Financial Career

Craig McCaw, McCaw Cellular Communications, Inc.
Envisioning the Future

Craig McCaw
Craig McCaw and McCaw Cellular created 10,000 jobs while pioneering cellphone technology.
In 1979, a cellular phone cost $2,500 and was considered an extravagance that would remain an electronic toy of the wealthy for years to come. Craig McCaw, the second-generation owner of a small network of radio and television stations in the Pacific Northwest, envisioned a day when cellphones would be a necessity for millions of people worldwide.

"I decided that cellular communications was an extraordinary opportunity," McCaw recalls. "Franchise rights for the entire country were being offered virtually at once. Our strategy was to purchase as much cellular as we could get. People did not realize how valuable it was."

McCaw paid nearly $120 million for national cellular rights and various paging systems. By 1989, a series of nine bond offerings or stock issuances under the direction of Milken and Drexel Burnham Lambert had helped McCaw secure his industry prominence. His company reached its pinnacle when it purchased LIN Broadcasting with debt financing of $3.5 billion. Skeptics were stunned at the amount of debt McCaw incurred. However, McCaw and Milken knew that they had created the precisely correct capital structure for McCaw, and that individual licenses could be resold at great profit to the emerging Baby Bell companies.

The rest is history. By 1990, McCaw Cellular had a market value approaching $7 billion and was ranked by BusinessWeek as one of America’s most valuable corporations. In 1986, McCaw Cellular employed 750 people; by 1993, it had created nearly 10,000 jobs. At the time of its $11.5 billion sale to AT&T in 1994, McCaw Cellular was serving 150 markets and had established cell phones as the communication device of the future.