David M. Granger
GINN'S PATH TO SUCCESS MARKED WITH VALUES INSTILLED BY FAMILY
From Anniston to Auburn to AirTouch, Sam Ginn's path has been marked with the same guiding characteristics -- virtues that come up time after time in conversations with his friends and former coworkers.
Honesty. Integrity. Fairness. Competitiveness.
These are the values instilled in him by a family he still holds dear, a family that has its roots in the tough times right after America's Great Depression in rural Anniston.
Ginnšs hometown is Anniston, Ala. He was born in 1937. His father worked a series of rugged jobs on a railroad, a pipeline, hauling gravel and operating a rolling store.
"My family was poor and I think the idea of escaping that was one of the drivers of my life," Ginn says. "But at the same time, the value system of my parents was extremely important to me as far as building discipline. They were poor economically, but rich in values. They set high standards and put a premium on always representing the family well."
Ginn began his career as a student worker at AT&T and worked his way to the chairmanship of Vodafone AirTouch Plc, one of the biggest international wireless companies in the world. He now serves as senior partner of the Freemont Group, managing telecommunication investments. He has represented his family well, and, along the way, he shared with and exhibited to others the values his family cultivated within him.
"Sam has the highest set of standards of anyone I've ever seen," says Don Adams, who worked with Ginn as a sales representative at AT&T and for him later with Pacific Telesis. "I mean, that guy doesn't have a dishonest bone in his body. And he makes anybody that works for him accept and operate under those same values."
Success hasn't come easy for Ginn. In fact, his path almost took an unexpected turn when, as a high school senior, he went to see Anniston High Principal John Nash. Ginn needed a letter of recommendation from Nash to attend Auburn.
"When I asked (Nash) to sign it, he said he wouldn't because I would just go down there and flunk out and waste my daddy's money," Ginn recalled. "I said, 'Mr. Nash, if you'll sign it, I won't disappoint you.' He signed it and I'd have to say that he was one of the lights of my early life."
It was a vow that Ginn didn't take lightly. Though Ginn confesses to early academic struggles at Auburn, he eventually had enough academic success to be inducted into several honor societies, including Blue Key, the engineering honorary.
"Auburn was the first opportunity I took to become academically strong," Ginn said. "Academics were not a priority for me in high school, but Auburn reinforced the need to focus on academics and in the beginning was tough for me because I had to learn how to study.
"I made a lot of good friends at Auburn and I have always been grateful for my education there. Auburn prepared me to go out into the business world and have a chance for success."
Ginn's AU roommate and fraternity brother Bryant Crutchfield, now director of strategies with Georgia Pacific in Atlanta, recalls Ginn's days at Auburn a little differently, saying he was "organized from day one."
"As roommates, we were kind of like an odd couple," Crutchfield said. "He was kind of a neatnik and I always piled my clothes in a pile on the floor. He always said that he was going to straighten me out, but I think I had more influence in making him a little more sloppy.
"Sam was one who was always very aware of how to act in any situation. He was always neat, clean and organized and he dressed right. He was appropriate and it was something he worked at. To be quite honest with you, I never saw Sam struggle."
Crutchfield, who said Ginn always "had the ugliest cars in the Delta Chi parking lot," would later live with Ginn in Atlanta, site of Ginn's first assignment with AT&T. Ginn met his wife, Ann, there and introduced Crutchfield to her roommate, Virginia, who Crutchfield later married.
After a stint in the Army Signal Corps, Ginn went to work for AT&T out of Auburn. He was sent by the company to Stanford University as a Sloan Fellow in 1969 and began to move rapidly up the corporate ranks, becoming vice president of network operations for AT&T Long Lines in 1977.
George Fender, now retired in Jacksonville, Fla., was a co-worker of Ginn's at the time he left on his Sloan Fellowship.
"I knew when he left to go to Stanford that Sam was moving in the right direction and headed for success," Fender said. "The impression that Sam made upon people I'll never forget," Fender added. "He was very well liked, very considerate, very fair, but very competitive. I guess that competitiveness is what led him to what he achieved in the corporate world."
While with PacTel Companies in 1984, Ginn spearheaded the company's networking of the Los Angeles Olympics with cellular phones, at that time one of the most extensive cellular projects to date. He became chairman and chief executive officer of AirTouch in 1993 and spun the company off from the Pacific Telesis Group in 1994, eventually growing it into one of the international giants of the wireless industry. AirTouch merged with Vodafone in 1999 and Ginn was made chairman of the new company, Vodafone AirTouch Plc -- a post he held until his resignation in May 2000. He is now senior partner of the Freemont Group, managing telecommunication investments.
Through all the successes, friends say Ginn has changed little. Guise Potter, a friend of Ginn's in Anniston, remembers Ginn from his high school days, but never developed a friendship with him until a high school reunion in 1985. Since then, Potter has been Ginn's golf guest at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., and attended as Ginn's guest a retreat sponsored by the Bohemian Club, an exclusive group that includes Ginn, Secretary of State Colin Powell and former secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger.
"It always amazed me that he could hobnob with those kinds of people and then hobnob with me," Potter said. "But he's always had the same basic qualities of friendship, sharing and enjoying experiences with others, being open and accessible. A lot of people who've achieved what he has develop barriers around them, but Sam is just the opposite. He's always trying to find a way to get back and reconnect with friends."