Oral Histories

Ed Block

Interview Segments on Topic: Mentors

Ed Block Biography

Edward M. Block was Senior Vice President -- Public Relations, Advertising and Employee Information for the AT&T Corporation for 12 years until his retirement in 1986. He was responsible for corporate communications during AT&T's historic divestiture of the Bell telephone companies and its expansion into international markets. He also held the additional post of assistant to the chairman of the board from 1980 until his retirement and was a member of the Office of the Chairman.

While at AT&T, Block was a director of AT&T International and AT&T Information Systems. He established the AT&T Foundation and was its first chairman of the board. It was on his initiative that AT&T provided the funding ($10 million a year for five years) to establish the MacNiel-Lehrer News Hour on PBS.

In 1980, PR News chose Block as the Public Relations Professional of the Year. In 1993, he received the lifetime achievement award from Inside PR and also, the Hall of Fame Award of the Arthur W, Page Society. In 1997, he received the Gold Anvil from the Public Relations Society of America. Most recently, he was cited by PR Week as one of the 100 most influential public relations people of the 20th century.


Block: Can I tell you a little bit of a story about that?

Foster: Yeah.

Block: When I came to the AT&T headquarters in 1964, I think it was something like that, the date is not important. My boss, one step removed, who didn’t know me particularly well nor I did I know him, and so he, in this conversation over in his office over coffee or whatever, he said, you’ve come in here from one of the big Bell Companies from out in the field, and he said, you probably think that you know this is the pinnacle, you know of this great and wonderful Bell Telephone System, that all the brains are here.  We thought of everything, we’re on top of everything, and he said some of that is true, from day to day. But he said, let me tell you something, he said, this outfit works like a mom and pop corporation/business, even though it has an address in New York City.  And he said, I’ll tell you something, he said, you can make it do anything you think it needs to do, or that you want it to do, you just better be right most of the time.

Foster: Right.

Block: That was his message, well that was like saying free at last to me, because at that point, I was kind of in mid-career I mean I wasn’t …

Foster: … you were at Southwestern Bell at that time?

Block: …  yeah and so you know, I found that was absolutely true. You know, if some problem came up and one of the department heads and not the PR, other departments you know, called up and said need a little help and you’d stride into his office and he’d state the problem. Okay here’s what we’re going to do about it, you know you didn’t ask. You know and by the way, that’s another lesson, is that, don’t bring problems to bosses, bring solutions. But anyway, so I, you know that was wonderful so in due course I was transferred back to Southwestern Bell on a promotion and I was a Holy Demon when I got back there, because it worked there too. You know, you could, whatever you thought was a solution to an issue or problem, or what needed to be done, you just did it. You know and no one every said, who gave you the authority to do that? So big lesson, big lesson and that was my first big boss at AT&T said this is a mom and pop outfit. You can do whatever you want to do.

Foster: That was encouragement that you didn’t expect.

Block: Right.

Foster: But you knew what to do with it.

Block: Well I had great mentors. You know there’s no question about that. And the culture of the business of that business encouraged mentoring. I mean it wasn’t a class you went to. It wasn’t some kind of a school. But bosses were expected as they were from what I’m told at Johnson & Johnson, they were expected to and were rated to some extent, on how well they brought along subordinates, you know, and made them better than they were and fitted for higher jobs, you know, so I certainly benefited from that.

Foster: If you were a follower you quickly got lost in the crowd. You had to try to emulate a leader.

Block: yeah.