Staying Connected

AT&T Georgia President Sylvia Anderson says today’s consumers want choices.

Gov. Sonny Perdue made Sylvia Anderson’s day last May 30 when, with the stroke of his gubernatorial pen, he signed House Bill 227, also known as the “Consumer Choice for Television Act,” into law.

Anderson, 50, president of AT&T Georgia since January of this year, and a slew of lobbyists had worked tirelessly for passage of the new law, which enables AT&T and its competitors in the cable industry to negotiate one statewide franchise license rather than separate agreements with each county or city government.

In Anderson’s view, the legislation provided nothing but pluses. “This takes the existing DSL lines in the ground and upgrades them to provide television,” she says. “Ultimately you’ll be able to get internet voice over this. I was meeting personally with key leadership on the house and senate side, and at the governor’s office to sell the benefits of passing this legislation so that AT&T could come into this state and, sooner rather than later, begin providing this new technology which is good for Georgia, good for Georgians, good from an economic development standpoint.”

And though the legislation certainly benefits AT&T, Anderson says it’s good for consumers because the same law helps AT&T’s competition. “People want choice,” she says. “They want to know that if they’re unhappy they can go to the other guy. I’m a big believer in competition in our market and others. But our hope is that we will be the only communications and entertainment company you’ll ever want.”

It was a good first quarter for Anderson. In addition to legislative success, she was behind AT&T’s “bailout” of the Tour de Georgia bicycle race, when the company donated $500,000 to keep the race afloat, and announced other major contributions including $1 million gifts to groups such as the Atlanta Historical Society, Piedmont Park Conservancy and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Inc., which was responsible for bringing the Martin Luther King, Jr., papers to Atlanta.

The high profile gifts are part of a “smooth integration” of BellSouth, Cingular and AT&T with respect to maintaining the company’s local philanthropic standing. “BellSouth enjoyed a very strong reputation of being a good corporate citizen,” Anderson says, “not only in charitable giving but in volunteerism and participation. AT&T has that same reputation, and the commitment we are making is that we will continue to participate at the same levels as BellSouth has.”

An Army “brat” who was born in Nuremberg, Germany, Anderson says the nomadic military lifestyle helped develop her gutsy personal and professional demeanor. “You get used to and begin to embrace change,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing the same thing for the next 20 years of my life. I went after the tough jobs. I’ve enjoyed doing merger and acquisition work, for instance the BellSouth merger, that I knew was going to be a challenge.”

Her father’s last posting, Ft. Dix, NJ, dovetailed neatly into Anderson’s attending nearby Rutgers University and Rutgers’ School of Law. Her AT&T career began in 1992 in Greensboro, NC. “I’ve had a broad spectrum of experiences with AT&T, starting as a transactional lawyer working on government systems deals and it grew from there,” she says.

In 1996, Anderson moved to Atlanta and began handling much of the company’s merger and acquisition work in the Southeast. It was good preparation for the president’s job.

“That work involves getting all the state and local regulatory approvals necessary to complete a merger,” she says. “It involves interacting with everyone from the governor’s office to local officials that have to approve the transfer of the individual franchise agreements. The art of persuasion, the art of conversation comes into play and being able to interact with lots of people you’re meeting for the first time with a time limit on when it must be done.”

Anderson is a big believer in the power of mentors. “I still have mentors, every step of the way,” she says. “At this point in my career I mentor others as well but that doesn’t stop me from getting help from people that can fill some of the gaps as I take on new responsibilities.”

And as a successful woman in a high profile job, Anderson offers this advice: “It takes time, effort, and investment. It’s important for young people to understand that there’s no substitute for that. You have to be a bit of a risk taker. You have to put yourself out there and do those things that are on the cutting edge of the organizations you work in.”

Categories: Influential Georgians