It’s hard to overstate the impact that the iPhone has had on our lives. Introduced in mid-2007, Apple’s first smartphone (hailed as the Invention of the Year by “Time Magazine”) has put apps and the internet in our pockets and shaped the modern world and changed our lives forever.
Glenn Lurie, the former president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Operations, helped usher in the modern smartphone era by spearheading AT&T’s negotiations with Apple to release the iPhone.
Here, the telecommunications industry leader shares his story and discusses the early influence of the revolutionary device.
How Glenn Lurie Met Steve Jobs
When asked today whether he recognized the iPhone’s potential in the mid-2000s, Lurie admits that he didn’t. The former AT&T boss acknowledges that the company was very aware of Apple’s success — and the reputation of CEO Steve Jobs — due to the iPod’s disruption of the music industry.
Lurie describes how, initially, Jobs approached Ralph de la Vega, chief operating officer of the U.S. mobile phone company Cingular Wireless (which AT&T Wireless bought in 2004). Cingular had previously worked on a deal to release the Motorola ROKR music phone. The ROKR incorporated media player features and was the first phone that was compatible with Apple’s iTunes.
Jobs called de la Vega at the beginning of 2005: Lurie notes that the Apple CEO wanted to set up a meeting with de la Vega to discuss working together.
Assuming that Jobs wanted Apple to branch into wireless services, de la Vega invited Lurie to come along with him and then the CEO of Cingular Stan Sigman, despite Lurie being relatively new at Cingular. Lurie had been running AT&T Wireless’ largest region (covering the entire West Coast) before the Cingular acquisition, and Sigman and de la Vega offered him a position overseeing the company’s national distribution team in Atlanta.
Lurie recalls the first meeting between Apple and AT&T in New York City. Sigman de la Vega and Lurie met with Jobs and Eddy Cue (Apple’s current senior vice president of Services).
During the meeting, which lasted three hours, Jobs explained his views on the wireless business, but Lurie notes that the AT&T team still “didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do.”
On the way home from the meeting, Sigman assigned Lurie to work “on point” with Apple. So began a year and a half of negotiations for Lurie and his team as Cingular sought to gain exclusivity of the new iPhone.
How Cingular Secured exclusivity for the first iPhone
During the negotiations, Lurie’s team included his lawyer Mike White, his key negotiator Dave Haight, and his “smart guy” Dana Tardelli — all three, Lurie notes, have gone on to enjoy very successful careers.
The team of four spent time establishing a “trusted relationship” with Eddy Cue and the team at Apple that, according to Lurie, was no easy feat. He explains that Jobs’ and Apple’s significant success in many businesses and the fact that cellular carriers back in those days drove the device manufacturers and not the other way around made this difficult negotiation for everyone involved. De la Vega taught the Cingular team that the key to the approach to negotiating meant leaving “your ego outside of the door” before entering the Apple co-founder’s conference room.
Lurie explains that if AT&T hadn’t reached a deal with Apple, the company would have ended up competing with the tech giant instead. However, his “biggest fear” was the deal becoming “ultra-successful,” not that it might fail: If the Apple deal had fallen through, AT&T still had partnerships with other mobile phone manufacturers.
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Despite much “arguing and disagreement,” Lurie and his team managed to develop a strong relationship with Jobs, Cue, and the Apple team. AT&T was officially Apple’s exclusive launch partner for the first iPhone, and the smartphone was released in mid-2007.
Lurie describes the device as a “rocking success,” though adjustments needed to be made by both companies in the early days. Eventually, the iPhone “changed the entire world forever,” as the launch of Apple’s app store in mid-2008, opening vast possibilities, creating numerous new businesses never thought possible, and laying the groundwork for businesses like Uber, Netflix, Airbnb, and more.
Looking back, Lurie is “incredibly proud” of what his team achieved with Apple. He credits Sigman with making the final decision to do the deal de la Vega and Pete Ritcher, Cingular’s CFO, for supporting Lurie and the team to get this done and a “whole host of people” for their efforts in the negotiations.
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Lurie and team went on to lead AT&T’s deal with Apple on the original iPad, working with Jobs and Tim Cook (Apple’s current CEO). Lurie kept a close partnership with Apple for 10 years until he retired from AT&T in 2018.
About Glenn Lurie
Previously, Lurie was the president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Operations, the leading wireless and consumer business in the United States. He grew the company by managing sales and distribution, operations, customer care, and home entertainment and video services. Lurie and his team also integrated AT&T’s Direct TV and the firm’s digital businesses.
Alongside leading AT&T’s negotiations with Apple over the first iPhone and iPad, Lurie helped AT&T build three groundbreaking businesses:
- IoT, which brought wireless connectivity to cars, tablets, and consumer electronics.
- Digital Life, AT&T’s home automation and security business.
- AIO Wireless, now Cricket Wireless, is AT&T’s industry-leading prepaid flanker brand.
In 2014, Russell Reynolds Associates named Lurie one of 10 “MobileGameChangers” for his innovative, mobile-first approach to developing services that enhance people’s lives.
Lurie has also received Wireless Week’s Telecom Leadership Award 2010 and the Atlanta Telecom Professional of the Year Award 2009. Plus, he has been featured in the Global Telecom Business “Power 100” several times.
Lurie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Business/Marketing from Seattle Pacific University. A keen soccer player, he is a member of the board of the Atlanta Concorde Fire Soccer Club. He is also a member of the executive advisory board of Curing Kids Cancer.