Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless officially tied the knot four months ago, enough time for the integration of the two companies to get into full swing.

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Cingular Wireless and AT&T Wireless officially tied the knot four months ago, enough time for the integration of the two companies to get into full swing.


One change involves the appointment of Brian Shay as Cingular’s regional president for the West, the most senior manager in Washington state.

A veteran of more than 20 years in the wireless industry, Shay recalls the first phone he sold: a Motorola brick, which cost $3,000. Now, he carries the $499 Motorola Razr V3, one of the smallest and most stylish phones on the market.


Here are excerpts from a conversation with him.


Q: What’s your history in the wireless industry?




Brian Shay


Who: Brian Shay, Cingular’s regional president for the West


Age: 45

Education: Bachelor of arts from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn.


Base: AT&T Wireless’ former headquarters at Redmond Town Center

Responsibilities: 12-state area with more than 15,000 employees. Most of the employees report to Shay, while others, including the business customer-service organization in Bothell, report to the Atlanta headquarters. Cingular’s West region includes Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona.


At AT&T Wireless: Executive vice president of sales and distribution operations

Other jobs: In 20 years, Shay has held positions at Motorola, US West Cellular, AirTouch and Verizon Wireless.


A:
I started in the wireless business back in 1984.

Q: 1984?



A: Yes, it was the beginning. I was employee 141 [at US West], one of the divested companies of AT&T, which spun off into seven Baby Bells. I started in Minnesota, and through a series of mergers and acquisitions, worked for four wireless companies.


Q: You’ve been involved in four mergers?


A: Yes, I started out at US West, and then AirTouch, which became Vodafone, and Vodafone to Verizon [Wireless], and AT&T Wireless to Cingular, and I’ve only changed jobs once. That’s the crazy part of it. It’s an exciting dynamic industry and it’s as exciting today as it was in 1984.

Q: How does it feel to fill [former AT&T Wireless Chief Executive] John Zeglis’ shoes?



A: I don’t think of it as filling John’s shoes. … Cingular has brought two great companies together to form what we ultimately think will be the industry leader that provides the best wireless service to the customers. I think Stan Sigman [Cingular’s chief executive] fills John Zeglis’ shoes.



Q: But you are the highest-ranking person here in Redmond for Cingular?



A: Yes, that’s correct. We have four regions. This is the headquarters for the West. We have one in Dallas, one in Atlanta, which happens to be the [Cingular] corporate headquarters, and one based in New York.


Q: Are they all similar in size?


A: Geographically, it’s probably a fistfight between the West and Central. For overall customers, they are equal in size.

Q: By employees, how do they rank?



A: It’s pretty similar.


Q: How has the transition been from AT&T Wireless to Cingular?


A: I think it’s been great. The two companies are very similar in their philosophies, and in the first quarter of operations, we delivered to 1.8 million [new] customers, which I think surprised people and demonstrated how well the transition is going.

Q: Many people believed that AT&T Wireless still had an entrepreneurial flavor to it from the founding days as McCaw Cellular Communications. Have you had to pick up things from Cingular’s character?



A: The one thing I’d say, is that they are very market-focused. I’m fully accountable for the customer experience within the West region. There’s a much greater level of accountability, whereas AT&T Wireless used more of a national approach. We have more of our resources at a market level, we do marketing at a market level.


Q: AT&T Wireless didn’t have a unique approach to each market?


A: Right. Cingular recognizes and provides the flexibility for the leaders to make decisions that Miami is different than Seattle. In reality, we want them to have one great Cingular experience. There are many things we standardize, but we know it’s competitive and the general manager of the market has flexibility to respond to customers.

Q: There’s still a lot of change going on at the company as it consolidates into one. Are you responsible for those changes, including layoffs? [So far up to 400 employees in Washington state, mostly in Redmond and Bothell, have received notices that their jobs are being cut.]



A: I’m not in charge of them, so to speak. It’s a large organization here. There are parts like the new-product group and mobile-messaging group that are part of another organization, but I’m aware of them.


Q: Has it been difficult for some employees to be part of the merger?


A: I haven’t noticed that it’s been too difficult to be part of the merger. Obviously, any time there’s an announcement that people are getting laid off that’s a difficult time, but as far as being part of the new Cingular, they are excited about it.

Q: How does the Seattle area change now that it has one of Cingular headquarters versus AT&T Wireless headquartered here?


A: I think Seattle is still an amazingly dynamic city in the wireless industry. It’s been that way since its inception and at different times in its history. There have been two or three wireless division headquarters here or a corporate headquarters. There’s an amazing number of wireless pioneers that started in the Northwest and a legacy of wireless companies being headquartered here.

Our West region is headquartered here, which is a significant commitment to the Northwest. I think we recognize that there’s a lot of talented resources here in the wireless industry and that it’s fair to say, it’s one of the reasons why we decided to keep the headquarters here.


Q: For wireless startups that sell products and services to carriers, how do things change? Can they still pitch you here, or do they have to fly to Atlanta now?


A: Potentially both. Parts of our new-product group are based here, and I think the wireless industry and the wireless-data industry are moving at breakneck speed; and being in the Pacific Northwest, particularly with the likes of Microsoft and other data companies, it’s important to work closely together to deliver products and services to these small handheld devices.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com