JACKSON — Throughout John McCullouch’s career there have been turns that have taken him down different paths, and he never hesitated to take those turns with enthusiasm. That’s how the 59-year-old looks at his retirement as BellSouth’s president of operations, effective February 28.
“I’m looking forward to this new part of life,” he said. “It was neat to move from the legal side of the house to the presidency and make a change without starting all over at BellSouth. It was refreshing and energizing and this will be, too.”
In addition to his responsibilities for state operations, external affairs, regulatory affairs and public policy at BellSouth, the Louisville native has devoted many hours to community and state endeavors. He chairs a committee for Momentum Mississippi and serves on the boards for the Mississippi Economic Council, Mississippi World Trade Center, the Mississippi Partnership for Economic Development, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mississippi Technology Alliance and Trustmark National Bank. In 2005, he was inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame.
Numerous non-profit organizations have benefited from his leadership and involvement, including the 350-member Downtown Jackson Rotary Club, which he will soon serve as president.
Heath Hall, vice president for external affairs and marketing of the Mississippi Technology Alliance, has worked with McCullouch through many non-profit organizations.
“John is a man of integrity; a caring person who takes his professional and community roles very seriously,” Hall said. “When he tells you he will do something, he does it, and goes above and beyond the call of duty. He’s an outstanding role model for young business people and entrepreneurs.”
McCullouch plans to continue this community involvement and says he’s looking forward to serving as president of Mississippi’s oldest and largest Rotary Club.
He is a graduate of Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi School of Law where he was elected student body president and received the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award. Prior to law school, he served in the U.S. Army and afterwards worked in sales.
He had the determination to enter law school as a 28-year-old husband and father of two children. “That was making a change and taking a leap of faith,” he says.
After law school graduation, he went to work in the legal department of the telephone company where he later served as general counsel before being named president in 2000.
McCullouch and his wife, Shelia, have three children and three grandchildren and reside in Ridgeland.
As he prepares to retire from the telecommunications industry, he took time to answer some questions for Mississippi Business Journal readers.
Mississippi Business Journal: What do you consider the highlight of your career at BellSouth?
John McCullouch: Being inducted into the Mississippi Business Hall of Fame was definitely a highlight because I considered it a tribute to the many people who mentored and encouraged me over the years. My high school English teacher, Dorothy Dwight Kerr; my basketball coach, Gary Hughes; my law professors, Robert Khayat and Guff Abbott; my parents, Murry and Elizabeth McCullouch — all provided positive influences and helped shape my character and career. I wouldn’t have made it without these mentors.
My retirement happens to coincide with the completion of the restoration of BellSouth’s 209 East Capitol building in downtown Jackson. Restoring the building to its original façade is the culmination of a great deal of effort and cooperation between several entities, both within and outside the company.
It all started with a conversation with and a lot of help from an employee, Patsy Tolleson (now retired), after Hurricane Katrina damaged the exterior. This project has taken more than a year to complete, but based on the positive feedback the company has received from so many people, it’s definitely worth it. I’ve enjoyed working downtown for the last 20 years and it’s rewarding to have played a role in the area’s growth and development.
MBJ: Please discuss the major changes you observed during your career at BellSouth.
JM: The development of new technology means the company has to respond quickly with new products and services, so the business changes constantly. I witnessed the company’s transition from a traditional phone company to a total communications company offering voice and data services.
In the last 10 years, BellSouth introduced Internet service, entered the long-distance market, developed a high-speed Internet service, added wireless to our array of products, and partnered with satellite TV. Those are just the highlights. As technology evolves so does our business.
MBJ: How would you describe your management style?
JM: I believe it’s important to surround yourself with the most qualified people you can find and be willing to listen to their views. Don’t expect them to just be yes men and say what they think you want to hear, but take their candid feedback and factor it into your decisions.
Employees should think outside the box. They should be proactive instead of reactive, and they should be rewarded for their efforts. In the communications business, if you’re not innovative, then you’re out of business.
MBJ: What has been the most rewarding part of your career at BellSouth?
JM: I really enjoyed my work in the legal department. It was extremely rewarding, but so was the management side of the business. If you’re asking me to single out one part, then I would have to say it was seeing how BellSouth and our employees responded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The company moved quickly to make sure displaced employees had food, shelter and financial assistance, and our employees put their personal losses aside and went right back to work. To see the devastation and loss first hand and then witness the outpouring of support and the way our employees reacted was a very humbling experience.
MBJ: What are your feelings about BellSouth’s acquisition by AT&T?
JM: I’m extremely excited about the merger and the company’s future. The new AT&T will continue to develop and offer technologically advanced services that meet customer demand. The company is also committed to carrying on our long standing tradition of corporate citizenship, charitable contributions and community activities. This merger is good for our customers, employees and company.
MBJ: How will customers be affected?
JM: The acquisition is transparent for customers, but they will see an exciting array of new services and products. It will be a wonderful company for customers and a great thing for the state.
It will be a larger company and now with the single ownership of Cingular, that part of it will be better. The company will speed the convergence of innovations.
MBJ: Will you practice law now?
JM: I haven’t decided yet although I’ve had some calls about it. I’ll wait till the dust settles and take some time to decide.
MBJ: Any other plans at this time?
JM: I will have a two-year term as national chairman of the board of the TelecomPioneers, a volunteer organization that includes 620,000 current and retired telecommunications employees, and I am excited about it.
I plan to stay active in business and community affairs while enjoying more time with my family. I think the Lord has a plan and purpose for us all. I firmly believe that His hand is in everything. We need to learn by our mistakes, personal and business. I’ve made my share and hopefully I’ve learned from those.
MBJ: Why is community involvement important to you?
JM: Giving back to the community is something I certainly believe in, but you also have to walk the walk and not just be involved in things to make your résumé look good. I hope I have walked the walk.
I’ve been fortunate to work for a company that promotes community service as part of its corporate philosophy. It’s important to know that a company can make a difference and even one person can make a difference — whether it’s mentoring students through programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, helping at Stewpot, building a Habitat House or raising money for charitable organizations.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.