“Commit to lifelong learning. Skills to learn are more important than what you learn.” Thaddeus Arroyo
Thaddeus Arroyo heeded his father’s words: “Take advantage of all opportunities in life.” Those opportunities presented themselves often and helped advance Arroyo to the top job at AT&T Business today.
Born in San Francisco to a Spanish father who had immigrated from Spain during Franco’s reign and a second-generation Mexican American mother, Arroyo saw immigration from both sides and how cultures converged.
As a child, his father decided to return to Spain with the family after Franco’s death in 1975. But once there, the opportunities did not materialize, so the family migrated back to the United States where Arroyo would eventually pursue his own education and career opportunities.
It was a conversation with his cousin that led him to decide on his career. “I was a first-generation college student,” Arroyo said. “My parents didn’t know what to tell me about college.” His cousin, however, who was attending college on a Veteran’s grant, told him that there were “lots of jobs in computer science. That cousin was my mentor.”
So, Arroyo put himself through the University of Texas at Arlington and studied math and computer science. This alone was unusual considering that Arroyo came from a household that didn’t even own a computer. “I was good at math but knew nothing of computers.” Arroyo said.
Business and first Gulf War
After college, his path led him to Southwestern Bell (SWB) Telephone and the Information Technology department. SWB was one of the regional Baby Bells created when AT&T was ordered to relinquish control of the Bell Operating Companies in 1982. During his 7 years at SWB, he advanced steadily, and the company invested in him by sending him to school at Southern Methodist University for an MBA.
During his time at SWB, Arroyo was called to active duty for the first Gulf War. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves-Signal Corps for 12 years and was called up during this conflict. “My job was to mobilize the western states, to get the reserves ready for war. But the war lasted only two weeks,” Arroyo said, “Then I went back to SWB.”
American Airlines SABRE
Although he returned to SWB, he didn’t stay long. He was offered an opportunity with a new division of American Airlines that was building an electronic booking system called SABRE. “American Airlines was using technology to create new capabilities for airlines,” Arroyo said.
He was with American Airlines when they spun the division out into its own company in 2000.
Arroyo held several positions within SABRE including vice president of strategic infrastructure, vice president of global outsourcing, senior vice president of information technology services and senior vice president of product marketing and development. As he explained about his time at SABRE, “I ran the technical services that supported the reservation system as SABRE began to sell it to other airlines.”
This love of all things technical has kept Arroyo at the forefront of innovation within AT&T.
In 2001, Arroyo became the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Cingular Wireless, a relatively new technology. Later Cingular Wireless merged with AT&T wireless. Six years later in 2007, Cingular, AT&T Wireless, Bellsouth and SBC Communications merged into one company and Arroyo became the CIO.
Arroyo has gives back to his community
Throughout his technical career, Arroyo has given back to his community and acknowledged his heritage. In 2007, he was named one of the “Latinos of the Year” by Latina magazine.
Two years later, he was listed among the “100 Top Hispanic IT Leaders” in Computerworld magazine and recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential Hispanics” by Hispanic Business magazine. In 2010, he was named among the “Most Important Hispanics in Technology and Business” by Hispanic Engineer and Information Technology. He has also received recognition from the Telecommunications industry Billing and OSS World Magazine as among the “Industry’s top 25 Most influential people”, from the Hispanic IT executive Council (HITEC) for his contributions toward the advancement of the IT industry through though leadership, diversity initiatives and professional excellence, and from Diversity MBA Magazine as among the “Top 100 under 50 Diverse Executive Leaders for 2013.”
As the population of the country changes, Arroyo acknowledges that diversity, “Hispanics are now becoming the new mainstream, an integral part of the new economy. If Latinos in the US were an economy on their own, they would be in the top 10 in the world. But we must create pathways for them.”
Much deserved recognition
Arroyo’s recognition as a top technologist and business leader led him to be named Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of AT&T Mexico in 2015.
Although, Arroyo says, the US and Mexico are culturally different, he turned those differences to his advantage. As he worked to create a wireless business in Mexico for 100 million people and bring the country from a 2G wireless network into the 4G world, Arroyo said that he found the younger workforce in Mexico adapted quickly to the new direction he was taking the company.
Because he stressed diversity in all forms, Arroyo said he believes that is why AT&T became one of the great places to work in Mexico. During his time as CEO of AT&T Mexico, 3G and 4G usage grew to 85% and smartphone ownership climbed from 30% to 80%.
Becomes CEO of AT&T Business
In 2017, Arroyo became the CEO of AT&T Business in Dallas, Texas. “On the AT&T Business side, we are focused on helping business of all sizes – small medium and large – on their digital transformation journeys to better meet the needs of their customers.”
Arroyo applies technology to help AT&T stay relevant.
Making data available throughout the network gives Arroyo a new playing field. “The element in today’s world of data that becomes unique is the part the network brings. The ability to compute will be delivered over the network securely and you won’t have to be a device to use the strength of the network.
Appliances and other devices will be able to operate at the edges with AT&T’s cybersecurity capability helping business manage at the “seams” between devices.”
Arroyo went on to say that 5G (the next generation network) will change everything in mobility. “5G will make everything on the network more real time. It brings the concept of ‘instant’ to life, driving capabilities like remote telemedicine and robots that react in situations like humans.”
Not blind to challenges
But Arroyo is not blind to the challenge these changes will bring. “The ability to serve as a trusted advisor, bring the right skills and be leading edge in voice and collaboration are key skills,” Arroyo said. That makes the skills development of his employees very important.
In fact, he says that IQ (intelligence quotient) is being replaced with LQ (learning quotient) or the ability for an individual to learn new things rapidly. “Technology cycles used to evolve over decades, now it’s months.”
As artificial intelligence and machine learning make robotics more and more useful, Arroyo says we must look at how this impacts people. “We won’t really need locally present physical “compute” anymore since it will be delivered over the network anytime and anyplace, but humans must tap into this capability to empower tomorrow’s extraordinary experiences.”
Skills that we will need will be different, he said. “In 2000, we looked ahead and saw that we would need broader but fewer skills in some areas like, application testing. But we also saw we would need more data analysts. We need to keep looking at the new skills requirements.”
Today, Arroyo’s younger cousin — were he to mentor the next generation — might get this piece of advice: “Commit to lifelong learning. Skills to learn are more important than what you learn.”