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Reader’s Review

John Baker

End of the Line: The Rise and Fall of AT&T;
By Leslie Cauley
302pp. New York: Free Press, 2005
Hardcover Edition (US) $ 26.00

Leslie Cauley has been a business journalist for twenty years. She spent nine of those years with The Wall Street Journal and most recently has been on the staff of USA Today. As a business reporter, she covered AT&T; for many years and came to know many of the principal players well, even co-authoring Leo Hindery’s memoir entitled The Biggest Game(2002). Drawing on her journalist’s experience and interviews with over one hundred of the persons directly involved in AT&T;’s final years, Ms. Cauley has produced almost an insider’s view of the final years of AT&T;, one of the United States’ most famous and largest corporations.

What emerges in this work is a cautionary and terrible tale of corporate mismanagement leading to the announcement of the end of the company, founded in 1885 and once employing over one million persons. The sale of AT&T; to SBC, one of the “Baby Bells” carved out of the communications giant in the court ordered break-up, was announced on January 31, 2005.

Ms. Cauley is a talented writer who has produced a dramatic tale of corporate management gone awry, competing egos and fatal misjudgments that will intrigue any student of management. Alas, however, the reader must take her word for much of her account. She is not an insider, she is not a witness to many of these events. Rather she is a reporter of information from unnamed sources about events she has little first-hand information. We have no footnotes by the author’s design, no bibliography, and not even a listing of her 100 interview sources. In this reader’s opinion, these decisions significantly damage the book. Essentially, the reader has no way to know of the accuracy or bias of any of this reportage. I found this source anonymity both troubling and unfortunate as I read quoted comments from private meetings that appear in almost transcript detail.

Still, however, if we can not check the accuracy of many of the details, the fundamental story is based upon well-documented events and engagingly told by Ms. Cauley. In her account, AT&T; leadership is tragically inept.

Essentially, we see a leadership faced with intense competition from MCI WorldCom in its core business, long distance telephone services. With long distance service call rates plummeting rapidly, AT&T; leadership abandoned that most fundamental of business adages: “Stick to your knitting.” The result of that decision was the destruction of the company.

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July 2005