Thaddeus Arroyo on the Smart Future

Thaddeus Arroyo looks toward a tech future without limits

Thaddeus Arroyo AT&T
Thaddeus Arroyo, CEO of AT&T Business, AT&T Photo Courtesy of AT&T

Thaddeus Arroyo began his college career when home computers were an exciting possibility and the internet was an abstract, specialized military technology. But as a young man he had the foresight to see that a great transformation was coming—and he knew that the right education could position him for its arrival.

“I majored in mathematics with a secondary focus on computer science,” he says. “I could see the possibilities at that time, even though tech was so far from where we are today.” Arroyo went on to earn an MBA before beginning a technology career now in its third decade.

In 2007, Arroyo was chief information officer at Cingular Wireless when AT&T acquired full control of the company. He was then asked to become the chief information officer for all of AT&T, then served as the president of technology development before he was offered his first CEO role as CEO of AT&T Mexico. Crucially, it was his first position away from tech development and wholly in business leadership.

He knew that his main objectives in the new role would be integrating the acquisitions of the third and fourth-largest wireless providers in Mexico. He had to judge carefully his own interest, capabilities, and comfort level in order to decide to accept it and move forward. But, he says, he likes to work at the edge of his comfort zone and continue to position himself for personal and professional growth.

Within two years, he completed the integration and rebranding of both acquisitions.

Not only was it his first CEO position; he had never worked internationally. The complementary challenges of new strategic responsibilities in a new work culture were daunting yet enticing. He accepted the challenge and became CEO in January 2015.

Those acquisitions and the strategic choices after and around them transformed AT&T Mexico into the nation’s fastest-growing wireless provider today.

The state of wireless connectivity was distinctly unlike the United States; much of the coverage was running at 2G speeds, and there was far less coverage overall. The difficulties were obvious, but he and the rest of AT&T leadership recognized that this was an opportunity to create and recreate the wireless industry across the entire country.

One opportunity for disruption was in the customer service area. While a customer-first approach feels intuitive in a service-contract model in the United States, Arroyo felt that this could be a unique point of differentiation in Mexico. It was an opening for AT&T Mexico to create growth, and it started on the ground with the next generation of their rebranded retail locations.

“We had to come in and say, ‘This is the culture we’re building here, and it starts with a better network in more places and delivered with a better service experience,’” he explains. “We need our associates beginning every response with, ‘I can help you with that.’”

That’s been part of a broader effort to build a welcoming, flexible, forward-thinking culture at AT&T Mexico. The acquired firms, the third and fourth largest in Mexico’s wireless industry, worked under a palpable atmosphere of competing in a market largely served by a single, dominant player. There was a number-three-and-four mind-set in place. “You could sense it,” recalls Arroyo, saying that pervasive, internalized limitations were keeping those firms where they stood. AT&T leadership had to work with diligence and intention to break old habits and produce new ones.

“We kept coming back to this idea of sin limites,” he says. The phrase, which means without limits, became the refrain of that cultural transformation.

Those efforts led directly to a healthier working environment, as well. Arroyo notes also that the management leadership was only 10 percent women overall at the close of the first acquisition. Now, that proportion is almost 30 percent and growing with AT&T’s reputation as a workplace. This year Forbes named the company one of the Best Employers for Women, and Fortune and Great Place to Work named it one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

From AT&T Mexico, he moved to his current role as CEO of AT&T Business in January 2017. Just as before, Arroyo recognized his position as an opportunity to implement ambitious, innovation-driven, and far-reaching change to the ways that people live and work; this time the challenge was global.

“We’re living at a tipping point,” says Arroyo. “The early days of the internet changed how we communicate. Today, wireless services, high-speed fiber, cloud services, and IoT devices are revolutionizing the way business does business.” He says that’s why it’s so exciting to lead AT&T Business; it’s a time when they can help customers take advantage of the expanding digital ecosystem to grow their revenues, transform their operations, and create entirely new experiences for their customers.