Maggie Wilderotter

Maggie Wilderotter
"Learning isn’t always easy nor success a given. I think of an oyster irritated by a grain of sand, and how that rub of sand and water makes a pearl. That same process can produce great results in business. Adversity and struggle can make great wins happen."
- Maggie Wilderotter

Induction Category:
Business & Labor

Born: 1955

Inducted: 2010

Town: Stamford

Maggie Wilderotter has been at the forefront of the evolving technology boom that has created a global economy and united the world through communication. From the AT&T of her parents' generation to the breakthrough of broadband internet and digital television, she has been a leader in the high-tech industry, eager to explore new opportunities and help bring change to our ever expanding global world. She has led Stamford-based Frontier Communications Corporation (NYSE: FTR) as its CEO since 2004.

Born Mary Agnes Sullivan in Neptune, N.J., she and her three sisters were nurtured in a home where education was seen as the key to success. Her father, an AT&T executive, and her mother, a top real estate agent in the state, impressed upon all four girls that education would give them the freedom and flexibility to accomplish whatever they dreamed.

Maggie took this message seriously (as did her sister Denise Morrisson, currently CEO of Campbell Soup) and enrolled in Holy Cross College in Massachusetts where she graduated with a B.A. in economics and business administration. While a student at Holy Cross, she was open to trying new adventures and learning from every experience. She hosted a radio show and served as the head of sports radio, providing color commentary and play-by-play for basketball, baseball, and hockey games. Her enjoyment behind the microphone was the beginning of her entry into the world of communication.

Upon graduation, she married her childhood sweetheart, Jay Wilderotter, whom she met at a beach club on the Jersey Shore when they were both just 12 years old. When his full-time assignment in the Air Force moved them to Sacramento, Calif., in 1978, she went to work for Cable Data, a software company.  This experience provided an incredible education in the cable industry, then in its infancy. During her 12 years there she worked in accounting, sales, marketing, and finally regional operations.

In 1990, Wilderotter joined McCaw Cellular, a pioneer in wireless communication. When McCaw was sold to AT&T Wireless, she moved to Seattle and remained there for two years as COO for AT&T’s cellular and paging divisions. As the dotcom boom was beginning in the mid-1990s, Wilderotter left AT&T and moved to San Francisco to become CEO of Wink Communication, an interactive television company. In the summer of 1998, Microsoft invested in the company to further the development of interactive TV and integrated Wink’s technology in its early WebTV service. Wilderotter saw this strategic cooperation as a way to accelerate the market for interactive television. Liberty Media acquired Wink in 2002, and Microsoft recruited Wilderotter as a Senior Vice President of Business Strategy. She was tasked with developing the company’s global business strategy, and she remained at Microsoft for just two years, working with intellectual property rights in China and India and encouraged developing countries to use technology for economic and educational progress.

In the fall of 2004, Wilderotter joined Citizens Communication in Stamford, Conn., as President and CEO and in 2006, became Chairman and CEO. She saw the company through its 2008 name change to Frontier Communications and helped it grow into the nation’s largest communications provider focused on rural America. The company serves customers in 27 states with a 100 percent U.S.-based workforce of more than 15,200 employees. She has made hiring military veterans and reservists a company priority.

In addition to her work at Frontier, Wilderotter sits on many boards of directors including those of Xerox, Yahoo!, and Procter and Gamble. Named a “Modern Visionary,” she received the Women in Cable and Telecommunications Foundation’s Outstanding Mentor Award in 1999. She is one of only 20 individuals to receive two Vanguard Awards from the National Cable Television Association, receiving her first in 1989 and the second in 2000. In 2009, 2010 and 2011, Fortune Magazine named Wilderotter as one of its “Fifty Most Powerful Women in Business.” In 2010, President Barack Obama named her Vice Chair of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. In November 2011, The Financial Times named Wilderotter among “The Top 50 Women in World Business.”

During This Time
1966 - Today: Struggle for Justice

Feminism in the late 1960s was aided by President Kennedy, who formed the President’s Commission on the Status of Women in 1961, and his successor, President Johnson, who backed passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Difficulties in implementing the law through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) led a group of women in 1966 to create the National Organization for Women (NOW), demanding “action to bring American women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now.”

A younger group called for a more radical approach to social change than simply considering what was possible to achieve politically. “Women’s liberation” demanded freedom without limitation. Some took part in consciousness-raising groups, others demonstrated against the Miss America pageant, and many discussed their expectations of mutual enjoyment of sex. They established rape crisis centers, domestic shelters, and women’s studies programs. Title IX of the federal Education Amendments Act also increased pressure on universities to hire more women faculty and expand the number of female college athletes. Activist protest among gays and lesbians, such as the Stonewall Riot, symbolized this group’s potential to resist oppression.

Under pressure, many states repealed legislation prohibiting abortion. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized its availability to women in Roe v. Wade. Also in 1973, the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the ERA, and states began its ratification.

Yet, dissension arose in the ranks of the movement, as it had earlier after passage of the 19th amendment. Feminists disagreed as to whether pornography should be banned or protected as a form of free speech, and whether lesbian identities should be kept secret or disclosed. Black women were more concerned with poverty and welfare in their communities than with personal career advancement; for them, sterilization abuse was more important than abortion, and they were deeply insulted by attacks on the African American family as matriarchal and dysfunctional.

A backlash was growing in the 1970s, along with a New Right in politics. The ERA was defeated and opposition to abortion increased. Conflicts between pro-life and pro-choice candidates have impacted every presidential campaign since then.

Still, gains have been made in many areas. From 1960 to 2000, increasing numbers of women sought entry to higher education, and bachelor’s degrees awarded to them increased from forty to sixty percent.  Definitions of marriage have changed, as when courts gave full rights and responsibilities and the name of marriage to same-sex civil unions in Connecticut in 2008. The Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991 highlighted concern about sexual harassment on the job, and the number of sexual harassment cases filed with the EEOC have increased, as have judgments in favor of the women. Finally, in 2009, women crossed the fifty percent threshold and became the majority of the American workforce. Once largely confined to repetitive manual jobs, now they are running organizations that once treated them as second-class citizens.

The Women’s Movement has changed women’s lives, influenced the economy, and made debate about their roles, family life, and sexual conventions central to national politics and American history.

Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.