It is often the case that the passing of great people presages further and deeper appreciation for why these people were great and influential. In many cases, greatness is described and articulated in terms of the impact an individual had on the lives of others. This is the case with Stan Sigman, who passed away on December 21, 2020.
Stan Sigman, who obtained his B.S. in Business Administration from West Texas State University in Canyon, Texas, in 1970, hailed from Lubbock, Texas and soon after graduating from WT, began a career with Southwestern Bell Telephone in 1965 in Hereford, Texas. Over the years, Stan developed an affinity for leadership and innovation in the telecommunications and wireless industries that witnessed a career evolution spanning SBC Communications, Cingular Wireless, and subsequently, AT&T Wireless. Stan’s leadership was instrumental in realizing a number of revolutionary changes in the telecommunications industry such as networked data communications, web hosting and eCommerce, network planning and operations, and marketing. Stan’s wireless career saw him become the CEO of AT&T Mobility, the wireless unit of AT&T, Inc.
It was years of Stan’s hard work that facilitated his advance from stockman to executive vice president at Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, and eventually to president and chief executive officer of Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems in 1995. Subsequently, in 1999, Stan Sigman was named Group President – SBC National Operations and eventually joined Cingular Wireless as President and Chief Executive Officer. Stan’s tenure at AT&T arose from his acquisition of AT&T Wireless and subsequent partnership with Steve Jobs and Apple.
Stan’s partnership with Apple, to introduce the world to the iPhone, is perhaps among his most notable professional accomplishments. This feat was the culmination of a long journey of leadership and innovation such that Mr. Sigman ‘s leadership-through-example and vision paid dividends. Stan is remembered as a leader who effectively maximized the potential for advancing technologies and who possessed an ability to maximize the talents of those around him. Even after retirement in 2007, Mr. Sigman remained active in the wireless industry as he served on the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA) board. In October 2010, Sigman was inducted into the Wireless History Foundation Hall of Fame.
Stan’s Texas roots captivated his activities in retirement such that he established Namgis Quarter Horses in Hondo, Texas. Stan’s ranch produced American Quarter Horses. Mr. Sigman also became a partner in the Ruidoso Downs Race Track & Casino operation in Ruidoso, New Mexico.
As a portrait in leadership and innovation, a few of Stan’s friends – Ralph de le Vega, Paul Roth, and Mark Collins – whose lives were profoundly touched by Stan’s guidance, offered a few observations that we share here to commemorate and reflect on Stan’s leadership style and insights on how to achieve success in business.
On Values and Principles
Stan was said to have been proud of his West Texas heritage as he had attributed this background as instrumental in shaping his character and perspective on key aspects of business. What follows are some of these principles and values and words from Stan’s friends on how these principles and values were expressed by Stan.
Authenticity – to act genuinely – is a leading value that Stan instilled in the teams he formed and led. Stan’s friends elaborate:
“Stan was as authentic as it gets. He was proud of his upbringing as a Texan. His philosophy about being open and transparent about your heritage made it easy for people of all backgrounds to feel included as a part of the team.”Friends of Stan Sigman
Integrity was paramount as it implored Stan and his teams to do the right thing at all times: “Our integrity is never for sale.”
Stan had unquestionable integrity and he would expect nothing less from his team. Time after time Stan demonstrated his unwavering integrity. Stan would often say to us: “…no one can take your away reputation except yourself.”Friends of Stan Sigman
Accountability was prominently featured as a principle as it implored Stan and his teams to fulfill promises, honor contracts, and abide by words given and promised.
Stan believed in giving field leaders the freedom and autonomy to make decisions but always held them accountable to deliver results the right way. This created an environment that fostered “innovative thinking” and led to many industry innovations.Friends of Stan Sigman
Teamwork served as the cohesive “glue” that enabled principles to take hold and support initiatives. Stan was known for building, motivating, and leading teams throughout his career.
Stan believed you must select the best people to build great teams. The Cingular Team that he built as a result of the Cingular/AT&T Wireless merger was world class. Stan would often tell us that “…people rise to the level of their expectations.”Friends of Stan Sigman
The Importance of People
In a manner that is characteristic, if not exclusive to, West Texas, Stan was known to have emphasized people as a key asset and central to the success of any initiative and endeavor. This investment in people held forth that people can be motivated and inspired to greatness and that mistakes in pursuit of greatness develops the vital ingredient of experience; Stan highly valued such experience.
Stan believed in developing people and betting on them to get the job done. He believed that wisdom came from experience and gave his leaders assignments that stretched them and helped them to grow. Stan often said: “…wisdom comes from experience; experience comes from making mistakes.”Friends of Stan Sigman
Bundled in the focus on people are principles of Communication, Empathy and Respect. Each of these called upon the leader and team to be forthright and clear, treat people as you would want to be treated – with respect. These were each valued to be lived and personified in authenticity.
Stan earned the respect of everyone. This included his team, industry leaders, and regulators. He treated everyone with respect and expected his leaders to respect the views of team members. A good example is the merger with AT&T Wireless where many of the great ideas from AT&T Wireless were made part of the new company. It showed respect for the members of the new company and set the stage for a very successful mergerFriends of Stan Sigman
Honoring Stan’s Legacy
Stan’s friends – Ralph de le Vega, Paul Rother, Mark Collins, and others – have found themselves strongly motivated and moved by Stan’s passing and are, collectively, eager to share Stan’s insights on leadership and innovation with others. In addition to having raised funds for scholarships and professorships in the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business, Stan’s Friends have partnered with the University and College to initiate the Stan Sigman Leadership and Innovation Series at West Texas A&M University. As mentioned in another article in this issue, Ralph de le Vega will be the first among those touched, moved, and inspired by Stan’s legacy to speak in this series on October 13, 2021.