By Clint Kelly

Glenn Lurie’s vision of tomorrow is of an interconnected landscape touching everyone from the farmer shipping crops cross-country to the corporate executive expanding business into global markets — where the Internet of Things (IoT) is integral to daily life.

Glen Lurie
Glen Lurie

Lurie, a graduate of Seattle Pacific University’s Class of 1987, is the president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Operations. He believes this interconnected lifestyle is one that will take care of you, and anticipate your needs — enabled by wireless technology. “Technological innovation has never been faster,” the wireless industry leader told the audience of students, faculty, and staff at this year’s Burton and Ralene Walls Distinguished Speaker Series luncheon on March 30, 2017. He fired off what the speed of developing technology has meant in his life:

“I have a new job every nine months.”

“I’ve gotten comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

“You learn to push yourself into those places.”

“I’ve been bought and sold five times in my life.”

“When you stretch yourself, you grow.”

“Glenn is a straight shooter and passionate about his people,” says Brian Burgoyne ’76, AT&T’s area retail sales manager for the Metro Seattle territory. He shares Lurie’s comfort with change. “I get bored easily when things stay the same,” he says. “I’ve never been bored in 20 years with AT&T.”

Also at the luncheon was Nonye Njoku ’15, an assistant store manager with AT&T. “At Seattle Pacific University, I learned that it is very important to do what makes you happy, and not always about getting the biggest reward. Many of the classes that I took ended up tying back to real life.”

For her, Lurie’s vision of smartphones talking to smart houses, and smart houses talking to smart cars, “was extremely exciting to hear.”

Lurie’s remarks concerning innovations in interconnectivity for car, home, and community had the audience buzzing. He said he likes telling his house in Atlanta what to do, from heating to lighting to security. In the process, he employs 165 devices.

“When I get up in the morning,” he says, “I already know the best way to get to my office that day. And think of what’s coming. Cars will talk to each other in order to predict and prevent accidents.” He went on to describe street lights that can not only provide illumination, but can monitor the street where they are located. If a crime is committed on the street and a gun is fired, according to Lurie the street lights of the future will have sensors that can detect the gun shot location and the caliber of the firearm used. Traffic signals will talk to cars so infrastructure can make real-time decisions to ensure optimal traffic flow. Garbage receptacles of tomorrow can be equipped with wireless technology that reports how full they are for more efficient route management and gas savings.

“There’s not a mayor or a governor in the world who is not thinking about making their city or state smarter,” claims Lurie.

In 2008, Lurie was picked to create and lead the Emerging Devices Organization (now called the Internet of Things Organization), a business unit focused on connecting new devices and applications to AT&T’s network. EDO’s focus is to enhance people’s lives through connected cars, tablets, wellness devices, wearable technology, and machine-to-machine communications solutions and platforms.

With more than 27 years overseeing mobile product offerings and consumer market operations, as well as sales, service, and distribution for AT&T Entertainment Group, Lurie has applied a similar drive to the evolution of wireless technology as he once applied on the soccer field. In 1983, he turned down other collegiate full-ride scholarships to play for the Falcons.

To Lurie, it made good sense. “Coach Cliff McCrath was a great salesman, I really liked the campus, and it just felt right. I liked the guys on the team; I liked the camaraderie.” So well did the Falcons of that ’83–’87 era gel, they made it into four straight NCAA title games and netted three championships. But the field was not the only place Lurie excelled.

“SPU opened my eyes to a lot of things,” he says. “I fell in love with business and marketing.” And, it should be said, he fell in love with Falcon gymnast Suzanne Schwartz who became Mrs. Lurie.

Drafted to play professional indoor soccer, he played for teams in Cleveland, Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Portland, Oregon. One off-season, Lurie decided to take a job selling cellular phones for McCaw Cellular. Personal cell phones were new, expensive, and comically large by today’s standards. Lurie went on to break the team sales record in his first month and earned more money in that month than he had his prior season playing soccer. That’s when Suzanne said, “You’re going to keep doing this.”

Over the next 27 years, he stuck by the technology and helped usher in the smartphone age. Lurie took a leading role in bringing wireless connectivity to tablets, cars, and gadgets. He built AT&T Digital Life, the company’s home automation and security business, and a host of other businesses. Today there are 125,000 employees under his leadership.

Lurie’s advice to students is unequivocal. “Pick places to work that are about people,” he said. “A place that believes that if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. A place with a moral and ethical framework. There’s only one way to do business and that’s ethically.” AT&T’s “customer first” philosophy has been the winner of several awards from the consumer ratings service J.D. Power and Associates.

Lurie is also board chairman of CTIA, formerly the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, on the executive advisory board of Curing Kids Cancer, and a member of the board of the Atlanta Concorde Fire Soccer Club. Lurie was chosen for this year’s Distinguished Speaker Series in the hope of furthering the entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of SPU students.

“The series is one of the ways the Walls family can give back to SPU,” real estate investor and long-time supporter of the University Burton Walls ’66 told the luncheon crowd. His uncle, Paul Walls, was a Seattle Pacific board member for 31 years and his father, F. Wesley Walls ’60, served SPU in various capacities for 38 years, including as the founding director of the School of Business and Economics. Past speakers for the Distinguished Speakers Series include Craig Jelinek, president and CEO of COSTCO Wholesale Corporation, and Alec Hill, president and CEO of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.