Episode 21: Anthony Lewis
Anthony Lewis is the Vice President of Value Portfolio Holdings at AT&T and a Walton
College Alumnus. He has been with AT&T for 35 years. Before working at AT&T, Anthony
worked as the Director of Finance at Telkom in South Africa and Senior Auditor at
Ernst & Young. Anthony received his BSBA in Accounting from the University of Arkansas
and MBA in Finance from The University of Texas at Austin.
00:07 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business education and your life today. I have with me today a Walton College alumnus Anthony Lewis, who is Vice President, Value Portfolio Holdings at AT&T, and he has been at AT&T for 35 years. Anthony thank you so much for taking time to visit with me about your career and all the things you've done. I know you started in... As a senior auditor with Ernst & Young. I guess that was right after you graduated from the Walton College.
01:00 Anthony Lewis: That's correct. That was my first job after graduating here in Dallas.
01:05 Matt Waller: Of course you've been in finance primarily, but you've really had an interesting career. I remember you telling me, at one point you even worked in South Africa for a time.
01:17 Anthony Lewis: I did, and that was around 1995 timeframe, I move myself and my family. At that time, my wife was expecting our first son, when we first moved to South Africa, that was not long after I had started work with AT&T, and we ended up living in South Africa and working there for about six years.
01:43 Matt Waller: Wow, that's a long time.
01:45 Anthony Lewis: Yeah, yeah, it was a very interesting assignment. We went there as an opportunity to invest in the telephone company in South Africa. Telkom South Africa is the entity there. We invested along with a partner that we had, Telekom Malaysia, and together we owned 35% of Telkom South Africa. And we had management control, so our employees, we from AT&T, had initially about 50 employees that went there and Telekom Malaysia had 25. And we managed the business, with the primary objective to rebuild their network, to strengthen their infrastructure, to train South Africans to essentially do the jobs that we were doing while we were there, and then to do an IPO was the final thing that we wanted to do there; part of our exit strategy, but also to allow South Africans to invest in Telkom South Africa.
02:51 Matt Waller: Now, you were the Chief Financial Officer of Telkom. The financial systems in South Africa, are they different than what we have here? I would think they would because the regulations are different is that right?
03:05 Anthony Lewis: There are some differences. One of the primary differences from the perspective of the CFO there was really that they followed international counting standards, so we were in the process... In fact, one interesting thing we had to do is when we were preparing to list the company, we listed it on the New York Stock Exchange, and the Johannesburg Exchange, and we had to essentially make sure that we could bridge US gap with international accounting standards as we were preparing to list the company. So it took some time to work through some of the differences in the standards and make sure that we were doing things as they were required to be done on the New York Stock Exchange as well. But that was one of the primary differences. The financial systems there are fairly well-developed and so it wasn't that the financial systems weren't there, there were just some differences that we had to deal with.
04:04 Matt Waller: More recently, before your current job, I know you were vice president of investor relations. That must have been an interesting job.
04:13 Anthony Lewis: It was interesting, it was very interesting, I was there for a fairly short period of time, but it was at a time when we were working through our acquisition of Time Warner and trying to determine how we go to market and talk to the market about that acquisition. Now, before we completed the acquisition I actually moved to my current position and so started a process of thinking about how we do that with the team in the investor relations side, and then handed that over to some other folks that were there.
04:50 Matt Waller: But it's interesting in talking to you over the past few years, and just hearing your stories, of course, you're in finance clearly, a lot of the roles you've had have required you to do lots of communication, almost marketing to some degree. I've picked that up in our conversations. And so it really shows how... Although you went the finance route clearly, you did it in school and you did it in your career, you still wound up having used a very broad set of business and personal skills.
05:27 Anthony Lewis: I think that's true and I think that's important for anyone who, no matter what kind of degree you might get from a university if it's... I got an accounting degree, initially. I went on to get an MBA after that at another institution. But the skills that were required, I think were really more broad skills. One other interesting opportunity that I had with AT&T was in Chicago. I moved from Dallas and went to Chicago in 2007 and ended up living, working there for about seven years. But what I did there was, we have a subsidiary called AT&T Capital Services, and Capital Services is a... It's a wholly owned subsidiary that provides financing and leasing services for AT&T business customers.
06:23 Anthony Lewis: So it really was an opportunity to manage a business, complete operations of a business, it was although a financing business, we were essentially a bank for our business customers to help them implement solutions that we would sell to them. So it was internally working with the leaders of our various business units and effectively telling them or showing them what we could do from a financing perspective to actually help them win business with large enterprise customers and also small business customers. And so that required some marketing per se as we went and I talked internally with a lot of folks within the business to show them what we could really do to help them enhance their business from a sales perspective as well. So that was one of the interesting things that I got a chance to do as well and manage sort of a full scope of a business operation that we had there. So that required not only the finance and accounting knowledge and skills but just the ability to communicate and talk to folks and understand from a business perspective, what profitability really means and what's from a decision making perspective, what's a better investment to make one versus another?
07:46 Matt Waller: And your current position, Value Portfolio Holdings, what do you do in your current position?
07:54 Anthony Lewis: Well, the name doesn't help you a whole lot to determine what it is but let me explain a little bit about it. Is you think about what AT&T is doing certainly post our acquisition of Time Warner and now WarnerMedia, which we have renamed that business. We're evaluating a lot of our operations to ensure that the things that we're doing are focused on our key strategic objectives. There are certain things that we're doing, have done that although still have, they may still have value, there are things that maybe we don't need to do or don't want to do going forward, or areas where we can create value with assets that we have, value that will help us as we go forward with our business strategy. So we actually look at various parts of the business and evaluate them for two or three different things. One, are there opportunities to improve cash flow for the operation, is there an opportunity to refocus the use of the assets that we have there to create additional value for the business? And then thirdly, are there parts of the business that we ought to monetize or sell in order to create value for the business as well? So we're evaluating different parts of the business and making decisions along those three primary tracks, to determine what's the best course for the use of the assets to generate value for the firm.
09:32 Matt Waller: The acquisition Warner Media, which you're calling WarnerMedia now. It was really interesting. I'm an outsider and so I don't know anything about the internal workings of AT&T, but it really seemed to be a very smart strategic move for at least from my perspective, because of all of the access it gives and the ability to... I mean, if you look at marketing in general, it's all moving... And value creation, it's all moving towards very customized targeted solutions. And in some ways this gives AT&T, that ability to the nth degree, it seems like. Is that a key part of the overall strategy or?
10:21 Anthony Lewis: I think that is a key part of the strategy and I think as we've articulated the strategy, the acquisition certainly allowed us to get access to an immense library of content. And content is what drives value certainly in the entertainment business and delivering that content in various forms. Whether it's through wireless devices, whether it's on your TV at home, your tablet, those are the screens that you can certainly deliver content to. And as you think about the cost of content, the owner of content certainly has a economic advantage from a value perspective, rather than having to purchase content from a third party, which drives up the cost. So acquiring content and having the ability to deliver that content in various ways on platforms that we already owned prior to that acquisition, is a key driver of value and certainly the point that you make about targeted advertising, that's one of the significant things that we believe we'll be able to do as we look at how we deliver content and advertising at a level that identifies people and what they like and what they watch and what they would want to purchase possibly. And so it's all with doing that with consent of the consumer to use whatever data they provide to us to use to do that. So our advertising business, which we also made some, a couple of other acquisitions to really enhance advertising and build a platform to do just that more targeted advertising itself.
12:17 Matt Waller: Yeah, the value of information just keeps going up. And the amount of information this creates for AT&T is phenomenal, but it's end to end, which is part of what's interesting about it. So Anthony you clearly, you majored in accounting, you took a job in accounting, you've gone the accounting, finance route in your career when I look at all the positions you've held over the past... More than 35 years, 35 with AT&T but just the total picture. You've stayed focused on finance, are you pleased you did that? Are you glad that you did that?
12:21 Anthony Lewis: I am very very glad that I did that. It's been a career for me that has been very interesting. It's really what's kept me focused on trying to find ways to improve, to create value from a company perspective. When I started, certainly with accounting, and I started in public accounting, it was an interesting entry into the business world. 'Cause accounting was very interesting to me and hopefully interesting to a lot of others as well. As I went through various positions with AT&T, I decided to get an MBA as well, which I thought would open up some other avenues of interest that I had as well. Which would really helping from a business perspective, helping businesses understand the value of making certain decisions.
13:55 Anthony Lewis: And I think decision support from a finance perspective, is a way to create value for business from an operational perspective as well. So all of the positions that I've had, have had some degree of operational support to help make good decisions to create value for the business. And that's what's been most interesting to me, is helping with those critical decisions. Because in the end, most decisions that need to be made have some financial aspect to them that will require some analysis and some input from a finance perspective. So that's been, it's been great for me. And the almost 35 years that I've spent with AT&T. I've had a chance to do a lot of those kinds of things that I believe have helped to create value, and have helped key executives in the company make good decisions.
15:00 Matt Waller: Anthony thank you so much for taking time to visit with me about this, I appreciate it.
15:04 Anthony Lewis: It's been great, I appreciate it and I'm always willing to do whatever I can for the University of Arkansas.
15:12 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of the Be EPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcast, be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beepicpodcast one word, that's B E E P I C podcast. And now Be Epic.