Instead of asking his audience to silence their cell phones before his presentation, Rick Lindner, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of AT&T, told students at Mays Business School the opposite.

Rick Lindner, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of AT&T, shared insight on the telecommunications industry and advice from his own successful career with two groups of Mays students.
Rick Lindner, senior executive vice president and chief financial officer of AT&T, shared insight on the telecommunications industry and advice from his own successful career with two groups of Mays students.

“For the record, it never bothers me to hear ring tones when I’m speaking,” he joked. “It’s music to my ears. It sounds like a cash register.” While visiting Mays at Texas A&M University, Lindner presented to two student groups, giving insight to the telecommunications industry and advice from his own successful career.

Students were inquisitive about many aspects of Lindner’s business, from AT&T innovations to the impact of the financial crisis on that company. One of the first questions asked had to do with many students’ favorite gadget: How did AT&T land the iPhone deal?

Lindner was enthusiastic as he talked about the impact that becoming the exclusive service provider for that product has had on AT&T’s wireless business. The partnership came down to a relationship that developed with Apple’s Steve Jobs and Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility, as Apple was shopping for a provider/partner for its latest technology. “It’s been great for us,” he said, mentioning that in the last six months since the iPhone 3G was introduced, four million AT&T customers have adopted the new device.

In this challenging economy, that growth is meaningful, though Lindner does admit that due to the recession, many customers that have both a cell phone and a landline are cancelling one of the services—most often the landline. He predicts that in the next year AT&T’s revenues will hold steady, but not show much growth. “So, is the dividend safe in 2009?” a student asked.

“Absolutely,” says Lindner, acknowledging that though no business is recession proof, the telecom industry is highly resilient, as people will always need to talk to each other.


When it comes to questions of ethics, Lindner told students to remember, “How you react in that moment will define you as a person and it will define your career.”

What’s next for AT&T? What products and services are going to rock the marketplace in the next few years? While Lindner couldn’t be too specific about new tech to be unveiled, he told students to prepare for everything to become wireless, citing GPS devices, e-readers, and AT&T’s U-Verse products as examples of how this is already happening. Expect to see smaller, more powerful devices, and higher-powered networks, too.

While addressing MBA students, Lindner spoke less about the specifics of AT&T’s business, instead giving advice to the future business leaders about being responsible managers, with lessons gleaned from the current financial crisis. “There are three things we can take away from these events,” he told them. First, use your education to build strong business basics that emphasize accurate reporting and rigorous internal controls. Understand financial theory and focus on building long-term value rather than short-term gain in your organization. Second, expect that there will come a time in your career when you’ll be at a moral crossroads. “How you react in that moment will define you as a person and it will define your career,” he said. Third, as leaders in a company, you are responsible for setting the tone for ethical behavior within it.

In his current position, Lindner is responsible for directing financial planning, accounting, tax, auditing, investment management, financing and investor and shareowner relations for AT&T. His prior experience includes leadership positions with Cingular Wireless, Southwestern Bell Telecom, Turco Development Company, and Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co.