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AT&T Michigan President David Lewis on Secrets of Good Leadership: “Listen and Engage”

As one of the top leaders in the technology and communication industry, AT&T Michigan President David Lewis cites much of his success to learning from others at every step in his career. Lewis participated in a Q&A with the Detroit Regional Chamber to discuss his personal leadership style and how he encourages adaptivity in an ever-evolving industry. Read the full Q&A below.

Hear more from David Lewis at the upcoming Inside the CEO Mind event Sept. 14 at Castle Hall in Detroit.

You previously served as the director of external and corporate affairs for AT&T. What is the biggest lesson you can share with aspiring organizational leaders that influenced your rise in the company?

I’ve spent my entire career studying, listening and engaging with exceptional leaders who have reached a level of success (at the time) I never thought I’d reach. Every time I’d reach a new level of success or growth, I’d always compare myself to someone who was at a much higher level. When I was hired by AT&T, my approach never changed. This approach helped me to develop my ability to understand the bigger picture and figure out ways to carve my own niche while working hard to climb the AT&T corporate ladder.

You are a native of Indianapolis and moved to Michigan for this job. What are you most looking forward to about living in Michigan?

Understanding, embracing and adapting to the Michigan culture. I like to call it my “Michigander Mission.” I understand that every state, county, city, municipality and township is different, so I’m looking forward to meeting the people who make Michigan great!

How has your background in public policy prepared you for this role?

I tell people all the time that I don’t sell mobile devices, install fiber, develop/build small cells or create innovative technology that will pave the way for 5G evolution. My job is to make sure that we can. My team is experienced in telling our story by creating, sustaining, solidifying and enhancing relationships with all levels of governmental, political, business and community stakeholders in the state. Understanding the public policy environment in this state is very important to our overall success.

How are you driving innovation and growth in the increasingly competitive market?

AT&T innovations have helped lead to new technologies, apps and services that improve lives at home, work and play across Michigan and the United States. Today, we continue to build on our 140-year heritage of breakthroughs and innovations, and our outstanding network is at the center of it all. We’re speeding up development, bringing innovative products and services to market, and creating the future. Investments of more than $1.6 billion in Michigan in recent years are improving and expanding our services and leading to new technologies like small cells, FirstNet, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the promise of 5G speeds. It is a very exciting time in our industry and for AT&T customers.

How does AT&T tackle the issues of attracting and retaining top talent? What can others learn from your success and/or challenges in that capacity?

AT&T is not unique among companies looking for highly skilled people for the high tech jobs we offer. We are unique, though, in the existence of our communications network, and we’re using the power of that network. By investing in new tools and solutions that leverage our unique technologies and capabilities, AT&T is personalizing and mobilizing the way all students learn. We’ve teamed up with Udacity to launch the Nanodegree program: online educational pathways to industry-relevant skills. Nanodegree courses are online, project-based, and taught by leaders in tech, with support by coaches. We are also joining with Udacity to provide scholarships to underserved students through multiple leading nonprofit organizations as well as collaborating with other innovative organizations to provide and support opportunities to foster skills that will meet the needs of the future workforce.

If you were to give your 20-year-old self some business advice, what would it be?

Stay HUNGRY and HUMBLE.

What are the most important strategic priorities for AT&T in the coming year? How will you gauge success?

In looking at the year ahead, I see three main priorities for AT&T and our team members in Michigan.

The first is the continued building and utilization of the FirstNet network.

The FirstNet platform represents a giant leap in communications capabilities for public safety organizations in Michigan that will benefit the communities and residents they serve. Communities across Michigan and the United States will experience improved wireless broadband coverage because of these infrastructure investments and our first responders will finally have a single dedicated network to help them communicate in times of emergency.

Second is the continued deployment of small cell technology. The Michigan Legislature is finishing up work on an important bill this fall that will facilitate bringing this new technology to communities in Michigan. Small cells help bolster network capacity, and better meet surging consumer and business demand for more data and faster connectivity, while preparing our network for the next generation of technologies and services — like 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), and smart cities. Bringing this technology to Michigan cities will be very important.

Third is my desire to build on the connection of our company and our employees to our communities. A unique thing to our industry about AT&T is that we have people, thousands of people, living and working here in Michigan. Your communities are our communities. I want to engage our employees in a way that connects directly with the needs of the communities we call home.

Hear more from David Lewis at the Inside the CEO Mind event Sept. 14 at Castle Hall in Detroit.