Randall Stephenson, AT&T CEO and BSA president: ‘It’s a new day in Scouting’

Randall Stephenson has a quote on his office wall from Eric Shinseki, the former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

It reads: “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.”

Stephenson, the AT&T CEO who took over as BSA president in May 2016, doesn’t think the Boy Scouts of America needs to change its core mission or its core values.

But our product, our delivery and our leadership must adapt to the changing demographics of our country.

“I run a really big company,” he said. “It’s been around for 140 years. And when I think about growth in my business, I have to recognize that the U.S. market today is nothing like what it was 10 years ago.”

Six years ago, there was no app store. If you went to look for one, he says, you might find a place to buy appetizers.

“And the market five years from today is going to look absolutely nothing like what it looks like today,” he said.

Prepared for growth

“Do we really want to grow this movement?” Stephenson asked the crowd at the BSA’s annual meeting last month in a 12-minute speech you can watch below.

Yes, of course, the crowd responded.

“Then the changes that we’ve experienced over the last three or four years are the first steps of what’s going to be required to truly grow this movement,” he said.

He praised Dr. Robert M. Gates, the former defense secretary who was his predecessor as BSA president, for navigating the sometimes-turbulent waters of the membership policy discussion.

He said the BSA has a “great new leader” in Chief Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh, who “has my complete commitment.”

“Like Mike, I think it’s a new day in Scouting,” Stephenson said. “Over the last few years, for a number of reasons, we’ve been in more of a defensive posture. And I really believe — thank you, Dr. Gates — those days are over.”

Reflecting the markets we serve

AT&T used to sell one phone in three different colors. Today, you can get 12 different versions of an iPhone, or a $25 flip phone, or one of the dozens of brands of smartphones and tablets out there.

In some neighborhoods AT&T serves, you’ll find no AT&T stores. Instead, AT&T’s subsidiary Cricket Wireless offers low-cost phones and services without a credit check.

To grow at AT&T, the product, delivery and promotions change from neighborhood to neighborhood, day to day. How they target a millennial customer looks completely different from how they target a baby boomer.

“We couldn’t grow if we didn’t think about it this way,” Stephenson said.

And so Stephenson ensures the board, leadership team and employees at AT&T reflect their customer demographics.

“So I’m going to ask you again,” he said. “Do we want to grow this movement?”

A shout from the crowd — “Yes!” — was met with applause.

Stephenson smiled.

“All right,” he said. “Then our board has to change. Both the composition of the board and how it operates.”

Next, our leadership, product and delivery must change, he said.

“Our approach to every key market is going to have to be unique,” he said.

It goes back to that Shinseki quote. If AT&T was unwilling to change, there would be no AT&T. The BSA, Stephenson said, should think similarly.

“Great organizations grow because great organizations change,” he said. “They never compromise on their core mission; they never compromise on their core values.”

‘We mass-produce leaders’

Remove all the former Scouts from AT&T and “it would leave a hole in our leadership that would be unfillable,” Stephenson said.

That’s because Scouts go on to greatness.

“We mass-produce leaders,” he said. “If you look at corporate America, you look at the military, you look at academia, you look at our political leaders at every level of government, scientists, astronauts. If you were to remove the Scouts, it’d be interesting to see what kind of hole would be left.”

So let’s be “really loud and really proud” about that, Stephenson said.

Because the values of Scouting aren’t just “some Norman Rockwell fantasy.”

They’re proven in boardrooms and courtrooms, on sports fields and cornfields, in deep space and deep oceans.

“I want you to think of another institution today in the United States that’s teaching leadership and the basic virtues necessary for our civil society,” Stephenson said. “Duty to God, duty to country, helping other people at all times. … If Scouting fails to grow, my worry is who’s going to pick up that slack.”

Watch Stephenson’s comments

Scouting Wire brings us the complete speech below.

About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.