In 1969, when others in his generation were taking to the streets and hitching to Woodstock, Richard C. Notebaert went to work for the phone company. Three years earlier in that decade of emerging social turmoil, Ivan G. Seidenberg had done the same.
Ma Bell, a solid corporate citizen of the day, nurtured each of them. Notebaert started with Wisconsin Bell on a summer job washing trucks and Seidenberg with New York Telephone Co. as a cable splicer's assistant. They lived through the dismantling of the AT&T Corp. monopoly in 1984, and they prospered. Notebaert eventually became chief executive of Qwest Communications International Inc., which includes the old US West Inc. Seidenberg worked his way through a slew of mergers and became head of Verizon Communications Inc.
(David Zalubowski -- AP)
Today, they have emerged from those similar backgrounds with remarkably different leadership styles, which they are bringing to bear in a high-stakes struggle to acquire MCI Inc.
The telephone company of their youth was predictable, a closely regulated monopoly used by customers who had no choice and who often hesitated before making what was an expensive long-distance call. Today it is a business fraught with risk and competition.
Their fight over Ashburn-based MCI is more than just a territorial skirmish for a bigger piece of the telephone business. For each executive, it is a critical battle to solidify his Bell empire and secure a place at the ever-shifting frontier of technology by acquiring the Internet backbone and corporate customer base of MCI.
Those who know Notebaert say the chief executive of Qwest is not afraid to put himself in the center of public fights, making himself the spokesman for his company's interests -- as he has done by offering ready access to the press and providing high-profile public statements.
Those who have watched Seidenberg say the chief executive of Verizon prefers to make his moves from behind the scenes, exerting his influence quietly but forcefully through critical members of his management team. His demeanor is quiet and generally respectful, but he can also cast withering, condescending looks.
MCI's board of directors is weighing the merits of competing deals from the two companies. Verizon, the largest and most profitable telephone company, agreed to buy MCI for $6.75 billion in cash and stock. But last week Qwest fattened its bid to $8.45 billion, offering more cash to MCI shareholders to make up for the fact that it is a smaller and financially weaker company. The MCI board has said it will make a decision on Qwest's latest offer by the close of business Monday. Verizon has not disclosed whether it would raise its bid.
In the meantime, the two executives continue to exchange jabs.
For the reserved Seidenberg, the toughly worded letter has served as weapon of choice. Earlier this week, he sent out another one, characterizing Qwest as pathetic and pointing to its weaker financial situation.