Sherry F. Bellamy, president and chief executive officer of Bell Atlantic-Maryland, is leaving that post, perhaps as early today, to become vice president and general counsel for the new telecommunications giant Verizon Communications, Bell Atlantic confirmed yesterday.
Verizon is being formed by the $67 billion merger of Bell Atlantic Corp. and GTE Corp. The deal, which creates the nation's largest local telephone company, was cleared by the Federal Communications Commission on June 16. It could be completed as early as today.
Bellamy, 47, will be succeeded by William R. Roberts, 44, Bell Atlantic's director for government relations for the past three years. Roberts, who has worked in the telecommunications industry since 1980, will hold the title of president of Verizon's Maryland service area.
As head of Bell Atlantic-Maryland, Bellamy oversaw the largest provider of local telephone service in the state. It provides service to 2.8 million customers in Maryland.
During her three-year tenure, the telephone industry has become increasingly competitive, with dozens of start-up companies attempting to cannibalize Bell Atlantic's customer base, especially its business clients.
Bellamy said her legacy in the post would be forging strong ties with corporate, government and other customers and holding on to many of Bell Atlantic's significant business customers. An attorney with a Yale Law degree, Bellamy said in an interview yesterday that while she enjoyed the challenges of the job, she has "always had it in the back of my mind" to return to the legal profession.
"I miss the practice of law, and I wanted to have more influence in regulatory and legal affairs as we move forward as a new company," she said.
She said she sought out the general counsel's job as Bell Atlantic and GTE were moving forward with the merger, which took two years to clear regulatory hurdles.
"We have a lot of challenges facing us as a new company," said Bellamy, who will work primarily out of a Verizon office in Arlington, Va.
The key challenge she expects to be involved in will be Verizon's efforts to win FCC approval to offer long-distance service in all East Coast states.
Bell Atlantic won approval to offer long-distance service in New York earlier this year.
The FCC must approve an application in each state, but Verizon will first need to win backing from individual states.
"This will be a difficult and challenging process from a regulatory and legal perspective," said Bellamy.
In recent days, Bellamy has been informing members of the numerous community and civic boards she is on that she will be stepping down from most of them to focus on her new job, which will involve supervising company lawyers working on regulatory and legal issues in 14 East Coast states.
Born and raised in New York's Harlem neighborhood, the mother of four and Annapolis resident sits on a half-dozen charity and civic boards in Baltimore, as well as the board of her alma mater, Swarthmore College, and the Maryland Economic Development Commission.
"I'm really happy for Sherry, but I'm saddened too," said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, an economic development group. Bellamy, who is on the GBA's board, plans to step down this month.
"This is a big loss for Baltimore and Maryland," Morfessis said. "She's extremely talented, incredibly bright and very people-oriented."
"She has this broad perspective that's so important when you're talking about economic development issues," she said.
For the foreseeable future, Bell Atlantic's other Maryland employees - there are 13,000, with more than 1,400 in Baltimore - should see little change in their jobs, said Sandra Arnette, a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman. No layoffs are expected. The company has entered new contract negotiations with local unions.
As for the impact on Maryland Bell Atlantic customers, Arnette said the most noticeable initial change will the name of the new company on bills sent out in August.
Telecommunications industry experts generally agree that the merger will result in better services and products for business and residential customers.
"This will be a bigger, stronger company in a very competitive environment," said Scott Cleland, founder of the Precursor Group in Washington, an independent technology consulting company. "Without the merger, I don't know if customers would see much in the way of new services or products."
Said Glenn F. Ivey, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, "As a practical matter, there's not much GTE presence in the state of Maryland, so it probably won't mean much for Maryland residents immediately."