Cover image for Money from thin air : the story of Craig McCaw, the visionary who invented the cell phone industry, and his next billion-dollar idea
Money from thin air : the story of Craig McCaw, the visionary who invented the cell phone industry, and his next billion-dollar idea
Corr, O. Casey.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Crown Business, [2000]

Physical Description:
x, 310 pages ; 25 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HE8815 .C67 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A portrait of visionary entrepreneur Craig McCaw discusses his seminal role in the development of the cellular communications industry and his latest work with Teledesic, a satellite network providing fast, economical worldwide Internet access. 20,000 first printing.

Author Notes

O. Casey Corr, a business and technology writer with the Seattle Times, has contributed reporting and commentary to, among other publications, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Washington Post

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

McCaw may not have invented cellular communications, but he earned his place at the top of the industry as one of the first entrepreneurs who believed that the public would embrace mobile phones. In this lively biography, Corr, a reporter for the Seattle Times, chronicles the Seattle native's odyssey, which began after his college graduation in 1973, when he bought a small cable television company in rural Washington and built it into one of the largest cable operations in the country. As he expanded his empire, he kept a watchful eye on the fledgling cellular industry. When the government began auctioning off franchises in 1984, McCaw jumped into the frenzy. With the financing from of Michael Milken's junk bonds, he spent the next several years buying as many cellular licenses as possible. Always just a step ahead of bankruptcy, he sold his cellular company to AT&T in 1994 for $12.6 billion after it became clear that McCaw Communications didn't have the resources to compete with better-financed telecommunications giants. Corr does a solid job of capturing the Wild West spirit of the mobile phone industry's early days, when there were few rules and fewer business models. He's less successful, though, in describing McCaw's current venture, a partnership with Bill Gates and others to launch a satellite communications network. While Corr touches on McCaw's relationships with his parents and brothers, this is first and foremost a story about McCaw's obsession with creating a cellular phone powerhouse. Agent, Kris Dahl of ICM. Author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Corr, a reporter with the Seattle Times and author of King: The Bullits of Seattle and Their Communications Empire, draws on interviews and published sources to produce a well-written account of Craig McCaw, the founder and CEO of McCaw Cellular Communications. As a youngster, McCaw was intelligent and introspective but suffered secretly from dyslexia. He shared his father's intuitiveness for "complex relationships and strategies," derived from their treasured games of chess. From his mother he learned how to be mindful of details and order. With these traits in hand, the enigmatic, reclusive maverick took over the reins of a family broadcasting company and turned it in a new direction. McCaw went on to create a nationwide cellular network, then sold his share to AT&T for billions at the age of 45. Not ready to retire, McCaw, who is considered a visionary with the ability to see the "big picture," is now quietly working with Bill Gates, Boeing, and Motorola to develop a new telecommunications empire that will be designed as a satellite network in order to provide fast, affordable Internet access. Corr ably blends McCaw's personal and professional stories, producing a major study of a key figure in today's business world. Highly recommended for business collections.DBellinda Wise, Nassau Community Coll. Lib., Garden City, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



More than any other individual alive, Craig McCaw embodies the incredible transformation and likely future of the telecommunications industry. He is one of the most fascinating executives in business today, an acknowledged visionary in communications, the billionaire whom even other billionaires find interesting. This book's title refers to McCaw's long-term business focus: invisible airwaves that carry high-profit voice and data services. But it also suggests a deeper theme -- the managerial magic he brings to business. McCaw is astonishingly good at finding value where others see obstacles, doom, or just plain nothing. He seems to make money from thin air. Describing himself as the master of the obvious, McCaw has redefined the idea of the executive. This is one guy rarely found in a suit, in the office, at a desk. More likely, he's kayaking, waterskiing, or piloting his jet high above the islands of British Columbia. When he talks about the freedom that wireless communications brings to the mobile worker, he knows it because he lives it. Contacting subordinates by voice mail, he is the virtual executive, more felt than seen. He makes money the new-fashioned way. For the first eighty years of the twentieth century, people like McCaw had no place in telecommunications. The industry revolved around men in blue suits, white shirts, and sensible shoes who spent their lives inside a single gigantic company, AT&T, which resisted ideas that threatened its monopoly. Creative thinkers and quirky personalities worked elsewhere. Bill McGowan's MCI provided the notable exception, but the universe remained Ma Bell's until AT&T was broken up in 1984. Today the telecom world is in turmoil. Giant companies are vulnerable because of their entrenchment in old technology and high cost. So they merge: Bigger must be better. At a different level, start-ups tap new pools of capital and maneuver to exploit opportunities created by stumbling giants and collapsing regulation. Everyone wants a share of the profit created by huge demand from businesses and consumers tapping the Internet. Increasingly, it's a game for the nimble and the daring. The telecommunications world has come around to Craig McCaw's way of business. McCaw made one fortune in cable TV and another in cellular telephones. Now he's building a telecommunications empire of staggering potential through a collection of companies he controls: Teledesic, a satellite partnership with Microsoft's Bill Gates that is building a global "Internet in the Sky"; NEXTLINK, a company positioning itself to rival the Baby Bells with its own vast network of fiber-optic cable, wireless transmission services, and switching systems; CablePlus, a company that provides voice service, Internet access, and TV signals through coaxial cable; and Nextel, an international wireless telephone company with an expanding role in data services. Each company is breathtaking in its ambition, hunger for capital, and risk-taking management style. Together, they provide a glimpse of McCaw's possible goal: one company capable of providing high-speed access to any point in the world, be it a cabin in the Cascade Mountains or a remote village in Asia. On the ground, a Teledesic community could also be served by a wireless network. For the Third World, that's the telecommunications equivalent of jumping from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first century. The idea has enormous social implications, and the potential for equally enormous profits. Though this book focuses on McCaw, his story represents how the entrepreneur has moved from the fringes of the telecommunications business to the forefront. People such as McCaw, not the executives of major companies, have emerged as the visionaries who can adapt to a rapidly changing competitive landscape. They are the hunters, not the hunted. The management style and values they used to reach this point will be crucial in the future as the Internet fuels huge demand for sophisticated data services. This book shows how McCaw's unique management style evolved by instinct and from periods of intense personal reflection and self-scrutiny. His emergence as a remarkable presence in global communications began with a crucial event in his youth. Excerpted from Money from Thin Air: The Story of Craig McCaw, the Billionaire Who Invented the Cell Phone Industry and His Next Billion Dollar Idea by O. Casey Corr All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1 "That Man Behind the Curtain" A Family Fortune Is Lostp. 3
2 "A Bit of a Loose Skipper" The Elder McCaw and the Origins of an Empirep. 13
3 "Money Was Not the Issue" A College Boy Takes Chargep. 27
4 "How Can We Build Our Dreams on This?" The Small-Town Origins of a New Management Stylep. 38
5 "There's This Crazy Kid ..." McCaw Becomes an Apostle of Debtp. 47
6 "Always Have a Back Door" The First Major Partner Comes on Boardp. 61
7 "What Would Be in Their Best Interest?" McCaw Discovers a Revolutionary Telephonep. 81
8 "We Were Dreaming of Dick Tracy" A Fraternity of Independents Takes on Ma Bellp. 89
9 "I Can't Go to Bed Owing Somebody a Billion Dollars" McCaw Hangs On While Others Lose Their Nervep. 103
10 "Like Negotiating with the Russians" Financing Comes from an Unlikely Ally--ATandTp. 113
11 "What Do You Want for a Sacramento?" A License Lottery Creates a Trading Frenzyp. 122
12 "You Went to Veterinarians When You Needed Brain Surgery" An Audience with Michael Milken, the King of Junkp. 134
13 "It's Getting Awful Lonely" McCaw Consolidates His Empire as Independents Fallp. 145
14 "Where Do I Sell My License?" Speculation Reaches a Climax in an FCC Free-for-allp. 153
15 "The Mad Scientist" His Company Goes Public, McCaw Stays Privatep. 164
16 "Take Tarawa" A Hostile Takeover Creates a Truly National Servicep. 178
17 "The Spirit Within Us Must Burn" The Bill Comes Due for a Leveraged Giantp. 193
18 "You're Marrying Off Your Daughter When She's Fourteen" ATandT Makes an Offer That Can't Be Refusedp. 205
19 "Like Porcupines Making Love" The Billionaire Leaves Homep. 216
20 "Master of the Obvious" An Ambitious New Vision Takes Shapep. 227
21 "The Michael Jordan of Telecommunications" McCaw Strikes Gold in the Wreckage of Nextelp. 235
22 "The Potential to Change the World" Enter Bill Gates and Teledesic's "Internet in the Sky"p. 249
23 "Under the Radar" McCaw Makes Billions in a Telecommunications Backwaterp. 269
Epilogue: The Billionaire and the Whalep. 279
Notesp. 287
Acknowledgmentsp. 293
Indexp. 297