This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, October 9, 2002, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.
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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, auto stocks aren't the only ones hurting, of course. They're having a field day compared to telecom stocks. Just ask BellSouth. Even though its business is still reasonably strong, its stock anything but. So on a day the company's talking about a national commitment to beef up telecom security, I had to ask BellSouth boss Duane Ackerman whether he has the money to do it.
DUANE ACKERMAN, CHMN. & CEO, BELLSOUTH (BLS): I think that obviously there are some issues that must be dealt with, if you talk about telecommunications, we do have you know physical security, gates and guns, and those are additional costs. But by the same token we have the protection of information that is important. And sometimes you can work at that issue with a different mind set that says some of the steps that we would take to improve security might also be a product that could be marketed elsewhere or that might improve our own effectiveness, so the approach of the symposium is to try to set up the dialogue between government and business so that we can explore ways to impact the standards, perhaps reduce the cost and improve competitiveness for the country.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you a little bit about this issue of competitiveness. I mean, given that problems that Qwest has had, and WorldCom and Global Crossing, all of these, have you been kicking their bones and looking at what you could scoop up?
ACKERMAN: I think in terms of the overall question of consolidation, most companies today I think are looking at any or all opportunities that might exist, but at the end of the day you are still going to be held accountable by your shareholders as to whether or not you can create value.
CAVUTO: Well have you looked at any of those properties? I know you have Cingular Wireless, that's working out pretty well for you for the time being, but have you ever wanted to expand beyond that?
ACKERMAN: I think that everyone is looking at everything today, we certainly would not pass up any opportunities to look at a way to enhance our shareholder value. But again at the end of the day, the decision will be made based on how we bill shareholder value.
CAVUTO: It wasn't too long ago, sir, you had told, telecommunications, the industry is in danger of a even deeper meltdown, it has been a bad meltdown already, what did you mean?
ACKERMAN: I think that, you know, that particular conversation was around whether or not the industry can continue to improve its position under the current economy, the current situation with technology, as well as the current rules and the structured rules that emanate from the FCC in the various states around telecommunications. So if in fact we are not able to improve that set of conditions, then we believe that the industry would remain at risk.
CAVUTO: All right. Now at risk? it is already pretty low, your stock has gotten hammered through direct fault of your own, sir, I stress that. But your colleagues were all feeling the same pinch, SBC has just announced layoffs of 11,000 workers. We all know, as we said, the WorldCom and the Qwest problems. When does this end?
ACKERMAN: I think there are three fundamental factors that you have to deal with, one obviously is the economy, the economy continues at least from our perspective to be moving along at flat to sideways. We don't see a response there. I think there is another issue that has to do with technology substitution. And that one we wouldn't want to do anything to correct it if we could, because I believe that ultimately winds up in innovation and productivity for everyone. The issue that we can impact today and that we must to address is the public policy issue. And the good news about that is that the issue is up in front of the FCC today through the tri-annual review, and we are in hopes that we can make some progress in that area.
CAVUTO: All right, Duane Ackerman of BellSouth.
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