Career Advice: Understand Where the Growth Opportunities Are

AT&T’s David Huntley: Understand Where the Growth Opportunities Are

David S. Huntley, SEVP and Chief Compliance Officer, AT&T, is responsible for developing policies to safeguard the privacy of customer and employee information, and verifying compliance with legal and regulatory requirements of every country and jurisdiction in which AT&T operates, as well as AT&T internal compliance requirements. David has held this role since December 2014 and has more than 20 years of business and legal experience with the company.

Prior to being named chief compliance officer, David served as senior vice president and assistant general counsel for AT&T Services. In this role, he oversaw a staff of 47 attorneys and managers located in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Haven, Detroit, St. Louis, San Antonio, Cleveland, Chicago, Bedminster, Oklahoma City and Dallas. David and his group were responsible for providing legal support to the Home Solutions organization and the Global Marketing organization. Additionally, he was responsible for Legal Department administration. David’s full bio can be found here.

I interviewed David some months back and we had a very good discussion; in fact, we went over the allotted time by 20 minutes, and that doesn’t include the conversation we had before we got started. The interview definitely went off script but in a very positive way. So, instead of posting the interview in its entirety, which is lengthy, I’ve decided to break it into two parts. This is the first part.

Shane Nelson: Can you start off by telling us your story, about your upbringing? You spoke about your dad. Talk about your dad and how instrumental he was in your life, and your journey to AT&T.

David Huntley: I grew up in San Antonio. Both of my parents are native Texans and my dad worked as a chauffeur for a wealthy oil family. He worked for them for over 50 years and he was my hero. He was my hero for a lot of different reasons, but mostly just for the kind of man that he was and the role model that he was. His reputation and character was everything to him. He grew up and worked during a time when he was denied a great deal.

And so for him, he found solace in knowing that who he was meant something to not only himself but to his family. He was a stand-up guy, the guy who was trustworthy, loyal, strong, who respected others and demanded respect, reliable, honest; all of those things that we value when we talk about character and reputation. So he was my role model for that.

He set the standard also by saying, “I don’t care what you become, but just be the best at whatever it is.” I think what has driven me and my brother to exceed is this whole notion of being the best. So from there I went to college and law school and ended up at SBC after I got out of law school and practiced for a while.

I moved to SBC in-house in 1994. I had a 23-year career at AT&T doing various jobs. I’ve practiced law, run business units for the company and practiced law again. In December 2014, our CEO [Randall Stephenson] came to me and said he wanted me to become the chief compliance officer for the company.

His idea was it was something that he and the board had been thinking about for some time, and that the company wanted to elevate compliance to a direct-reporting position to the CEO. That would then show how strong the company’s commitment was to this space, to ethics compliance. So I’ve been in this role since December of 2014.

Shane Nelson: One quick question before we get into the questions I sent to you. Did your father experience any bias toward him and his family? How did he communicate that to you and your brother, about being resilient and overcoming it?

David Huntley: He was born in 1912, so you could see he grew up during the depression, and I could tell you that he saw a lot of ugliness in his time. But he always said, “You can’t let that stop you from being who you are, because if you do, you’ll never be a happy person.” And so he always lived in the future. He saw that things were changing. He saw what the movement was all about, and he saw that we were making strides and headway.

You know, he was fortunate to work for somebody who was a good person and who treated him with respect, and allowed him to be who he was. That really was his safe harbor. But that didn’t mean he was oblivious to what was going on around him. In terms of what he did for me and for my brother, the biggest thing he gave us was he didn’t pass along hate, because he had every right to hate but he didn’t.

He always told us that it was the art of the possible, that’s the future. Look ahead, don’t look back; but look at what is to come. He saw things were changing and he said to us, “Be prepared. Be prepared for when things change, for when things open up,” and that’s why when I talk to groups, my sons in particular, it’s always about being prepared, how you are positioning yourself to take advantage of the future.

Shane Nelson: That was great. Thank you. Let’s get into the questions here. First one: why is diversity and inclusion important to you? Let me preface this. On May 2, we had our yearly awards ceremony at Cipriani Wall Street where we unveiled the 2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.

AT&T has been on our list for many years and at the event, we announced AT&T went up one spot from No. 4 to No. 3. The company has a very strong culture of diversity and inclusion. I’ve seen AT&T go through a couple of acquisitions — Cingular Wireless and then recently with DIRECTV. And after every one, acquiring companies that may not have as a strong D&I culture as you, the company gels and recovers well, in terms of workforce and management representation. For AT&T, the integration is seamless. I’ve seen a number of companies have a difficult time integrating cultures.

D&I is a huge component of how AT&T does business. What does that mean for you personally and professionally?

David Huntley: First of all, thank you for that. Getting to No. 4, that was something, especially as a recognition from DiversityInc. It’s not just something you give out easily. It’s something that you have to work hard to achieve, and so we’re very proud. We were very proud when we became No. 4 and even more proud to be No. 3.

And I know that’s one spot up, but we feel good about it because we earned it. For me personally, it makes me feel good and proud. It also recognizes the real true value of what diversity brings to the table. It’s not just some social construct that we’re about, but it really recognizes that we’re the best and we are inclusive of all people.

You look at our customer base, at the communities we serve — it just screams, “This is how we win in the market place,” for so many different reasons. It’s very important to us. It’s one of our hallmarks; it is a part of our DNA. It’s what makes us best. It makes us the most competitive, and I think that’s how we win. That’s kind of a competitive advantage, if you will.

Shane Nelson: Yes, it certainly is. You’ve been very successful in your professional career from attorney to reporting to Randall Stephenson. How do you define success, and what career advice do you have for being successful?

David Huntley: It goes back to what my dad ingrained inside of me, and that is strive to do your best and to be your best. For me, it’s always seeking ways to contribute. When I’ve done that, I’ve been able to showcase my talent. I’ve been very fortunate that that talent has been recognized, and I have been rewarded accordingly.

But it’s not so much about me. I learned early on that you have to take yourself out of it, and you have to think more about your team, what you’re trying to accomplish, what you’re trying to achieve. If you put your best foot forward, if you bring your best to the table to achieve that goal, that’s what speaks well of you, as opposed to, and I never came at this saying, “I wanted that spot,” or, “I wanted that position.”

My goal, having watched my father, is accomplishing something, and letting that be the driver as opposed to a position or a title.

Shane Nelson: What advice would you provide for people seeking to grow and get promoted at their current company?

David Huntley: First, I think it starts with understanding and knowing the direction of the company. You have to know where the company is going. Then I think you need to ask yourself if you have the skills and the knowledge base to play in whatever direction and area of your business.

So think of it this way. Understand the vision of your company and understand where the growth opportunities are. Ask yourself, “Do I have the skill set to play in that space?” And if you don’t, sometimes you don’t, then think about how to get those skills so that you can play in that space. It gets back to what I was saying about my father.

My father always said, as a chauffeur, he had to think ahead. He had to understand the routes, and traffic, and all kinds of things. So being prepared, looking to see what was coming around that next bend, anticipating, those are some of the things that I think really helped me.

I would say that is still very relevant today. You’ve got to take your career into your own hands. That means you have to keep up. I would say to listen to earnings calls if it’s a public company to try to understand how the company is doing financially, and get insight into the company’s strategy and where they’re going.

If you know that, then you can say, “Well, that’s an area that I want to go into,” and then you have to let people know. But ask yourself, “Am I positioned for the future? Am I positioned to play in that space?” And then you have to think about how to let people know. You can be the smartest person in the room. You can have the best skills, but if nobody knows you, if they don’t know you’re there and they don’t know what you can do, it’s all for naught.

Part of the equation is getting yourself prepared. The other part of the equation is making sure people know that you exist and what you have to offer.

Shane Nelson: Did you, or do you, have a sponsor or mentor and if so, how have they helped you in your career? Were you a good mentee and could you have advanced without that sponsor?

David Huntley: I’ll answer the last question first. I think I could have advanced but it would have taken me a lot longer. I think that everybody needs help. I’ll say it again. Everybody needs help. There’s a difference between a sponsor and a mentor. A sponsor is somebody who is going to be more of an advocate for you and help you get from place A to B. It can sometimes be the same mentor. And a mentor is somebody who’s going to evaluate what it is you bring to the table, how you bring it and what you need to do to get to that next level.

Sponsors typically have an idea of who you are and they’ve made a determination that you’re somebody that they’re going to help promote. So I think you need to have both. I’ve been fortunate to have folks like Ed Whitacre, who’s the former CEO of AT&T; Jim Ellis, a former General Counsel of AT&T; Wayne Watts, former General Counsel of AT&T; and Ray Wilkins, he was the first African American who was a direct-report officer to Ed Whitacre, back in the day. It’s really having the perspective of different people. Sometimes people are too narrow and they only have one person. I’ve had multiple people that I could bounce ideas off of and that was important.

In terms of being a good protégé or mentee, you have to be an active participant. You have to get on that person’s calendar. You have to have smart questions. You have to push to get that critical commentary on who you are and where you are. All too often we only want to hear the good things. It’s when you hear the negative, that’s what really helps you. Now, the key is, don’t dwell on some of the negative. The key is to do something about it and really play your strengths.

Your mentors and your sponsors, if they’re really good, they’re busy. So it’s up to you to make the best use of their time. And part of that is letting them know where you are in your career, what you’re doing, what you’re accomplishing, if your career has stalled. That’s when you need to be asking hard questions, and they can help you figure out why your career has stalled.


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