Verizon CEO to Steve Jobs: Drop Dead

verizon-ceo.jpg

In an interview with The Financial Times yesterday, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg had this to say when asked about the competition posed by Apple’s iPhone:

“It’s very cool. And Steve Jobs eventually will get old… I like our chances.”

That’s got to be one of the most indelicate utterances by one CEO regarding another.

Mr. Seidenberg is about a decade older than Mr. Jobs, so he can’t possibly be referring to his age with the most unfortunate “Steve Jobs eventually will get old” phrase. He must be referring to Mr. Job’s frail appearance at the Apple WWDC in June.

Apple said Mr. Jobs was suffering from a “common bug” but various pundits and AAPL shorters claimed it was due to his recent brush with pancreatic cancer. Nobody outside of his immediate circle really knows what may or may not be medically worrisome with Mr. Jobs, but why would a competitor’s CEO feel the need to raise it so brazenly?

This chart covering the period from Mr. Jobs’ cancer diagnosis in October 2003 to the present might give a clue (red: Apple, blue: Verizon):

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What’s peculiar is that Apple doesn’t directly compete with Verizon: the former is the maker of the iPhone, the latter is a carrier. The competitor Verizon should actually be worried about is AT&T, Apple’s iPhone carrier partner in the U.S.

What should really concern Verizon’s board, however, is why 18 months after the announcement of the iPhone, the Verizon camp hasn’t been able to come up with any remotely credible “iPhone-killer”? They should ask their CEO what other concrete plans he might have to compete with the iPhone other than hoping that Apple’s CEO drops out of the picture due to “old age.” How does the $20.3 million-a-year CEO of a $100 billion company like Verizon display so openly its inability to compete on innovation by placing its “chances” on the demise of another CEO?

Can you imagine another CEO, even such an old adversary like Bill Gates (or even Steve Ballmer, not lacking tackiness otherwise), would ever make such an ill-wishing statement? For shame. The least Mr. Seidenberg can do is to apologize to Mr. Jobs pronto.

32 thoughts on “Verizon CEO to Steve Jobs: Drop Dead

  1. Thanks, Kontra. I see it as an odd form of compliment from one CEO about another, raising bigger questions. Commenting that Steve Jobs will eventually get old:

    1. In no way wishes him ill health; in fact the opposite.

    2. As a CEO 10 years older than Jobs, Seidenberg is tacitly admitting that Jobs has at least another 10 years.

    3. Seidenberg is responding that Jobs eventual retirement from Apple gives Verizon a better chance to succeed.

    4. Seidenberg probably felt secure enough in making that complement because he wanted to make that point that Verizon could overcome the long-term benefits ATT receives from partnering with Apple on iPhone.

    What Seidenberg did not expect from his odd compliment was the way you nailed him on stock performance, Kontra. It shines a light on Seidenberg, and raises the question of whether his age has anything to do with Verizon’s performance. Here the comparisons must be made to Verizon’s industry peers, especially ATT and T-Mobile, for competitors with and without iPhone.

    Also, by focussing on the term of CEO careers instead of quarters, he also raises the point about the viability of CDMA over the long term, and whether EVDO and similar CDMA-based 3G technologies are more investments into a dead end. As much as I admire the iPhone for the most significant disruption in the smartphone market since Blackberry, whether and how to move into GSM-based 3G platforms may be the more critical decision for companies like Verizon.

  2. Obviously ‘get old’ means that the products and innovation will become stale and uninteresting to the general public. It has nothing to do with age, health, wishing death, whatever. Use your brain and comprehend sentences.

  3. Hi Kontra,

    I’m thinking that Verzion CEO might have not necessary referred to Steve Jobs’ health. He might say that Apple’s soul is Steve Jobs, and when Steve gets out of the scene, sooner or later, Apple might be in trouble. This implies that Verzion CEO does not consider himself indispensable to his company’s success. This “Apple is Steve Jobs” statement might be correct or not…

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  5. This is far from the first time he has mouthed off like this.

    Seidenberg isn’t just clueless… he is clueless AND outspoken. Ever since I watched him blast Bluetooth at the All Things D conference years ago and make a bozo out of himself, I realized the propensity this man has to say asinine things that his handlers need to later retract and clean up for him down the line. He suffers from perpetual foot-in-mouth disease. He should apologize to Jobs if for no other reason that it is just poor form.

    Mr. Seidenberg, some advice from Shakespeare and Lincoln… “Better to be silent and thought the fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

  6. mddand: “I thought he meant ‘old’ as in stale”

    Steve Jobs is the only person I think of in the history of modern technology who has had four mega-hits in Macintosh, iMac, iPod and iPhone that changed their respected industries. So it would be wrong to speculate for Mr. Seidenberg that Jobs could/is likely to get “stale.” Facts just don’t support it.

  7. I don’t believe that he meant it as ‘old’ as in “the old man’s going to die tomorrow”. I thought he meant ‘old’ as in stale, that Steve Jobs will be ‘old news’ tomorrow. But then again, everything’s subject to one’s interpretation and controversy generates more traffic than niceties.

  8. Ivan Seidenberg arrogantly presumes aging from a determinist point of view. If we follow the vanguard science of regenerative medicine and the logic put forward by the likes of Aubrey de Grey and Ray Kurzweil, who knows what options Jobs or any of us will explore to address the “disease” of senescence?

    Check out the recent UCLA conference on regenerative medicine and De Grey’s perspective at the Methuselah Foundation at
    http://www.methuselahfoundation.org

    Dr. G
    http://www.spacesuityoga.wordpress.com

  9. Uzo: ” perhaps the public will grow tired of Steve Jobs and his luster will go away”

    Jobs’ luster has been with us for three decades and will surely shine bright after he’s gone. The same cannot be said of Mr. Seidenberg and his “legacy.”

  10. Tom B, You have it right. At least the JP Morgans and Carnegies expected results instead of excuses. I don’t own Verizon stock but if I did, I’d sell on this man’s rambling alone. Give me earning or give me another stock!

  11. Wow! What is this? Something from TMZ.com? I think you may have stretched that quite a bit. You took him saying that he might get old all the way into him referring to his frail appearance at a conference? Come on now. By that logic, he could have just as easily been referring to him getting waisted at some convention full of CEO’s. Come on, isn’t a tad bit more logical that he was just referring to the fact that perhaps the public will grow tired of Steve Jobs and his luster will go away. I didn’t hear him say it, but it’s possible he was even just joking… What’s good man?

    Uzo Ometu
    http://www.SocialDiatribe.com

  12. this guy should be ashamed!! How does he dare to say something like that?? he´s wishing Steve´s death or what? You know, i think this guy should be fired or he at least should apologize for that. It´s pathetic. That guy is a looser.

  13. “Unfortunately in today’s super star CEO culture/mentality, every run-of-the-mill CEO thinks he can actually deliver on a par with any other CEO.”

    Oh, but you DON’T UNDERSTAND. These guys are worth hundreds of millions whether they elevate or utterly destroy their companies. It’s the natural consequence of “social passing” in our schools. The Countrywide Finance guy got a super golden parachute and look what he did. Bush got socially passed through Yale. Add a couple of buddies on the Supreme Court and at Diebold and, there you go– President.

  14. You get the sense that true legends and giants like Gates and Jobs — the kinds of decisions that they can make to surprise and up-end an industry in an instant — put them in a class of their own above the rest and generates a lot of jealousy. Unfortunately in today’s super star CEO culture/mentality, every run-of-the-mill CEO thinks he can actually deliver on a par with any other CEO. Their classless, banal, thoughtless, self-delusional utterances aside, To watch them try to out think or out wit a veteran/genius and a cultural/economic/digital revolution by predictable business decisions is, frankly, just pathetic.

  15. Well lets see, theodore levitt in his marketing myopia asked companies to be customer centric and not product centric, well verizon with AT&T could be a competitor, who knows Apple might get into the business of Verizon or Verizon might get into the business of Apple,

    http://serialmarketer.wordpress.com/

  16. Verizon has noting to compete with on the iPhone and its OS/SDK/APP Store/Developer programs and top of the class hardware design and build. He’s talking out of fear to ease his investors.

  17. Since Seidenburg cannot force Jobs to play the industry game (market share/commoditization), and he cannot beat Jobs at his own game (targeting those who would pay a premium for a “user experience”), has this “titan of industry” has apparently resigned himself to the fact that the only way he can beat Steve Jobs is for Jobs to die? Pretty sad, huh? Even sadder is the fact that he would actually verbalize this realization publicly.

    And even if he meant it figuratively, he is basically stating that, rather than to actually compete, the business model of Ma Bell is to simply outlast any innovation that might be introduced into the market.

    It is truly interesting to observe the contortions of the wireless and music industries as we witness the death throes of their cash cows. All previous conventions of courtesy and civility are tossed out the window. When is the last period in which you heard so many CEO’s actually making derogatory comments about another CEO?

  18. I was a Verizon customer once. Their business practice was horrible to me, a customer.
    I’m not surprised to see the chart above, and was not at all shocked by CEO’s comment. Expected!!!!

  19. I knew Verizon were becoming flabby and arrogant, but I didn’t realize it had reached these depths. This kind of attitude has me thinking about what another mobile phone company might be like. Nothing urgent, since I’m fairly early in my contract with a phone that I like, and I’ve had Verizon since before they were Verizon, but if this is their attitude, it’s time to at least give the competition a serious look.

  20. At least Jobs and Apple didn’t illegally aid the American government in spying on its own citizenry.

    At any rate Verizon is set up for nickle-and-dime ripoff knowing most customers don’t have the where-with-all, resources, or persistence to fight, training its “customer service” to insulate it from customer recourse.

  21. I don’t beleive he intended it in that way. I think he was referring to the fact that the “era of Jobs” or the buzz surrounding Jobs and Apple right now will eventually get old and Apple will quietly go to the side. Hopefully, otherwise he needs a punch in the sack for this.

  22. Famous last words!

    I hope the current CEO of Verizon remembers what Michael Dell’s advice in 1997 to Steve Jobs regarding Apple on Jobs return, and Dell has eat his words in an Fortune Magazine interview in 2006.

  23. quote;
    “How does the $20.3 million-a-year CEO of a $100 billion company like Verizon display so openly its inability to compete on innovation by placing its “chances” on the demise of another CEO?”

    Now I’m sure that Steve has hard earned his $1.-a-year salary.
    Let’s rise it! Let’s give him $2.- a year!

  24. What a complete and utter tool.

    A lot of bluster. If he was so sure this was the right decision, he wouldn’t need to be such an ass.

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  26. Remember this is the the same company Apple FIRST approached about being the exclusive carrier for the iPhone in the USA. Verizon (Seidenberg) turned it down. They didn’t like the fact that Apple would control all warranty problems and that the end user could install your own music on theiPhone thru iTunes.

    A man seeing his company falter against the competition from AT&T & Apple.

  27. I agree that was a despicable comment for him to say. I will credit him for investing Verizon’s capital in infrastructure even with the best network in the US. AT&T is the weak link for the iphone. They aren’t building towers for 2G. I fear that 3G will be a joke. The stock price may not be shooting up but their network and investment will portend good things for the company when “Jobs gets old”.

  28. Sorry, but to say that somebody will eventually get old is not to wish them ill, unless you take the view that life is a burden and death a blessed relief. Let’s face it, the only thing that can stop any of us from getting old is an early death. If Seidenberg was using ‘get old’ literally, he was predicting a long life for Real Steve.

    But I doubt if he was using it literally. Surely it’s clear from the context that he meant that Apple products will eventually start to lose their appeal and become a bit stale, that the consumer will, sooner or later, start to find them a bit boring? And that’s true. But when it happens, probably nobody will remember that Verizon ever existed.

  29. Well said, Kontra. At the same time, when a CEO reacts this (tacky) way, it shows that fundamental things are happening in his business, things he doesn’t have control over. I have been surprised many times over how people react to you (and your business), but then I think: they feel threatened, and it’s just a very subtle way of tipping their hat (although not a very nice way). But that’s human behaviour.

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