AT&T President Bill Soards on Innovation
Writer / Kara Reibel
Photographer / Brian Brosmer
Entering the office of Indiana’s President of AT&T is a step back in time to the days of Mad Men. The woodwork and furnishings are of a different era. Yet regardless of the resurgence in popularity of mid-century furniture and design aesthetic, the offices are being updated to reflect a change in the times.
As President of AT&T, Bill Soards brings a unique element of youth and energy to his position. Progressive and forward thinking, his leadership comes at a critical time. While all of his predecessors have looked toward the horizon, Soards embraces change like no one before him.
The remodeling efforts in the building reflect the evolving culture of a company as it strives to stay ahead of the technology of tomorrow. While Bill appreciates the nostalgia and history of his office, he welcomes change.
Bill grew up on Indy’s north side and graduated from North Central High School and then studied at Butler University where he majored in political science and telecommunications. He’s fortunate to have known at a young age where his interests lie, and not only majored in them, is living them daily. Bill’s father was an entrepreneur who owned a vending machine company and four retail stores, but is best known for serving twenty years as a state legislator. There’s no doubt the influence his father had on Bill’s own civic engagement and career mindset. At the age of twenty-three, Bill was elected and served for four years on the Indianapolis City County Council. After moving to Zionsville with his wife and daughters, he served for an additional five years on the Boone County Council.
Perhaps the influence of staying current and ahead of trends is what drives him, yet this is someone who is not afraid to take risks. With the dynamics of technological evolution, AT&T is keeping up by supporting tech startup communities to foster STEM.
One way is through sponsorship of Eleven Fifty Academy’s classrooms located inside Launch Fishers. With demand for careers in the technology field, cultivating these students now is critical to Indiana’s tomorrow. “Innovation drives what we do,” says Soards. “A shift in innovation creates change and with the pace of technology, this is a constant. Supporting Eleven Fifty Academy is a natural partnership for us.”
“The need for a skilled tech workforce cannot be overstated,” says John Qualls, President of Eleven Fifty Academy. “We are grateful that AT&T shares our vision, for it’s partnerships such as theirs that will enable us to skill up Hoosiers to meet the demand for jobs in this field, which is increasing exponentially.”
The AT&T Engagement Center inside of Launch Fishers also includes an AT&T space for product demos and prominent advertising to their members. Bill refers to the partnership with Launch Fishers as “an experiment”, which is fitting since experiments are what lead to innovation.
”A presence inside of Launch Fishers is equally beneficial for internal as well as external reasons. We are a global, integrated communications company providing wireless and broadband access but our industry is changing rapidly,” states Bill. “We are creating innovation internally and we want our employees to be a part of the innovative community as a whole.”
“AT&T has been an awesome partner with Launch Fishers. From conducting hackathons with our community, to their support of our Launch Fishers High School Fellowship, they have proven their interest in helping our innovation economy continue to grow and thrive!” says John Wechsler, Founder of Launch Fishers.
AT&T was once a startup. Alexander Graham Bell was inspired by his mother. In spite of the fact that she was deaf, she became an accomplished pianist, inspiring young Alexander to take on great challenges throughout his life. The Bell Telephone Company filed for corporate status in July of 1877, 139 years ago. Alexander Graham Bell was an early entrepreneur whose love of invention started a company that is today the world’s largest global communications company. Bill Soards is technically President of Indiana Bell.
“Communications is continually disrupted – by devices, technologies – we are moving faster, smarter, trying newly innovated projects and ideas, and while I appreciate the nostalgia of the history of our company and industry, it is entirely based on change. That’s why we support new initiatives like Eleven Fifty Academy and Launch Fishers,” says Bill.
AT&T Brand Ambassador, Vanessa Cretsinger, works a few days a week inside of Launch Fishers where she coordinates vendor events and networks with members of Launch Fishers. “By learning about community entrepreneurs, we can explore what AT&T can do to help their businesses grow,” shares Vanessa.
“When you align with a vision of technology and entrepreneurial innovation, good things happen,” says Bill, who is open to the happy coincidences of unintended results.
Inspired by Launch Fishers, AT&T created their own co-working space for their employees. AT&T has owned the 220 Meridian location since 1907.
“Having been with the company for over sixteen years, it means something to be back in your home town doing something special,” says Bill, who has moved around the country with AT&T, recently living in Denver before moving back to his home state.
“Denver is a great city. We spent four and a half years there, but it’s made it even better to be home,” says Bill. “We can’t be Austin, Boston, Denver – we need to be authentic to Indy.”
Bill insists that every co-working space needs it’s own brand of authenticity, true to its local roots.
“This isn’t an AT&T store,” says Vanessa of working inside of Launch Fishers. The AT&T corporate-owned retail stores are known internally as CORE. “The intention is for Launch members to discover what AT&T does and for us to discover what they do and how we can work together,”
Thanks to foresight with supporting innovation, AT&T is redefining the question, “How can we help you?”