Phone Tag

Matt Carter moves Boost Mobile from a noncontender to a leader in its category by making all the right calls

CHANGING THE CULTURE
Carter lives in Irvine, California with his wife and four children––with a short, scenic commute to his informal, yet functional office. After a brief conversation with Carter, his accent quickly reveals his Boston roots. The oldest of five children, he and his siblings were raised by his father, who worked as a police officer, and mother, a factory worker. Carter’s boyhood dream was playing left-field for the Boston Red Sox but his father held scholastic-based expectations. So he decided to pursue his other passion, film, at Northwestern University. Unwilling to pay his dues, however, by working his way up from the mailroom at a Hollywood agent’s office, Carter headed back home and took an operations manager position with Raytheon. It was at the defense contractor that he soon discovered another passion–business–and found that marketing appealed to his creative streak and competitive nature. He attended Harvard Business School and upon graduating in 1988, he landed his first marketing position at Bristol-Myers Squibb as assistant product manager of Bufferin aspirin. Over the next 18 years he worked in several key global marketing positions at Coca-Cola and Bell South before joining Sprint.

By the late ’90s, he was caught up in the “gold rush” of the dot-com boom and launched AmeriTales Entertainment, his own interactive business targeted toward children. He continued to run the company with his wife, Theresa, who now has complete control of the business.

His entrepreneurial background helped him understand the business challenges that Boost struggled with as a startup division within a corporate entity. To stay competitive the division clearly needed a disciplined operating structure in contrast with its freewheeling, laissez faire culture. The organizational maven created an accountable, results-based environment. In fact, one of the first systems he implemented was a weekly scorecard to track all elements of the unit, providing two significant benefits: making employees aware of the company’s objectives and letting them know how individual performance was being measured. “It helped change the culture overnight,” he asserts.

But many were not prepared for his deliberate, disciplined management style. He was met with resistance but acted swiftly, resulting in the dismissal of a significant member of the staff who had started the organization. As a result, some employees wore “In Memoriam” T-shirts to protest his decision. “You have to have the courage to know you’re doing the right thing,” Carter maintains. “What I learned when I spoke to leaders in other companies [is that] in the transformation of [their] companies they all say they should have acted sooner with people. At the end of the day, [employees] expect me to make the right decisions to allow them to get a paycheck every two weeks.”  That act set the stage for the acceleration of his plan.

“Matt gets results,” Hesse insists. “When I came to Sprint, our No.1 problem was churn. When Matt was put in charge, we made improvements quickly. His style can perhaps best be described as ‘hard-charging.’ Matt leaves a wake behind him—and I mean that as a compliment.”

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