T-Mobile’s Mike Seifert is CNN’s Chief Business Officer of the Year | CNN Business

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Investors saw a lot of red in 2022. But the company known for its purple logo has been a stock market darling this year.

Shares of T-Mobile (TMUS) are up about 20% in 2022, even as competitors AT&T (T) and Verizon (VZ) have slipped. Ma Bell stock fell about 2% while Verizon (VZ) stock dropped more than 25%.

T-Mobile is now worth about $175 billion, more than Verizon and AT&T, both components of the Dow. T-Mobile’s strong performance on Wall Street was one of the main reasons why CEO Mike Seifert named CNN Business CEO of the Year.

Seifert beat out several other competitors, including Michelle Buck of The Hershey Company (HSY), Occidental Petroleum (OXY) Vicky Hollub and Arvind Krishna of IBM (IBM). He joins 2021 CEO selection Albert Bourla of Pfizer (PFE) and previous winners Marc Benioff of Salesforce (CRM) and CEO of Target (TGT) Brian Cornell and Brian Nichol at Chipotle (CMG).

T-Mobile had an impressive year despite several economic challenges, including inflation. The company continued to gain market share at the expense of its competitors.

It’s also spent more money to blanket the country with increasing 5G coverage, and has forged some noteworthy partnerships, including one with Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to try to win more customers.

CNN Business spoke to Sievert about how T-Mobile continues to do so well in a highly competitive business.

Seifert said the company recognizes that “consumers fear inflation.” That’s why T-Mobile is trying to keep prices low, even as competitors are jacking up many of their plans because inflation hurts their profitability.

T-Mobile continues to cover the cost of Netflix (NFLX) subscriptions for its subscribers following price hikes by the streaming media giant.

“It’s just another example of us making a significant investment in customers, changing the industry in their favor, putting them first, and investing in it,” Seifert said.

The strategy is working. T-Mobile, thanks to its merger with Sprint in 2020, has become the second largest wireless carrier in the United States, ahead of AT&T and trailed only by Verizon.

The company has about 112 million customers and is adding subscribers at a faster clip than each of its major competitors. The 2021 data breach, which saw T-Mobile pay $350 million this year to settle class-action lawsuits, hasn’t affected growth either.

But there are some concerns. Among them, Seifert said, is inflation, especially for its employees. He explained that the company raised workers’ wages to account for the high prices. That has pushed up expenses, but Seifert said T-Mobile is less concerned about inflation than other consumer companies.

“We’re somewhat insulated from inflation,” he said, adding that T-Mobile’s average revenue per customer has increased this year, not because of price increases but due to the fact that one of the company’s most popular plans is a higher-priced service that offers more. of features.

Growing recession fears are also an issue, though Seifert said “we don’t take it for granted that a recession is about to happen. But we are prepared if that is the case.”

Seifert noted that wireless customers will likely be very reluctant to cut back on their phone use, even if the economy is heading south. That could make any downturn next year less of a problem than the Great Recession of 2008-2009 for cell phone companies.

“We’re in a category that people will hold onto. This is very different from 2008 before the smartphone revolution. People will stick to wireless,” he said.

It also helps that wireless technology is much more advanced now than it was 14 years ago. Seifert said T-Mobile has also been able to take advantage of the fact that it has spent a lot on auctions of wireless spectrum to fill out the map of 5G coverage across the country.

“It’s about more devices being able to connect customers with devices that serve all purposes in their lives, including the rapid growth of 5G home broadband,” said Seifert.

“We feel very fortunate to have had such a tremendous multi-year lead in the 5G race in this category,” he noted, adding that T-Mobile was “dead last” in the 4G market not long ago.

But AT&T and Verizon are ramping up their 5G coverage plans, too. And let’s be honest. There is no longer much differentiation between one wireless carrier and another. They all offer pretty much the same new and popular phones from Samsung (SSNLF) and the latest iPhone 14 from Apple (AAPL).

Enter SpaceX. T-Mobile announced a joint venture with rocket launch company Musk this year to use SpaceX’s Starlink satellites to provide wireless services in areas with little or no coverage.

“The idea of ​​being able to connect you wherever you can see the sky is potentially groundbreaking,” Seifert said. “We are now trying to create a service together that will connect your mobile phone directly to satellites,” he said.

Seifert said he and Musk worked together “on several occasions” to get the deal right, adding that he was impressed “how the mission was led” by Musk and the entire SpaceX leadership team.

“You can feel the passion when you’re talking to Elon or anyone senior at SpaceX because they believe so deeply in the importance of what they’re doing for humanity,” he said.

Sievert, who has been with T-Mobile since 2012, took over the CEO role in 2020 from longtime CEO John Legere. Seifert may be less edgy and flamboyant than Legere, who’s known for sneering the competition, not to mention his rock-star-length hair and penchant for leather jackets.

However, Seifert remains confident the company will continue to grow. To that end, he’s not worried about the fact that cable companies are trying to cash in on the wireless boom, too. Comcast (CMCSA) and Charter (CHTR) both have deals with Verizon to provide cellular service over Verizon’s network.

Seifert said he respects the competition from cable.

“These are very successful companies that seem very serious about space,” he said. “But I’d rather be a mobile company that uses advanced 5G technology to challenge the cable space than the other way around.”

But Seifert couldn’t care less about its impact on T-Mobile’s growth.

“Cable has been in the wireless business now for years, and they’re having a certain amount of success,” he said. But, he added, it was more at the lower end of the market.

Instead, T-Mobile wants to keep trying to attract more subscribers who are willing to pay for premium packages. Seifert said T-Mobile can do this by continuing to market itself as a so-called “un-carrier” that is different from all of its competitors. This includes extensive use of its prominent purple logo.

Seifert even joked about the fact that Pantone just named Viva Magenta as its color of the year.

“We are in the direction of 2022 and 2023,” he said. “But that’s been part of our image for a long time. And what we want people to see at one glance is that our company is a little bit different than everyone else’s. This isn’t a tired, stoic old telecom company. This is a tech company that’s very passionate about what we do.”

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