Frederick D. D'Alessio can barely contain himself.
Why? He's working on a plan to give inner-city students in Baltimore a chance to learn about music and art, direct from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Walters Art Gallery. Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland hopes to recruit specialists to offer tutorials, which would be piped in over fiber-optic phone lines to several schools simultaneously.
"We think this is pretty exciting," he says. "It will help bring equity to education."
Mr. D'Alessio, installed a year ago as president and chief executive officer of Baltimore-based C&P; of Maryland, knows something about the limits of inner-city school systems. He grew up in Newark, N.J., where he says exposure to the arts was rare.
And, he knows something about technology, which is a good thing for C&P.;
The company's current game plan calls for the regulated phone company to beef up the competitive side of its business. That will require the company to come up with new and better services that customers are willing to pay for. To do that, C&P; will have to draw on its technologically advanced network and keep looking for ways to eke out innovations that can be packaged and sold to the public.
Mr. D'Alessio seems to relish his role as technology teacher for C&P.; Asked to single out his biggest management strength, he cites his ability to explain complicated technologies in simple terms.
"One of my objectives is to get people to understand technology, and not be afraid of it," he says.
Mr. D'Alessio says he spends a lot of time explaining things like fiber optics, distance learning and broadband communications -- technologies that are paving the way for companies like C&P; to expand beyond telephone service.
"I've never been at a reception where somebody didn't come up
and ask me about fiber optics, or some other technology," he says. And it's going to come up more.
The company is in the throes of its first rate case since the breakup of Ma Bell in 1984. Mr. D'Alessio has given testimony to buttress the request of C&P;, which wants to increase the prices of some services while reducing prices for others.
Mr. D'Alessio's engineering knowledge has shone through in his testimony, according to People's Counsel John Glynn, who represents consumers before the Public Service Commission.
"Every person reflects their background, and he is more familiar with how networks work than most CEOs you encounter," Mr. Glynn said. "He tends to be relatively straightforward, and he doesn't make emotional appeals."
To pull off C&P;'s game plan, Mr. D'Alessio will have to rely on another area of expertise -- marketing.
At New Jersey Bell, one of C&P;'s sibling phone companies in the Bell Atlantic Corp. family of companies, Mr. D'Alessio was in charge of new products.
Two of those products -- Caller ID and Answer Call -- went on to become two of the company's most popular offerings. Caller ID lets customers see the numbers of incoming calls. Answer Call is Bell Atlantic's version of the answering machine. Both are sold in Maryland.
Caller ID, hailed as the antidote to annoying calls, was also one of the company's most controversial. Critics nationwide have assailed the service as an intrusion on privacy.
"That experience taught me how important it is to understand the requirements of customers," he says. "And you don't do that by speculating -- but by asking them directly."
Caller ID is now available in all the markets served by Bell Atlantic except Pennsylvania, where the service is banned.
That philosophy -- of asking questions -- applies internally at C&P.;
Mr. D'Alessio set up a hot line a few months ago that employees can use to leave him messages. Employees have responded with a dozen or so messages a day about everything from product suggestions to everyday gripes. He says he tries to return messages the same day.
But if he doesn't get back to them the same day, employees shouldn't fret.
"I tell them I'm going to be around for a while," says the 43-year-old executive. "I'm not somebody who's going to be retiring in a few years."