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T-Mobile’s John Legere brilliantly transforms into a rebel CEO

The new John Legere doesn’t play by traditional CEO rules. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

There’s a general protocol for what a chief executive of a telecommunications company does when giving a speech at a major event: Dress up, take the stage and deliver a professional, family-friendly speech. Don’t use profanity. Don’t drink anything from an aluminum can. CEOs from major companies have done just that at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Except for T-Mobile’s John Legere, who on Wednesday delivered a trademark speech. Here’s how the former Global Crossing chief exeutive is now winning attention:

1. Abandon traditional notions of being a CEO.

John Legere used to dress for the corporate board room. Now he’s shunning suits and wearing T-shirts and pink shoelaces. Legere looks more like a NASCAR driver than a CEO, constantly covered with a corporate logo. He mixes profanity into his speeches and skips boring jargon.

“He was much more staid and conservative [at Global Crossing], so it was something of a shock to see the ‘new John’ at T-Mobile,” Ovum analyst Jan Dawson told CNET. The “new John” is playing something of a character, and it’s working for his company, which added 4.4 million customers in 2013.

2. Mock the competition and be a troll.

On Wednesday, Legere proudly showed off a custom T-shirt that referred to his stunt of crashing AT&T’s CES event on Monday night. Yes, he crashed a competitor’s event. That’s not typical CEO behavior, but Legere doesn’t care. He’s a renegade looking to win over customers and make his rivals look old, boring and out of touch.

“We are going to redefine a stupid, arrogant, broken industry,” Legere said. He also called Sprint “a pile of spectrum waiting to be turned into a capability.” Legere has long taken shots at AT&T and Verizon.

3. Go big on social media.

Legere joined Twitter after taking the helm of T-Mobile and  has amassed nearly 60,000 followers. He has tweeted over 2,300 times. The CEOs of AT&T, Verizon Wireless and Sprint aren’t even on Twitter. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has shown the value of a chief executive embracing social media and being the face of a company. Legere is following in those footsteps.

4. Embrace tattoos and piercings.

Legere reversed T-Mobile’s policy of not allowing its store employees to have tattoos and piercings. He’s slyly trying to win over young people, who are less likely to have their brand preferences set and might be willing to change networks.

 5. Do more than talk. Make customers happy.

T-Mobile will now pay the early termination fees of customers switching to its services. T-Mobile has already eliminated two-year contracts. It was first to kill off the annoying voicemail instructions that play before you leave a message. T-Mobile ended international roaming charges that have been a thorn in the side of customers. The company even offers free data on tablets.

When you’re playing from behind you have nothing to lose. Legere has realized that. With this newfound freedom he’s redefining how a CEO can succeed. Having a outwardly serious presence isn’t a requirement for success. Don’t be surprised if more chief executives strategically follow in his footsteps.