The cell phone industry is ripe for reform, but who expected changes to come within its own ranks? T-Mobile has won over customers by offering free international roaming, no contracts, 200 MB of free data on tablets, and faster times between phone upgrades--that is, by trying to be customer friendly.
T-Mobile CEO John Legere is leading this public campaign, and his antics haven't been pretty--or particularly dignified. Early last year, he unleashed a profanity-laced diatribe against the wireless industry, railing against practices such as locking customers into a contract. His latest salvo against AT&T, in January, included a press release that compared the wireless giant to Darth Vader and included fake quotes from AT&T's CEO. It was an Onion-like mocking of policy changes that followed T-Mobile's lead.
Nonetheless, T-Mobile's unorthodox strategy is working, helping to stem 16 consecutive quarters of subscriber losses at the nation's fourth-largest carrier. In the six months that followed Legere's diatribe, T-Mobile added 1.4 million long-term subscribers, more than AT&T and Sprint. From May to December, its market value increased by more than 100%, and the company became the subject of feverish acquisition rumors.
At about the same time that Legere assumed his bad-boy persona, he also changed T-Mobile's compensation structure to give every worker an equity stake in the company.