Edward E. Whitacre, Jr.
Edward E. Whitacre Jr., the widely admired AT&T chief executive who came out of retirement to lead the turnaround of General Motors Co., will be the featured speaker at University of the Pacific's Commencement Ceremony May 10. "Ed Whitacre is an exemplary role model for Pacific's students. He has combined extraordinary professional success with ethical living and corporate responsibility, remaining true to his core values of working hard, dreaming big, and speaking plainly and truthfully," said University of the Pacific President Pamela A. Eibeck. "I am proud to have known him for many years as an engineer, businessman, civic leader and loyal Texas Tech alum, and look forward to introducing him to our new graduates as they embark on their own lives of service and meaning."
Whitacre recounts his career as CEO of two of the world's biggest and best-known companies in his 2013 book, "American Turnaround: Reinventing AT&T and GM and the Way We Do Business in the USA.".)
The son and grandson of railroad workers, neither of whom had the opportunity to complete high school, Whitacre earned an engineering degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, in 1964.
He began his career in the telecom industry while still in college, as a facility engineer at Southwestern Bell Telephone. By 1982, he was leading the company's Kansas Division. Three years later he joined corporate headquarters, where he served in increasingly important leadership positions. In 1988, he was named president and COO of what by then had become Southwestern Bell Communications. Within two years, he had risen to chairman and CEO.
SBC acquired AT&T in 2005 and grew under Whitacre's leadership into the globe's largest telecommunications venture. During his 17 years as chairman and CEO, Whitacre advanced the company through a disciplined strategy of diversification, controlled growth, smart investments, strategic partnerships, mergers and acquisitions. He earned widespread praise for his dedication, attention to detail, decisiveness and willingness to embrace change.
In 2007, Whitacre retired from AT&T -- but it was a short-lived retirement.
Two years later, the Obama Administration appealed to him to take over GM, which had just filed for bankruptcy. Whitacre quickly turned the automaker around. He streamlined its vision, brought in a new CFO from the tech industry, and instituted other major changes. Within a year, GM had earned $1.3 billion and was prepared to pay back $50 million in government bailout funds. In December 2010, Whitacre stepped down as chairman and CEO of GM.
Today Whitacre serves on the board of Exxon Mobil Corporation. He previously served on numerous other boards, including the Institute for International Economics, and was a member of The Business Council. He has been actively involved with the Boy Scouts of America, United Way, and his alma mater. The Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering on the Lubbock campus was named in recognition of his tremendous support to the institution and his profound commitment to higher education.
Among his many other honors, Whitacre was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 2009 and named by BusinessWeek as one of the Top 25 Executives of the Year. He has also been recognized for promoting diversity within his companies and suppliers. The Women's Business Enterprise National Council, the National Minority Business Council, and the National Minority Supplier Development Council have applauded his work in these areas, as have Fortune and Working Woman magazines.