Craig McCaw

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“I think the way I look at things gives me a different perspective. I’m most valuable when I work with a team of bright people who complement my weaknesses with their strengths.”


Craig McCaw (born August 11, 1949) is an American businessman and entrepreneur, a pioneer in the cellular phone industry. He is the founder of McCaw Cellular (now part of AT&T Mobility) and Clearwire Corporation.

Early life and cable TV beginnings

Craig is the second of four sons of Marion and John Elroy McCaw. McCaw’s father was a broadcasting magnate. He was in the business of buying and selling TV and radio stations, which brought in wealth but also incurred significant debts. Elroy entered the cable television business in the 1960s, and his four sons worked as linemen and door-to-door salesmen.

When Elroy died, the only company not sold to repay the debt was the small Centralia cable company with estimated 2,000 to 4,000 subscribers, which was in trust. During his senior year at Stanford, Craig took the helm of the cable company and set out to rebuild his family name. He used the cash flows from his growing cable company to purchase other remote cable companies, resulting in a profitable conglomerate. By the 1980s, McCaw Cablevision was the 20th largest cable carrier in the US.

Cellular telephone industry

When the FCC held a lottery for cellular licenses in the early 1980s, many ordinary Americans got rich by winning the right to establish cellular systems in cities across America. In addition to entering the lottery himself, McCaw approached many other lottery winners and bought their cellular rights, which were already considered to be undervalued. Using the same tactic he’d used in cable TV, McCaw financed an aggressive cellular expansion by borrowing against and selling shares in the cable operation. Through continued borrowing and smart management of only the most useful licenses, this wireless land grab put McCaw’s operation in the position of a competitive nationwide cellular carrier before the incumbent landline telephone industry took serious notice of the field.

After acquiring MCI‘s cellular wing in 1986, the McCaw brothers sold the cable company to Cooke Cablevision (now part of Comcast). The combined cellular operation was a significant player in the field. In 1990, McCaw was the highest paid CEO in the US.

In 1994, the McCaw brothers sold McCaw Cellular to AT&T Corporation for $11.5 billion.[3] The company was renamed AT&T Wireless. AT&T Wireless was sold to Cingular in 2004 to become the nation’s largest wireless carrier.

Following the sale of McCaw Cellular, McCaw took interest in Nextel, a then-floundering wireless carrier. By April 1995 McCaw gained effective control of the company contributing, along with his brothers, $1.1 billion over time. Within four years Nextel grew significantly to become a challenging wireless competitor, servicing 3.6 million customers throughout the U.S. and ten of the largest international markets.[4] In 1999 McCaw formed Nextel Partners, Inc. which was later acquired by Sprint Nextel, Inc., for $6.5 billion in 2006, following a $36 billion merger between Nextel and the Sprint Corporation in 2005.[5][6]

Later ventures

Later that same year, McCaw founded NEXTLINK Communications, planning to enter the broadband and internet service provider market. In 2000, the company merged with Concentric Network and was renamed XO Communications. The company filed forbankruptcy protection in 2002.

In 1994, McCaw and Bill Gates teamed up to form Teledesic, with an ambitious plan to form a broadband satellite communications system with nearly 300 low earth orbit satellites. In 2002, Teledesic halted satellite production; and in 2003, it sold its spectrumlicenses.

In August 2004, McCaw founded Clearwire Corporation a provider of wireless broadband Internet service. The company’s U.S. broadband network is deployed in markets ranging from major metropolitan areas to small, rural communities.

At the end of 2007, Clearwire offered service in 46 markets in the U.S. as well as four markets in Europe.

McCaw, who served as Chairman of Clearwire until December 31, 2010, once said to an interviewer, “Filling a need that others aren’t addressing has always been a focus of the companies that I have been involved with.” [7]

In November 2008, Clearwire completed a landmark transaction with Sprint combining their next-generation wireless broadband businesses into a new wireless communications company, which retained the name Clearwire.[8] With the closing, Sprint contributed all of its 2.5 GHz spectrum and its WiMAX-related assets, including its XOHM business, to Clearwire. In addition, Clearwire received a $3.2 billion cash investment from Comcast, Intel, Time Warner Cable, Google and Bright House Networks.

The new company trades on the NASDAQ as CLWR. As part of the announcement, then Clearwire Chairman Craig McCaw said, “The power of the mobile Internet, which offers speed and mobility, home and away, on any device or screen, will fundamentally transform the communications landscape in our country. We believe that the new Clearwire will operate one of the fastest and most capable broadband wireless networks ever conceived, giving us the opportunity to return the U.S. to a leadership position in the global wireless industry.”

In January 2009, Clearwire launched its first 4G mobile WiMAX network in Portland, Oregon, making it only the second city after Baltimore to offer a high-speed network at true broadband speeds. By the end of 2010, the company had expanded its 4G network to 71 markets in the U.S. covering more than 110 million people.[9]


This profile is partly adapted from a Wikipedia entry on Craig McCaw, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.