The CEO-English Phrasebook

Special AT&T/SBC merger edition.

Today’s CEO phrase: “managing for cash”

Example: On Jan. 20, AT&T announced its 2004 year-end earnings (revenues fell 11.6 percent) and provided guidance for 2005 (revenues will fall another 16 percent). In a conference call with analysts, AT&T Chief Executive Officer Dave Dorman boldly spoke about reviving the AT&T Wireless brand. As for AT&T’s historic consumer phone business, “while we’re running this business for cash, we’re also finding new ways to leverage our strong consumer brand and our powerful business networking platform to introduce our voice over IP service in new markets.” According to the Wall Street Journal, CFO Thomas Horton * noted that “we’re doing pretty well where we’re strong, but there are certain aspects of our business that we’ve chosen to manageforcash.”

Translation into English: Anybody wanna buy our phone company? Our consumer phone business makes money, but it’s getting less profitable with every passing year. We have no idea how to fix it. And we don’t really see how we can make more money on the phone services we sell to businesses, either. There’s just too much competition. We could go on like this for years—”managing for cash”—collecting nice salaries as what was once the nation’s largest company shrinks its way toward the lower tier of the Fortune 500. Or we could just hope that somebody—a rival, a private-equity firm, Warren Buffett, hell, anybody—buys us and sends us packing with our golden parachutes. Interested? It’s not like we’re losing money. Dial 1-800-CALL-ATT and ask for Dave. Please?

Why he couldn’t just say that in plain English: At the time, AT&T may have been already engaged in talks with SBC, which today announced it will acquire its one-time parent company. If Dorman had simply announced the intention to sell or the existence of negotiations, he might have set off market speculation and scuttled any deal. Better to speak in code.

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Correction, Feb. 4, 2005: This article originally gave the wrong first name for AT&T’s chief financial officer. His name is Thomas Horton, not Timothy Horton. (Return to corrected sentence.)