Bell Atlantic-md.'s New Chief

April 17, 1995|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Writer

It's a funny thing being named president of Bell Atlantic-Maryland when you're an out-of-town executive. One day you hardly know your way to Camden Yards. The next, you're a heavy hitter among Maryland's business leaders in Baltimore.

Finding his way to the ballpark will be among the least of the challenges facing Daniel J. Whelan as he settles into his new job heading up the local operating subsidiary of Bell Atlantic Corp.

When the regional phone company named Mr. Whelan to succeed the newly promoted Frederick D. D'Alessio last month, it was throwing the 49-year-old attorney directly into the front lines of the unfolding Armageddon in telecommunications.

More than any other state in Bell Atlantic's region, Maryland is moving aggressively to break down the traditional monopoly in local phone service. Critical decisions will be made over the next year regarding Bell Atlantic-Maryland's obligations to cooperate with its rivals and how it will be regulated in the coming era.

"Maryland is a hotbed of competition, and I think a lot of the issues are going to be decided in this state," said Mr. Whelan. "It's a classic competitive battle."

While the Philadelphia native is a 17-year veteran of the phone business, he's a rookie in the Maryland business arena. He has never worked here before and knows the city only from a few visits.

It's unlikely that will be a serious handicap for the company. The presidents of Bell Atlantic's state operating company no longer wield the clout they did when the subsidiary bore the name Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland. Much of the responsibility for running the company has passed to the presidents of the company's various lines of business, such as the customer service position Mr. D'Alessio has assumed.

Only about 80 of Bell Atlantic's 10,000 employees in Maryland are employed by Mr. Whelan's subsidiary. Still, the role of operating company president is an important one.

"We still retain overall responsibility within the state for both financial performance and service performance," Mr. Whelan said. "If anything, it's become difficult because you have to . . . cajole people, not direct people."

But mostly Mr. Whelan's job is to make sure Maryland is a hospitable place for Bell Atlantic to operate.

Like Mr. D'Alessio and Henry Butta before him, Mr. Whelan will be the chief custodian of Bell Atlantic's image in Maryland. He will be responsible for the company's relations with the General Assembly, the governor, state regulators and the community as a whole.

One day earlier this month, as unpacked boxes lined the floors of his new office in Bell Atlantic's building overlooking the Inner Harbor, Mr. Whelan said the invitations to join the boards of community and economic development organizations were already coming in. He said he expects to accept several such bids and to become an active force in the community, much the way his predecessors did. Some of these board memberships come with the job -- economic development groups and civic booster organizations, for instance. Others would likely reflect his interests in science and classical music.

The most crucial part of the job, however, is government relations. And in this field, which is crucial for a company whose core business remains a regulated monopoly, Mr. Whelan comes to his job with solid credentials.

Before his recent promotion, he held the position of vice president for regulatory and government relations for Bell Atlantic in Pennsylvania.

As the company's chief lobbyist in Harrisburg, he masterminded the company's successful 1993 effort to persuade the legislature to change the way it is regulated, from a system that controls the company's rate of return to one that sets a price cap and lets the company keep any money it gains from becoming more efficient.

Officials who worked with Mr. D'Alessio, a consummate corporate diplomat, are likely to notice a definite change in style.

John M. Quain, chairman of Pennsylvania's Public Utilities Commission, worked with Mr. Whelan during the rule-making process that implemented that law. He described Mr. Whelan as "a solid performer, a really great guy" but one who is "not the kind of person who minces words."

Mr. Whelan described himself as a friendly person who is easy to get to know, but added, "Nobody's ever accused me of being diplomatic."

A typical workday will find Mr. Whelan (pronounced "Waylon") arriving at 7:30 a.m. and not leaving until about 6:30 p.m. -- an ironic turn for someone who went to work for the old Bell System 17 years ago because he was tired of the long hours he was putting in at a Philadelphia law firm.

It wasn't too long before he found himself working just as long for his new employer, he said. "I decided it was part of my nature," said Mr. Whelan, who attended LaSalle University and Temple University Law School.

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