Chairman of the University Board of Trustees, John Zeglis, was named the new president and chief operating officer of AT&T earlier this month.
A key figure in AT&T’s major strategic efforts during the last 15 years, Zeglis is credited with drafting the plan that broke up the Bell Telephone System in 1984, overseeing AT&T’s lobbying strategy for the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and spearheading the company’s $11.5 billion acquisition of McCaw Cellular in 1994, according to a University press release.
But perhaps even more relevant to the GW community is the role he has assumed for the last two years as chairman of GW’s Board of Trustees.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg recalled Zeglis’ introduction to GW several years ago, when Zeglis met the Board of Trustees’ membership committee.
“People liked him and the rest is history. This is a man whose star is on the rise . an extraordinarily insightful and creative executive,” Trachtenberg said.
A native of Momence, Ill., Zeglis studied at the University of Illinois before graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He began his career in law in 1973 as an associate with Sidley & Austin, a Chicago firm that does work for AT&T.
Five years later, Zeglis became a partner in the firm.
Zeglis served in that capacity until he joined AT&T as corporate vice president and general attorney in 1984.
Zeglis was appointed senior vice president and general counsel in 1986, and added regulatory and government affairs matters to his responsibilities in 1989.
He is active in cultural and youth activities in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife, Carol Jane Hamm, and their three children.
He also serves as a trustee of the Brookings Institute, and a board member of the Colonial Symphony in Madison, N.J., according to the University press release.
Trachtenberg explained the process for choosing Board of Trustee members. “The committee generally focuses on GW alumni,” but remains open to interesting people that may not be former GW students, such as Zeglis, Trachtenberg said.
“For instance, we’d love to have Bill Gates, and he’s not an alumnus – yet,” Trachtenberg said.
Board of Trustees Vice Chair Sheldon Cohen said Zeglis is a hard-working, active chairman with a quick mind and a dry sense of humor.
“He is a very good chairman (who) always keeps the meetings focused and moving,” Cohen said. “He’s not a real colorful guy . just a real solid citizen.”
Zeglis has led the charge to increase the quality of both faculty and students at GW, while keeping the University at its present size, or perhaps even by shrinking some of the schools, Cohen said.
Cohen pointed to the recent GW Hospital partner search as proof of Zeglis’ mettle.
“The hospital was bleeding – what used to be a money producer was becoming a drain, and Zeglis brought the search for a first-rate partner to fruition by naming Universal Health Services,” Cohen said.
AT&T has a strong influence at GW. The GWorld card, the building security systems and the ACUS phone systems all are affiliated with or operated by AT&T.
Trachtenberg denied any conflict of interest because the president of AT&T is serving as Board of Trustees chairman for the University.
“What we have here is a blind bidding process where the best bid, the best opportunity, is the rule. Zeglis keeps more than an arm’s length distance regarding interactions between AT&T and GW,” Trachtenberg said.
Zeglis and newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer C. Michael Armstrong will face daunting challenges in their attempt to revitalize AT&T, the nation’s leader in the long-distance telephone market and a globally prominent company.
Many analysts said AT&T’s success will hinge on the corporation’s ability to compete against the five regional Bells in local telephone markets, while maintaining its efforts to maximize the lucrative overseas market.
Zeglis was not available for comment.
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