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Telecom executive relishes role, embracing new tech

It doesn’t take one long to realize just how much David Scobey Jr. loves new technology. President and CEO of AT&T Southeast, Scobey was recently in Jackson to address the Rotary Club of Jackson at its weekly lunch meeting. In his position, he manages nearly 40,000 workers, more than 3,000 of them here in Mississippi.

Yet, Scobey was not there to tout his management skills. All he wanted to talk about was emerging technology such as AT&T’s efforts to converge the “three screens” — wireless device, computer and television. If it’s new, Scobey wants to not only see it, he wants it in his hands.

“A lot of times, people don’t want to hand me something new until all of the bugs have been worked out of it,” Scobey says with a smile. “I say, ‘Bring it on.’ I love to guinea pig new technology.”

In the family

If Scobey is a techie, he comes by it honestly. His father, David Scobey Sr., was a phone man who spent nearly 40 years in the industry. His mother is a native of Corinth, and Scobey Jr. still has family in North Mississippi. When his son was seven years old, Scobey Sr. brought home a surplus telephone switchboard, which Scobey Jr. promptly made into a toy. With that, his path was set.

Scobey, who was born in Nashville, Tenn., and has lived and worked all over the Southeast, went on to Auburn University, earning a degree in electrical engineering, just like his father.

His first job out of college was in Birmingham, Ala., in 1977 with South Central Bell, the predecessor of BellSouth, which was recently acquired by AT&T. Scobey first worked on phone lines, the first of many positions that afforded Scobey a bottom-up perspective.

After a stint in Denver with Western Electric, Scobey moved back to the South, and went into sales. He would eventually move to BellSouth’s headquarters in Atlanta where he held such positions as president of small business services, president of long-distance services and senior vice president for consumer markets.

Today, Scobey oversees the nine-state area that was formerly BellSouth. He manages more than 30,000 people stretched across the region, with approximately 3,800 of those employees domiciled here in the Magnolia State.

AT&T offers service in 81 of Mississippi’s 82 counties. According to Scobey, this is the highest market saturation of any state AT&T serves.

‘The Office’

Scobey’s favorite television program is NBC’s “The Office,” a comedy about a firm run by a bungling manager who resorts to outlandish stunts to “motivate” his people.

“I find a lot of humor there,” Scobey says with a grin.

That is certainly not Scobey’s managerial style. Instead, he lets his people do their job. Even if they come to him with an idea that he does not believe will be successful, he often gives his blessing any way. He sees that as the only way for people to learn and fulfill their potential. Scobey is known as a demanding boss, but also one who gives subordinates the chance to advance their career.

“I let them skin their knee, but not break their neck,” he says.

Interestingly, he gives the lion’s share of the credit for his management philosophy to his father. While his dad may have passed on his love of gadgetry and engineering, Scobey says he also learned “people skills” — honesty, integrity, respect for others.

Scobey also says his career path has given him a unique perspective. He has done many of the jobs that his rank-and-file workers perform every day. Before speaking to the Rotary Club at the lunch gathering October 29, Scobey was up early and meeting with workers in Jackson, absorbing their input and ideas.

Pulling a piece of paper from his pocket filled with handwritten notes, Scobey says, “I wrote down their ideas and concerns, and I will carry them back to the office and work on them,” he says. “When you get to my position, there is a real danger of becoming disconnected. I do not want that to happen.

“My father taught me to care about people, about being a good employee — putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Business is all about people.”

Returning the topic of new technology, the engineer in him comes out anew. Scobey is excited about three-screen convergence and the role it will play in improving users’ quality of life.

He is also constantly exploring new technology on his own. For instance, he is a private pilot, and says his airplane is chocked full of the latest and greatest gadgetry, and he is always looking to upgrade. Others may fear change, but Scobey embraces it.

“When you quit trying to learn new stuff, you’re dead,” he says with a smile.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

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