

Bernard’s career path was aided by the fact that she was put into a special management program that gave her “hard-core operational, line jobs with profit-and-loss accountability,” she says.

She left AT&T for five years, during which she worked for Pacific Telesis and then moved on as CEO of Pacific Bell Communications’ long-distance unit. From 1997 to 1998, Bernard was president and CEO of Avirnex Communications Group, an advanced international communications services company. She then joined U S West as executive vice president of retail markets. When U S West merged with Qwest Communications International, Bernard became executive vice president, national mass markets.

Bernard rejoined her old company in 2001, when she led AT&T Consumer in providing millions of residential customers with long-distance, local, local-toll and Internet access. As one of the highest-ranking female executives in telecommunications, the New Jersey resident was named to Fortune magazine’s list of the “50 Most Powerful Women in Business.”

After 18 months at the helm of AT&T Consumer, AT&T Chairman and CEO David Dorman promoted Bernard to president of AT&T, where she leads AT&T Business, a $27-billion organization serving more than 4 million customers. She also is responsible for the company’s network services group, international ventures and AT&T Labs.

Calling on Education

Bernard feels a “critically important” component of her ascent lies in her education. With her undergraduate degree from St. Lawrence University, Bernard began her MBA program at Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. When AT&T transferred her to New Jersey, Bernard chose FDU’s MBA program “because of its ability to fit into my schedule and the convenient location of the campus.”

Additionally, Bernard found the “enriched debate between students and professors” to be particularly satisfying. During the course of her studies, Bernard’s job responsibilities included operating within a contractual situation between managers and occupational union representatives. “My human relations and labor classes helped me a great deal; the professors and students brought real-life experiences into the classroom that allowed theory to translate into reality.” Bernard also went on to receive a master’s degree in management at Stanford University in the Sloan Fellowship Program.

While her responsibilities have made her one of the most powerful women in the business world, Bernard is committed to being a good role model for young women in business and indeed for all her employees. “That’s why I try to keep my values in line and remain clear on what I want both in my career and in life.”

Bernard’s clarity on her goals was fashioned while still young. “I was raised in an environment where women were equal to men.” Her mother was a local television personality in Holyoke, Mass., who later went on to a successful writing career. “Education was always important in my family, and I was raised to believe I could be anything I wanted.”

A ‘Work in Progress’

While advancing through her career, Bernard’s business philosophy began to take shape. “I had the opportunity to observe several very high-level leaders — some good, some not so good. But all of them influenced me.”

Bernard says the Seven Golden Rules of Leadership are “a challenge to adopt on a daily basis, but I feel like I’m a work in progress who never stops learning.” Bernard has delivered her Seven Golden Rules as a speech, most recently at the Ninth Annual Business Women’s Network, Women and Diversity Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C. Extremely well received, the speech is run periodically on C-SPAN and PBS. In addition, her business philosophy has been featured in the book, Eleven Commandments of Wildly Successful Women.

Active in women’s and community issues, Bernard has served as vice president of communications for the International Women’s Forum and as a member of the Women’s Forum West and the Wise Women’s Council. A seasoned traveler “mostly for business,” Bernard says she would love to “travel for fun. You don’t get to see much when traveling for work.” Bernard also enjoys spending time with friends and family, playing tennis, skiing and sitting on the beach.

But she’s hardly sitting back at AT&T. She intends to focus on her “primary responsibilities to the employees, the customers and the shareholders of AT&T and to use my position to be a positive influence.” This includes her awareness of her own position as a groundbreaker for women in corporate America, and Bernard is “sensitive to keep the door open behind me” for the next generation.



The Seven Golden Rules of Leadership

Eminent Trio: Michael King | Eminent Trio: Patrick Zenner

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