I’ve asked this question – “Who has influenced you most in your career and why?” – of dozens of executives in the IT and telecommunications space in the past few weeks, as presenters, panelists and exhibitors gear up for the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo, now less than two weeks away.
In talking to Andy Abramson - chief executive officer of Del Mar, California-based Comunicano, Inc. – I heard the first answer to that question that involved a three-time National Hockey League MVP, in this case a Philadelphia Flyers center, Bobby Clarke (pictured below), who led his team to two Stanley Cup championships.
It seems that Andy, no doubt a lifelong Flyers fan (and if he’s a Philadelphia Phillies fan, too, then more power to him), got his start in public relations at age 14, with the sports organization he loved most. Now he’s head of his own marketing and communications firm, and as I learned during our interview (printed below), he’s someone who is passionate about VoIP, and whose company has acquired 15 clients in the past five years alone.
Andy is the kind of success story we like to showcase in panel discussions at the ITEXPO – an event he calls the first show of the year “that matters to our industry.” Andy will moderate a talk at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 3 called “Service Provider Roundtable.” There, leading service providers, including officials from 8x8 Inc., will talk about exploring next generation solutions, including the latest developments.
You may be surprised by what Andy has to say about the future of WiMAX (News - Alert), especially given some less-than-outstanding news on the technology lately.
Our exchange follows.
Rich Tehrani: Who has influenced you most in your career and why?
I grew up working in professional sports from the time I was 14. Bobby Clarke, the Philadelphia Flyers captain, whom I grew up watching lead the Flyers to Stanley Cup championships, then worked with as he was a still leading the Flyers, and had the good fortune to produce his retirement night – that has to be one.
Clarkie taught me the importance of working hard, playing fair and having fun. He was a great leader and always set the example the rest of the team followed. His general manager, Keith Allen, who was my office roommate for two years, taught me the importance of team, not employees, and the concept of taking on a veteran with a few more good years in them to help bring the rookies and younger players along.
Last would have to be my very first mentor, Sy Roseman, who gave me the opportunity at age 14 to be a public relations person. Not many people got to experience what I did, through a teenager’s eyes and then go on to apply what they learned the rest of their life.
Another mentor was Aaron Siegel, who was president of the Spectrum (News - Alert) and my boss for many years, along with Ken Gesner, a figure in the amateur hockey world who was like a second father to me, a mentor, a coach and confidant. Siegel and Gesner pretty much gave me the kind of molding and “malleting” executives in training would give their eyes for. Both were successful, had children of their own, yet played the role of both manager and surrogate father, the way someone being raised in a family business only dreams of.
Those five all set me on a journey that has yet to end.
RT: What excites you most about our industry?
AA: The fact that we are in an era of change, and I can be a part of it, helping to affect it, and bringing great ideas to the forefront of the industry.
RT: What areas do you wish you could devote more energy, attention and resources?
AA: I really wish I could spend more time writing about my passions. Wine. Working anywhere, food and travel. I’ve been so passionate about VoIP the last few years I feel that the other areas deserve the same kind of attention.
RT: What pain does your company take away for customers?
AA: We take the pain away of having to be experts in media, blogger and analyst relations. We weave into the mix a healthy dose of conference and award relations, and bring in senior level thinking to early stage companies when they need it the most at the start.
RT: How did your company get to where it is and where is it headed?
AA: Hard work, insight and great timing. I saw the seams of the ball of VoIP rising five years ago. I built a practice one client at a time and have grown to be a full service agency, with a very successful record of 15 client companies acquired in the last five years and more likely in 2009.
RT: What does your dream mobile device look like?
AA: I don’t think I have a “dream” device, but if I could, it would be a sub-dermal device, that was voice activated and read e-mails to me, took dictation and was a “smart” phone with relevance based technology that know what calls to put through, which numbers to dial and what outgoing voice mail message to play.
RT: If you were forced to head Nokia (News - Alert), Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, GM, Cisco, Nortel or the United States, which would you pick and why?
AA: I’d like it to be Yahoo. They have no where to go but up, and have some amazing infrastructure and great people still there. They have a killer VoIP and mobile base to work from, and really, only lacked operational leadership.
RT: Poof – you become President Obama’s top advisor on tech. What should he do to foster more technology use in the United States and abroad?
AA: Build out fiber to every home and business in the United States. Install WiFi (News - Alert) in every airport, put it on every train, plane and ferry, and have connectivity in cabs and public transportation.
RT: How has open-source changed our space and what more can it do for us?
AA: Open Source has flattened the playing field, but also made it too easy for many “me too, me also” product and services to rise. It has reduced the number of “me differents” to a trickle as imitation has become standard.
RT: When does Microsoft (News - Alert) become a major force in communications?
AA: They don’t. They had their chances. They’re better being what they are, sticking to their knitting and being better than they have been at what they already do.
Apple? RIM, Nokia? All three of these already are, but in different ways. Of the three, Nokia has the deepest vision, but Apple has a huge head start in the online side, which Nokia is just starting to get into. RIM is nowhere in online but so much of what they do is communications and cloud based. In my view for Microsoft to become a factor in communications, they should just buy RIM.
RT: What surprised you most about 2008?
AA: That Congress rewarded so much failure and mismanagement with bailouts.
RT: Assuming we need it (and who couldn’t use some extra cash), what do we tell Congress to get a multibillion dollar U.S. government communications bailout?
AA: That would be hard to do. The communication sector isn’t really hurting.
RT: Is the green movement dead now that oil is plummeting in cost?
AA: Not at all. Areas like longer battery life, more recycled parts in our consumer electronics, greater need for alternative energy and global warming are all part of the Green Movement.
RT: How does IP communications help in a recession?
AA: Less travel. More online collaboration. Greater dependence on infrastructure that’s already in place.
RT: You are speaking at ITEXPO, which takes place Feb. 2 to 4 in Miami. Why do people need to hear what you say, live and in person?
AA: It’s the first show of the year that matters to our industry. By not being at IT Expo you miss out on the people who you need to see to be better at your job.
RT: Make some wild predictions about 2009/10.
AA: More mergers happen in wireless. Cisco becomes a force in mobile. Sprint is sold. WiMax actually succeeds – but more internationally than here in the United States.
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Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor-in-Chief of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world’s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.
Edited by Michael Dinan