How to Make Your Community Better with AT&T Arizona President

INTERVIEW

Eric Sperling: Hello, everybody, welcome back to Arizona Achievers. We are joined today by Toni Morales Broberg, she is the president of AT&T in Arizona. Tony, thank you for being here.

Toni Morales: Thanks for having me.

Eric Sperling: All right, excited to have a conversation with you today, a lot to talk about. I’m really excited to talk about the Believe Phoenix initiative but before we get there, a little bit on your background, because prior to AT&T, you spent time in Washington, on the council for environmental quality, and then also with the Department of Homeland Security. So tell me a little about that and some of the people you got to meet and work with and then environment.

Toni Morales: So I had the privilege of working in the Obama administration. I started off working at Homeland Security Department of Homeland Security as Senior Advisor for Congressional Affairs. That was a tremendous and insane experience, working on really big issues and, you know, representing the ministration with their views and what we wanted to be engaged in, and then doing a tour over at the White House at the Council on Environmental Quality, and focusing on environmental issues that affected the country, really big issues, and it was a blast. I worked with really brilliant people, people that cared a lot about what they did, they had they brought a viewpoint and a passion, I think, just a viewpoint that I didn’t have an appreciation for. You know, I had worked with folks from EPA and Hudd and the Department of Commerce and just all of these really big issues. You know, I had worked with a gentleman who had worked for HUD for I think over 30 years and he was one of the first people to work on the asbestos about completing…

Eric Sperling: Yeah, and you were telling me, what a long process that was right.

Toni Morales: Yeah, and you know, he had such an amount of fortitude about that issue and it just really taught me that big things don’t happen overnight and it takes a lot of passion and a lot of expertise. I mean, everybody that I worked with there, they were brilliant people, and they had big hearts and they really cared about what was going on to the environment. And so it was such a pleasure, it was such an honor to work with those folks over there but it really did, it really taught me that big things don’t happen overnight; that it takes a long time and a lot of fortitude to get some of those things done. So it was great.

[02:27]

Eric Sperling: You also said you were passionate about the people you work with and that sometimes, you know, people who work in government, they get a bad rap, bad reputation but that’s not always the case. I mean, you said there were so many people there that were doing amazing things all because their heart in, their hearts were in the right place, right?

Toni Morales: I mean, I can’t stress that enough. I mean, I think that you know, the term ‘bureaucrat’ sometimes is a dirty word for folks. But in reality, those people went there every day and did it without a lot of fanfare, actually never with fanfare never with any notoriety, never with a lot of pats on the back. And they did it because they were passionate about it, it was the right thing to do. And so, you know, that idea of government, people, you know, being the worst case scenario is really, I found that to be the opposite that people tend to go to Washington because they believe in something really deeply, and they want to make change. I think people disagree on what that change is. But I never faulted anybody for wanting to try to create something that nobody had thought of before.

Eric Sperling: Right.

Toni Morales: And I think, you know, government itself is so important because it, it me, it’s the baseline for a lot of things that we do in our lives. It’s the interaction of business and commerce, it’s the interaction of maybe invention, a lot of these things have happened because there is some kind of governmental entity that’s had to touch on it. So having people who are engaged in that process who are idealistic and hopeful and really care, I think is so important. And so making sure there’s not a lot of cynics that go to Washington that should be all of our optimal situations that people go there with really good intentions.

[03:59]

Eric Sperling: Yeah, it’s pretty cool listening to some of the stories you were telling: you that you mentioned in the gentleman who worked on the asbestos stuff, and then the next day, you’re talking with the woman who is the reason why food labels are on things and that just reinvigorates you right to it, you see a change, you want to make it happen.

Toni Morales: Yeah. And I think what that also taught me is, you know, the world is big, and there’s a lot of complex problems and it takes a lot of people to figure them out. And I think everybody has a responsibility to figure out what that is and so, you know, Clean Water Acts, I mean, all these things that people kind of start to tend, it’s because they had a personal experience with it. So maybe they’re their river, their creek by their house was contaminated and then that led to a whole series of things that led them to maybe run for Congress or be engaged in the governmental process. So you start to see people’s personal stories really begin at a different point, but have drawn them into a different point of their lives. And I think that can be said for a lot of other jobs as well, but particularly in government, it’s where the rubber meets the road and there’s that tension there. That I think is really important for people to know and appreciate that there are good people who are working hard every day that are really the unsung here of what we do in this country.

[05:05]

Eric Sperling: And then on your personal story, there was that you’re in Washington and some of the thoughts and the missions and you know, what’s being told to people is, you know, leave Washington and go back to your community and make your community a better place and now you’re the president of AT&T in Arizona, and you guys are doing some incredible things. And I want to hear and I want to talk, I want to have everybody else hear about Believe Phoenix, the initiative and sort of where that came from and how it started and what’s happening in the future with it.

Toni Morales: Yeah, it was. It was a really big, you know, pivotal moment for me where I was leaving the White House and the Chief of Staff at the time to the President said, “You know, you need to go home and make your community better. You know, there’s a lot of people who…”

Eric Sperling: Weren’t you like, ‘what I want to be here’ or, you know?

Toni Morales: There was always a draw for me to come back to Arizona.

Eric Sperling: ASU, yeah.

Toni Morales: My family lives here. I’m a Sun Devil. So there was my family that started very close, I have three amazing sisters, very close to them, and I missed every moment away from them. And I felt like I was missing a part of my life of being around my family and being engaged in the day to day beauty that you see with, you know, nieces and nephews kind of growing up. So I knew I wanted to come back and when he said that, it really rang true for me. And he said, “There’s enough people in Washington, you need to go home and make your community better.” And I think that that was just a kind of a theme that ran through the administration and before that, the campaign about really making change local. So it was a really beautiful kind of transition to corporate America because AT&T is such a well-respected company. I respected it, I knew a lot about it beforehand. I was confident that it was going to be somewhere where I felt at home and it totally proved true. And so one of the signature things that we’ve done this year is the Believe Phoenix initiative, which you mentioned, and I couldn’t be prouder of that, of our employees just completely getting engaged and that what that is, is nationally, the company said, ‘you know, we want to be able to focus on these big issues happening in our local areas’. And they said, you know, they picked a handful of cities Phoenix was one was among the first to be chosen by the company and they said, ‘figure out an issue that is specific to the city of Phoenix and let’s see if there’s a part that we can play to improve that issue’. And that was food insecurity: hunger issues. So in Arizona, one in four children suffer from food insecurity hunger, I think one in seven Arizonans, those are just some staggering numbers about the amount of people who live in the city of Phoenix that are, you know, literally hungry. So we decided to partner with some really trusted and amazing organizations. There’s a lot that we partnered with: St. Mary’s Food Bank, Savings at DePaul, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, United Food Bank, UMOM, it was just so many great organizations that do really do God’s work in the community. And so we said, ‘Look, how we can help?’ and part of that was really figuring out a way to get our employees engaged. On a really meaningful level, because I think we had talked about this before, sometimes people don’t know how to get started with becoming engaged in their community and volunteering. And so it was really a great way to number one, tell employees ‘look as a company, this is what we care about. We care about helping our fellow citizens really get through some tough times.’ And you know, I think through this experience, I think a lot of employees and myself included, have realized you know, everybody’s one catastrophe away from being in a situation that’s not the best. And just having that in the back of your mind that that could be somebody you know, that could be you, it really does make this experience I think much more fulfilling for folks. It’s our employees just have been great. We’ve had a lot of employee engagement events where we go when we do food packaging or with St. Vincent DePaul, we’ve tended the urban garden, the urban farm that they have. Phoenix Children’s Hospital, we got a lot of feedback from our employees, being in that environment, being around children, seeing the amazing work that they do at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, I mean, it really is an experience to go and see what they do over there. UMOM, they do a workforce training program for women who are in the in different, in various stages of hardship and so figuring out how to get them a food handlers card through their program, I mean, there’s just so many amazing things that these organizations are doing, and so it’s been a real honor for the company to partner with them and say, you know, how can we be a part of this, and I think you and I also talked about this, everybody uses the catch ‘all as a good corporate citizen’ but the point I was trying to make is we want to be just part of the community, and being a good community steward and it just was such a great fed. And so we’re really proud of it, we’re going to continue to do work in this arena. We also just do other nonprofit work. I mean, we were making sure that we’re trying to create a vibrant environment for our employees and that means, you know, making sure arts and culture, Phoenix theater, we’ve done some work with them. Just a lot of other organizations that are doing some really good work, we’re trying to make sure that we’re supporting them because ultimately, they support the community. So that’s what it’s about.

[10:05]

Eric Sperling: What was your initial reaction to that? You know, if you’re the president of AT&T in Arizona, and normally, if you have a board meeting with corporate or whoever it is, and the meeting’s going to be about profit numbers, and this and instead, you were challenged to find an issue with your community. You talked about it against the Chicago it was gun violence, right and in other communities, it’s, it may be homelessness. What was your initial reaction when that challenge was presented?

Toni Morales: I was thrilled. Yeah, I was thrilled, you know, and I was super, super excited about it, because it’s such a unique opportunity to do, I think, a really big thing. And I was talking about that, right? We’re talking about big people who do big things. And so, knowing these organizations and these people every day who go with this mission to feed children over the summer, because they’re not in school and they’re not being fed necessarily at home or intermittently they’re being fed. I mean, those are really big, weighty issues and so for a company, like AT&T come in, we wanted to make sure we were just supporting that so I was thrilled to see that kind of change that we have. I mean, we’re always obviously, we’re obviously a corporation, and we’re a business and we’d love to be engaged in that part of it but this was really about being just really engaged and where we’re living and working. So people who go into our stores, people who use our products, I mean, these are all people who could be going through this kind of situation. So knowing that a brand that they’re supporting that we’re supporting them is really I think about people helping people, and it’s basic sense.

[11:37]

Eric Sperling: And we’re talking about, you know, communities and consumers choosing brands that their fans of now and that they’re fans of the work they’re doing in the communities and then you were just alluding to when somebody comes to work every day, yes, they’re coming to get a paycheck, but they also want to find meaning, right? They want to find meaning in there, in their roles, in their professions, and it sounds like over the five years, six years you’ve been president like that’s been one of the main drivers is focusing on all of that, right, like making the brand something that people can get behind but also that the employees find a lot of meaning with, not just selling phones or selling the internet.

Toni Morales: Yeah, exactly. It’s really interesting because I feel like we all know this kind of statistic; I think you spend most of your time at work, right with your colleagues, right? If you think about the kind of like work, life balance, I don’t know if that’s a criticism on society, but it is what it is. And so making sure that we are comfortable and having a good time and feeling good about where we work and part of that is having our employees feel proud to work for a company that’s doing good stuff, doing good things and trying to do good things and trying to continue to forward the work of other people, I think is really important.

[12:45]

Eric Sperling: And then you say AT& T is a national company, I mean, where you said Fortune 10 Company.

Toni Morales: Fortune 10.

Eric Sperling: And then how do you make that local? How do, you know, what are the things that you can do to associate that brand with Arizona?

Toni Morales: I think we try every day. I mean, I think we’ve been through this initiative, right. It’s you said, you know, we’re this large corporate entity.

Eric Sperling: Yeah.

Toni Morales: Yeah, and we’ve been around for 114 years plus. But what’s interesting is that, you know, the same people who are coming into work every day are the same people necessarily, again, back to my point is that they could be going through some hard times too. So knowing that we’re supporting organizations that could be potentially helping them I think it’s really important too.

[13:20]

Eric Sperling: And then one of the things that will have you here because we are talking AT&T, we can talk about the state of things with technology. What’s down the line for us? We were talking about, is it small cells?

Toni Morales: Yes.

Eric Sperling: Is it and I didn’t know really what that was initially and then you said it’s something to, because everybody’s got devices, everybody’s got 17, 20 devices in their houses. So what’s being done? I guess we’ll talk locally for those technology people that are just curious about what are the state of things?

Toni Morales: So yeah, so our big focus is preparing for 5G right, this is the next evolution of technology that’s coming down the pike; that means that your phone is going to be almost instantaneous in the information that it’s going to be delivering and receiving.

Eric Sperling: You go to a website, pops up immediately.

Toni Morales: I mean, it’s, and just the speed is going to be just something that it’s going to be unrecognizable once it launches.

Eric Sperling: Okay.

Toni Morales: And the reason for that right is because to your point, everybody has so many devices, right, if in any household given is maybe like five to 10 devices, if you think about all of your friends, right, exactly, yeah, it’s a lot. And so knowing that there’s just been just this, really this overwhelming need for capacity. So we need to be able to meet the demand that customers are having and we need to make sure that that experience is flawless, so that they don’t feel like its buffer, you know, back in the day, you ever see that little buffering thing. And so we need to create this infrastructure in order to that to be enabled. So, small cells is the infrastructure in which 5G will be delivered. They’re smaller, more encased very unrecognizable, you won’t even know it driving down the street what it looks like but that enables basically the densification of our network. And I can get really technical on what that means but…

Eric Sperling: Yeah, I can hang with you for a little bit.

Toni Morales: But ultimately, what that means is our quality of technology is just going to skyrocket, right? So the Internet of Things is something that is a very sexy word like what but what does that mean? So it’s all about having the seamless integration of technology with your life. So one of the examples we give is you’re driving down the street in your autonomous car, and you speak to the car and the car tells you that you have a half a gallon of milk left in your fridge, and then the car drives to whole foods or batches or sprouts. And then you’re there…

Eric Sperling: Yeah, you’re freaking me out but this is going to happen in like two years.

Toni Morales: Yeah, it is starting to happen. I mean, you think about, you know, Amazon and their grocery store, right? It’s paperless, you walk in, you walk out and so all of that is going to just coalesce in the next I think 5 to 10 years, and so there’s just untold technologies that haven’t been invented yet that will run on this platform. And so it’s the duty of AT&T and there’s other companies doing it in this round that is preparing the country’s infrastructure for that. So just in the last 5 years, AT&T has invested over $525 million in our network. It’s probably even a little bit more than that now, because those were, we don’t have the most recent numbers. But there’s just a tremendous amount of, of, you know, capital going into all of these places to make sure we’re creating this infrastructure. And you know, we were talking earlier about iPhone, right, and we lived before the iPhone. And now we can’t really think about our lives without that and so, if you think about that was such a short amount of time, I think that was 2007, I could be wrong on that but it was around that time and just to think about from that to today, and you’re not even talking about virtual reality, there’s spatial reality, right? I mean, there’s just so many things and what that leads to also is like in the medical field, with that, you know, you see some really interesting things going on and research and technology around that. It’s just going to be just I think it’s going to be very exciting. And I’m glad that AT&T is kind of on the forefront of that. So we’re excited about the infrastructure component to it. The other thing we had talked about was AT&T and Warner media. So Warner media was a acquired by AT&T so HBO Max, you know, all of that rich content…

Eric Sperling: What’s HBO max? What is that?

Toni Morales: HBO max will be the all of HBO and all of the Warner products kind of in one place. And so you’re thinking about even like, Casa Blanca, Singing in the rain, all these classic movies, all of that will be as part of that kind of catalog that Warner has. So it’s going to be yeah, so it’s, it’s the new product that’s come out. It’s going to be you know, just like all these other content companies that are coming out, right, you have Disney that’s coming out.

Eric Sperling: Yeah, everybody’s a content company now.

Toni Morales: So yeah, so we’re in the entertainment field now. And so that’ll be really…

Eric Sperling: Apple has their own content.

Toni Morales: Exactly, yeah. So the entertainment world is really interesting and I think we had talked earlier about, you know, there’s a parallel, there’s parallels that are going on, right? Customers are wanting things and we enable to make sure that we do that seamlessly, and that they don’t notice a lot of disruption. And so we want to make our customers happy, we want to meet them where they are and that’s a lot of people with a lot of iPads and a lot of iPhones.

Eric Sperling: Absolutely. A lot of people in this room are excited about that though. When will HBO max be available to download? Do we know that yet? Yeah, I think

Toni Morales: I think it’s the spring.

Eric Sperling: Yeah, the spring, okay. I’m excited

Toni Morales: But yeah, but it’s, you know, it just goes to show you that, you know, technology is just moving so quickly, so quickly that I don’t think we have an appreciation for what it’s going to be like in a few years. And it’s just exciting, what an exciting time. I mean, we’re talking about we don’t know what it was before, and who knows what it’ll be like in 10 or 15 years. So, and more importantly, I think Arizona, you know, plays a really big part of that, I think we talked about we just opened up a state-of-the-art call center in Mesa and so we have about 500 new employees that we’ve hired on over there, we’re looking to do so maybe more in the next year. And that’s really all about the state-of-the-artness like making sure that we have the best amenities for our employees. So we were talking about we have like video games for them and we have a cafe.

Eric Sperling: There had better be video games.

Toni Morales: It’s really, it’s really great. And to kind of bring it back to the work-life balance and making sure people are, you know, fulfilled, you know, they’re going to be spending a lot of time in really stressful situations. So making sure that they’re kind of letting loose and blowing off some steam is a really good way to do it.

Eric Sperling: The coolest thing to hear is you know, you guys working on something like HBO Max, but then at the also focusing your efforts on Belief Phoenix and, you know, balancing that you mentioned work-life balance, but there’s that, you know, corporate I said, call the corporate citizen balance and a responsibility. That’s the coolest thing to hear is the exciting thing is coming on the technology side, but also what you guys are doing here locally for us in the community. So thank you so much, I appreciate the time.

Toni Morales: No, thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.

Eric Sperling: Yep, we’re going to have you do a lessons in leadership.

Toni Morales: Okay.

Eric Sperling: And then we’ll let you get out of here.

Toni Morales: All right.

Eric Sperling: Thank you, Toni, thank you so much and we’ll see you next time.

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