AT&T Western Electric arm's president Procknow passes away at 93

Donald Procknow, the former president of the AT&T (NYSE: T) Bell System-era manufacturing arm Western Electric, passed away at 93.

Procknow died on July 1 of respiratory failure.

From 1971 to 1983, Procknow served as the president of Western Electric and then as vice chairman of AT&T Technologies, which was the name the unit took on after the divestiture of the Bell System in 1984, until he retired in early 1986. 

Western Electric later evolved into Lucent Technologies. After suffering various financial struggles, Lucent was acquired by Alcatel in 2006. The company became part of Nokia (NYSE:NOK) earlier this year.

Nokia said by purchasing Alcatel-Lucent it can have the necessary scale to more effectively compete with China's Huawei and ZTE Corp., as well as Ericsson (NASDAQ: ERIC). Ericsson recently entered into a strategic partnership with Cisco to advance their presence in areas like SDN.

Procknow told the New York Times in 1982 after AT&T settled an antitrust case with the U.S. government by agreeing to give up its local phone companies while keeping Western Electric, Bell Labs and a long-distance phone business that it would help Western Electric compete.

"We're not afraid at all," he said in a New York Times article cited by the WSJ.

When Procknow oversaw the unit, Western Electric had 20 manufacturing sites and 150,000 employees.

However, the breakup of the Bell system created a new competitive challenge for Western Electric because the Baby Bell companies like SBC and New England Telephone were able to purchase switching equipment from other vendors like Alcatel, Nortel and Fujitsu.

"We were dealing along family lines," Procknow told the New York Times in 1982, "and we won't have the family business anymore."

What was striking about Procknow was how he valued other employees. During the mid-1970s, Procknow turned down a bonus after effectively reducing costs within the network manufacturing unit.

In addition to being the president of Western Electric, Procknow served as a director of other major companies, including J.P. Morgan, CPC International Inc., Ingersoll-Rand Co. and Prudential Insurance Co. of America.

For more:
- WSJ has this article

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