HANGING UP ON BLACKS

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    By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader

    They’re as common as currency exchanges and mom-and-pop stores in low-income neighborhoods. Across Chicago and Black America, Black customers are flocking to Metro PCS and Boost Mobile—two discount phone companies that operate numerous stores in Black neighborhoods.

    In the unlikeliest locations, these stores together are ringing up millions in revenue for their parent companies T-Mobile and Sprint, respectively.

    A METRO PCS store off Cottage Grove and 43rd Street

    Behind these companies are the men and women who wield power and influence at the top of corporate America while they enjoy big bonuses and fat paychecks. At the parent companies of Metro PCS and Boost Mobile—the two most dominant phone companies in Black neighborhoods—these executives are powerful and successful, but none of them are Black.

    During a survey of the nation’s top four phone companies: Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint, the Crusader found that there are few to no Black executives at the top of the corporate ladder. It’s a problem in many of America’s boardrooms, but questions remain for Metro PCS and Boost Mobile where people of color are absent at the head of companies that have made a fortune from aggressively marketing to low-income customers, many of whom are Black.

    Out of a combined total of 62 executives from Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, only two or less than one percent are Black men and there are no Black women according to information obtained from the companies’ websites. Forty-nine of the executives are white men, four of whom are CEOs. Twelve executives at the four companies are white women.

    The two Black executives are at the nation’s two largest phone companies—Verizon Wireless and AT&T. One of them is Eric Cevis, who is senior vice president and group president of Verizon Partner Solutions. The other Black executive is David S. Huntley, senior executive vice president & chief compliance officer for AT&T.

    T-Mobile and Sprint had no top Black executives in their companies

    For this story, the Crusader tried to reach the companies, but only T-Mobile and Sprint responded. A spokesperson, who declined to give his full name, said Kenya Dunn is T-Mobile’s regional vice president for the North Central U.S. However, on its website, Dunn is not listed on T-Mobile’s top-tier leadership team that includes the CEO and 17 of the company’s highest-level executives who have the final say on projects and decisions.

    The spokesperson also listed Kelvin R. Westbrook as a Black executive, however, Westbrook is on T-Mobile’s Board of Directors, where he serves as a member and chair of the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee.

    “As I said, she and Mr. Westbrook are just a couple of examples of diverse people in leadership positions across the company,” T-Mobile’s spokes- person said.

    A Sprint spokesperson said Vonya McCann, senior vice president of Government Affairs, is with the company, but she is not listed on the company’s executive team. For its survey, the Crusader used as its criteria the company’s executive team, where high-ranking officials make final decisions that impact the company’s growth and profits.

    Traditionally, executive teams leading the nation’s biggest companies have lagged behind in appointing Blacks to the pinnacles of corporate America.

    The lack of Black executives raises questions about T-Mobile and Sprint—companies that richly benefit from operating their discount carriers, Metro PCS and Boost Mobile in low-income and Black neighborhoods.

    T-Mobile and Sprint have aggressively courted low-income consumers with their discount phone companies to boost profits and remain among the elite providers. In the past several years, T-Mobile has flooded low-income Black neighborhoods with Metro PCS, and Sprint has beefed up the number of Boost Mobile outlets, many of which are located next to Metro PCS stores. AT&T’s Cricket Wireless stores are growing in Black neighborhoods, but they are still outnumbered by Metro PCS and Boost Mobile stores, which together have dominated the low-income market of cell phone customers.

    For years, Metro PCS and Boost Mobile have kept their parent companies among the elite phone service providers in the ultra-competitive cell phone industry, where customers with less cash often switch for the least expensive, but best phone plans.

    T-Mobile is the bigger of the two parent companies. Based on its latest figures, T-Mobile, which is based in Bellevue, WA, has 71 million phone customers generating some $37.2 billion in revenue in 2016. Sprint—based in Overland Park, KS—made $32.18 billion with 57 million customers, according to the company’s SEC filings.

    Both T-Mobile and Sprint include the revenues of Metro PCS and Boost Mobile with their annual earnings, but these discount prov- iders are having an impact on T-Mobile and Sprint’s profit margins. Last April, T-Mobile announced that it will open 40 T-Mobile and Metro PCS stores in Chicago.

    For Metro PCS, Boost Mobile and even AT&T, Black customers and their families remain a lucrative group that has led to a proliferation of outlets in Black neighborhoods, which the biggest provider of them all—Verizon Wireless—and smaller phone companies have shunned for decades.

    Today, there are numerous Metro PCS and Boost Mobile stores in many Black neighborhoods in Chicago. Of the two discount phone companies, Metro PCS has the most outlets and has been the most aggressive in expanding its brand. Last August, Metro PCS had a float in the Bud Billiken Parade and a month later, a T-Mobile booth was set up at the African Arts Festival in Washington Park. A Metro PCS billboard in South Shore hovers over 78th and Stony Island.

    In neighborhoods on the South Side, Metro PCS stores far outnumber Boost Mobile. In some areas, there are two or three Metro PCS outlets within walking distance of one another. At a strip shopping center on 47th and Lake Park Avenue, Metro PCS carved out a space next to a laundromat to court Black customers.

    At 63rd and King Drive, Metro PCS had a booth in a nail salon and opened a permanent store just across the street.

    Without top Black executives, T-Mobile and Sprint remain steadfast on expanding their brands.

    “T-Mobile is betting big in Chicago,” said Dunn in a press release. “With a better, stronger network and more stores in the Chicago area, we’re giving wireless customers in Chicagoland more choices and places they can get personalized service from the network with the most satisfied customers in wireless.”

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