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T-Mobile wants to stir up ‘5G FOMO’ among mobile phone users

February 5, 2021, 2:53 PM UTC

As the tech world digests Amazon’s CEO transition, it’s worth toting up all the big leadership changes we will need to follow this year.

Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon is taking over for Steve Mollenkopf, who vanquished a thousand foes and put the mobile chipmaker on a solid footing for at least a few years. Intel brought back the prodigal son, 30-year veteran Pat Gelsinger, to take over from former CFO Bob Swan, who was unable to revive the struggling PC chipmaker. And back at Amazon, as we discussed on Wednesday, Andy Jassy will take over for Jeff Bezos with the company at the height of its success but facing antitrust and labor issues.

For the current issue of Fortune, I dug into one of the biggest CEO transitions of 2020. Last April at T-Mobile, Mike Sievert took over for a legend, John Legere, who started out in last place and ended up gaining the most customers and having the best performing stock in telecom over his eight year run. Legere’s strategy combined savvy dealmaking (buying MetroPCS and Sprint), disruptive product offerings (no more two-year contracts), and memorable marketing campaigns (“the Uncarrier” and “Netflix on us”). Oh, and don’t forget the endless Twitter boasts, wars, and rants.

Sievert was alongside Legere for the whole run. The two first met in a tiny windowless conference room in Seattle in 2012 after Sievert, a boy wonder in the marketing biz, had already been interviewed by the prior two T-Mobile CEOs. Legere and Sievert hit it off from the get-go. “We sat there together and plotted an awful lot of the things that ultimately became the uncarrier,” Sievert told me when I spoke with him last month. “It was about the two of us being able to imagine the art of the possible for this company, where could it go and what would be required to get there.”

Despite Legere’s incredible run, he left plenty on the to-do list for Sievert, who was the best paperboy in Canton, Ohio, the brand manager for Pepto Bismol, and the lead marketer for E*Trade, AT&T Wireless, and Microsoft Windows before joining T-Mobile.

Now the wireless industry is just at the start of the 5G era. The networks aren’t finished, the apps aren’t there, and consumers seem confused about what 5G even means. Acquiring Sprint gave T-Mobile better airwave spectrum for offering 5G than rivals AT&T and Verizon have, but that head start won’t matter if Sievert and his team don’t build out their network and convince people to sign up. “We’re going to create some real FOMO among people carrying around AT&T and Verizon phones,” Sievert tells me.

There’s also the matter of the uncompetitive home Internet market. More than 80 million people have only one choice for broadband at home. T-Mobile (and Verizon) say they want to crack that market using 5G instead of the usual wires and fiber optic cables. “These monopolist that run these companies, they’ve never faced competition,” Sievert says, channeling his old boss. “There’s a chance to solve problems in that industry in a very uncarrier way.”

T-Mobile reported its 2020 results on Thursday and it was even better than analysts expected. Revenue for the year exceeded $68 billion, up 52%, and the carrier added 5.6 million customers.

To keep the party rolling, Sievert is going to need to plot a few moves on his own this time. He’s off to a good start.

Aaron Pressman
@ampressman
aaron.pressman@fortune.com

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You may have heard of the SolarWinds hack. Brainstorm podcast hosts Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe explain how the attack was carried out, who was involved, and what the fallout may be. They are assisted by Fortune writer David Z. Morris and Dmitri Alperovitch, Chair of the Silverado Policy Accelerator and founder and previous CTO of CrowdStrike, a large cybersecurity company. Listen now.

NEWSWORTHY

Using all their letters. The new union at Google parent Alphabet isn't sitting on its hands. The Alphabet Workers Union filed a complaint on Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that contract workers at a South Carolina data center were not allowed to discuss pay and one technician was suspended after posting in favor of the union on Facebook. In other Google news, the search giant is considering following Apple's anti-tracking efforts in mobile apps on Android, though perhaps less stringently.

That's why it's WORTH so much. What's coming next from Apple? A kind of ugly, $3,000 virtual reality headset with dual 8K eye displays, says The Information. That is kind of hard to believe, but then again the original iPod seemed high-priced compared to the competition. Microsoft is sticking to its knitting. The office software giant announced a new giant office software app called Viva. It's about creating a better virtual workplace, they say, but we'll need to dig in more next week to see what it's all about.

Explosive charges. Not all short sellers are giving up in the face of Reddit's WallStreetBets efforts to defeat them. Hindenburg Research on Thursday issued an attack on Clover Health, a health-tech startup backed by VC Chamath Palihapitiya. Clover went public in a SPAC merger last month but failed to disclose it was under investigation for possible kickbacks and false marketing, Hidenburg alleged. Clover, whose shares dropped 12% after the report came out, said it would address the charges on Friday. Speaking of SPAC mergers, DNA-testing company 23andMe is going public by combining with Richard Branson's VG Acquisition Corp. in a deal that will value the startup at $3.5 billion.

Pedaling as fast as I can. On Wall Street, Peloton Interactive had a blockbuster fourth quarter but supply problems led to disappointment. Revenue more than doubled to $1.06 billion. But its share price, up a heady 371% over the past year, lost 7% in premarket trading on Friday as investors fretted about the supply problems cutting into future growth and profits. If you're interested in a deeper dive into the connected fitness company's prospects, Robert has one from the current issue of Fortune. And, yes, he actually spotted the long-rumored Peloton rowing machine!

Take arms against a sea of troubles. Elsewhere in earnings land, Snap's revenue rose 62% to $911 million as its daily active users increased 22% to 265 million. But that wasn't quite good enough and the stock, up 207% over the past year, dropped 7% in premarket trading on Friday. Newly public Unity Software said its revenue rose 39% to $220 million. Again, not good enough. Its shares, which had tripled since it went public in September, lost 13% in premarket trading. Pinterest was a sole happy standout. With sales up 76% to $706 million, its shares, previously up 247%, gained another 10% in premarket trading.

No shoes, no shirt, no service. If anyone was hoping the results of the presidential election would spare Chinese tech giant Huawei, better think again. Commerce Secretary nominee Gina Raymond says there's no reason not to keep Huawei and other Chinese companies on the U.S. blacklist initiated by the Trump administration.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

The pandemic and remote work has left many people feeling isolated and unhappy. Writer Rebecca Knight researched ideas for attacking that sense of ennui at the workplace in an article for the Harvard Business Review. She spoke with Karen Dillon, coauthor of the book How Will You Measure Your Life?

First things first: You need to address the root reasons for your feelings of meaningless. It’s likely one of the culprits is stress. In a typical day, you endure hundreds of what Dillon refers to as “micro-stresses” — minor aggravations, such as a colleague hastily disagreeing with you in a meeting, or a peer falling behind on a deadline — that affect your productivity and feelings about your job. “You are usually able to absorb these little cuts, but they are exponentially amplified [and more painful] in a pandemic,” when your usual outlets for stress — seeing friends or doing a tough gym workout — are absent. “It explains why we feel so stressed” and that our work has no meaning.

FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING PLEASURE

A few great long reads I came across this week:

A Vast Web of Vengeance (New York Times)
Outrageous lies destroyed Guy Babcock’s online reputation. When he went hunting for their source, what he discovered was worse than he could have imagined.

Rise and fall of the house of Bitcoin (Rest of World)
A Buenos Aires hacker haven produced some of Argentina’s most valuable crypto companies. Then it suddenly disappeared.

The Shocking Meltdown of Ample Hills — Brooklyn’s Hottest Ice Cream Company (Marker)
They had $19 million, a deal with Disney, and dreams of becoming the next Ben & Jerry’s. Then everything fell apart.

Has the Pandemic Transformed the Office Forever? (The New Yorker)
Companies are figuring out how to balance what appears to be a lasting shift toward remote work with the value of the physical workplace.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Robinhood CEO isn’t licensed with Wall Street regulator FINRA By Chris Morris

Nvidia says its $40 billion Arm takeover is ‘proceeding as planned’ despite antitrust regulator pile-on By David Meyer

PayPal CEO touts ‘superapp’ as company posts record quarter. Shares rise 6% By Jeff John Roberts

Work-from-home isn’t going away: Only 4% of CEOs plan to add office space By Lance Lambert

How Nordstrom’s strategy is changing now that 50% of its sales come online By Phil Wahba

Chinese short-video app Kuaishou jumps nearly 200% in its Hong Kong debut By Naomi Xu Elegant

Biden wants government to ‘buy American.’ Using Amazon could make that hard to do By Jason Boyce

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

BEFORE YOU GO

We are less than two weeks away from the planned landing on Mars of NASA's Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. Looking to make history with the first drone flight on ANOTHER PLANET, the helicopter carries a gazillion cameras and its own heaters to stay warm. Finally, something to look forward to! Have a great weekend.