By Cheryl Hall The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet Anne Chow, the new CEO of AT&T Business. Chow is certainly a unique individual. As Cheryl Hall reports, "She studied classical piano at The Juilliard School as a child, is the proud mother of two Generation Z daughters, clips coupons, has co-authored a book on unconscious bias and is obsessed with fitness boxing."
Less than a year ago, Anne Chow was promoted to CEO of AT&T Business, the telecommunications giant's $37 billion unit that provides services to nearly 3 million business customers, including nearly all of the world's Fortune 1000 companies.
The 54-year-old daughter of Taiwanese immigrants is the first woman to hold this position and the first woman of color to be named CEO at any AT&T company in its 144-year history. She's also the corporation's highest-ranking Asian American.
For most mortals, that would be enough precedent to absorb for a while. But then, Chow isn't like most mortals.
She studied classical piano at The Juilliard School as a child, is the proud mother of two Generation Z daughters, clips coupons, has co-authored a book on unconscious bias and is obsessed with fitness boxing.
You might take comfort in knowing that she stinks at golf and can't sew a button on a shirt.
On Friday, Chow became the first female or minority global CEO to chair the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas' annual workplace campaign.
While Chow is honored to be the standard-bearer for diversity, she says it comes with an obligation. "Those of us who are given the opportunity of being first must ensure that we're not the only or the last," she says.
Chow shrugs off the suggestion that this is a lot to tackle during her rookie CEO year in the midst of a pandemic, social unrest and the dawn of 5G technology.
"As someone who has been so fortunate in my position and in my life, I have an obligation to serve," Chow says in a Webex interview. "My lifelong journey and mission is to leave this place better from whence I came."
A total package Eight of the past nine United Way workplace campaigns have been spearheaded by CEOs of the area's largest corporations, beginning in 2011 with Randall Stephenson at AT&T.
Cowboys Hall of Famer Troy Aikman, who quarterbacked the 2017-18 drive, was the only outlier.
Jennifer Sampson, president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, wanted to break the white-male mold but keep the global CEO star power when she hit up Chow about heading the all-important workplace drive.
"Anne's the total package," Sampson says. "She is a visionary leader, a fierce competitor, a diversity and inclusion champion, gifted communicator and brilliant strategist. The icing on the cake is Anne's caring, kind and empathetic."
Chow has changed jobs 17 times in her 30-year upward trajectory at AT&T _ her only employer since getting undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical engineering and an MBA from Cornell University.
She's relatively unknown in D-FW, having moved here five years ago when she was promoted to president of AT&T's national business.
"My day job is to serve businesses of all kinds, across all sectors, across the country, across the world. This seems like a very logical extracurricular activity for me to do," Chow says.
Her boss, John Stankey, agrees.
"Anne's proven leadership skills in business are complemented by her longtime passion in advocating for communities, including those in need," says Stankey, president and chief operating officer, who will become AT&T's CEO in a leadership hand-off from Stephenson on Wednesday. "Her collaborative and caring approach is what our customers and employees appreciate about her."
Last year, former executive chairman of Kimberly-Clark Corp. Tom Falk and his wife, Karen, chaired the campaign that raised $45 million dedicated to United Way's health, education and income stability programs.
But this is an unprecedented time for fundraising.
"I will measure our impact and our success in the number of individuals, communities and businesses that we engage," Chow says. "Being in the network business, pun intended, I view that as one of my strengths. Our goal is to amplify and extend our impact."
She intends to focus on a holistic view of health. "Businesses can't be successful, communities can't be successful, unless we address the whole of the individual, not just their access to health care in its traditional sense of their physical well-being," she says.
Land of hope Chow calls herself an ambivert, a blending of an extrovert mom and an introvert dad.
Ming and Joann Chow met through a matchmaker. Before Joann agreed to marry Ming, she laid down the law that they'd move to the United States. "Even back then, my mom knew that in America you could become who you aspire to be," Chow says.
The couple had all of $500 when they arrived in the Midwest in the '60s so that Ming could go to graduate school at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. He earned his electrical engineering master's degree and Ph.D. in three years and took a job at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.
"We had a very simple, suburban, immigrant upbringing in that we didn't have a lot of money," Chow recalls. "They very heavily pushed my brother and me to try to do as many things as we could that they perceived to be opportunistic, American-shaping, cultural things."
Anne started piano lessons when she was 4. Six years later, she was admitted into The Juilliard School's prestigious pre-college program. Every Saturday for seven years, she and one of her parents made a 90-minute commute into New York City.
Chow considered being a music major in college but abandoned that idea because, one, it would be hard to make money as a musician, and two, she wasn't naturally gifted, just exceptionally trained. Perhaps most important, she was burned out from a childhood without a social life.
Engineers were making good money. She chose electrical engineering because she had no aptitude for mechanical. "Don't ever ask me to fix something, because I don't have patience, and I don't care that much," she says. "Now I have a husband who we call Bob the Builder, and he can fix anything."
Move over, boys Chow cleans out her collection of corporate kitsch every time she switches jobs. But she swears she'll keep one coffee mug as long as she lives. She was in her mid-20s when she took on her first large operational job at AT&T, leading a team of about 600 people spread among six cities across the country. She calls it her corporate boot camp.
"I remember doing a team meeting with several of my technicians. It was brutal, because I was literally half the age of 99% of them, almost entirely men."
One guy accused her of being a young Ivy Leaguer just climbing another step in her career ladder. She nicely assured him that she'd prove him wrong.
"That same technician upon my departure from the group three years later gave me this mug that I will keep until my grave. It says, 'Boys I'm Taking Charge Here,'" she says, leaving me to figure out the acronym. "Legal doesn't like me to use that word. I still tear up thinking about it, because I earned that respect from him and the others."
Balance is a crock She and Bob Moore have been married for 25 years and have two daughters, a 21-year-old studying chemical engineering at Georgia Tech and an 18-year-old who just graduated from Carroll Senior High School and is heading to the University of Michigan to study biomedical engineering.