This Is Not Your Father's Ceo

Stephen E. Raville, former hippie and antiwar protester, is now a full-fledged member of the Establishment. As one of the few fortysomething chief executives to run a BW 1000 company, he heads Atlanta's Advanced Telecommunications Corp., a long-distance phone carrier with $351 million in revenues. As a tax attorney, Raville helped create the current ATC by merging it with a smaller long-distance company in 1983.

Raville tries to keep his `60s self alive in the way he runs ATC. "When we occupied administration buildings on campus, it encouraged us to ask questions," says Raville, 44. "That carried over to the business world."

Communicating with ATC's 1,700 employees is one area where Raville does things differently. Every month he hosts an "open house" where a specific department gives the rest of the company a rundown on what it does and how other departments can help it. Raville has installed video-conference equipment so employees in San Antonio and Boca Raton can join these presentations. To create more goodwill, company announcements and press releases are sent to employees' homes. And ATC sponsors after-hours get-togethers for workers and their families.

Raville strives for the same directness in his day-to-day contacts with senior and midlevel executives. "He makes you feel like an integral part of the company, even at my level," says Jim Agan, a district manager of ATC's Dallas office. "Top management responds very quickly--much faster than at any of the other three companies I've worked for."

Raville needs to keep employees involved because they, too, are a lot less tradition-bound than the previous generation. "Our fathers went to work, collected their paychecks, and didn't ask questions," he says. "Now if people don't feel their contributions make a difference, they'll just go elsewhere."

'RUTHLESS.' The kind of relaxed management Raville practices first became popular in the late `70s with high-tech firms founded by young upstarts. At the time, conventional wisdom had it that all this touchy-feely stuff would give way to more traditional management as these businesses matured.

Now, though, management gurus see many boomer CEOs and fortyish senior executives showing similar preferences for less hierarchy. "Boomer CEOs are more collegial and they tend to be more cooperative and less dictatorial," says D. Quinn Mills, a professor at Harvard business school who has studied boomers in the workplace. But, Mills adds, "They are perfectly capable of being ruthless." The efforts of Raville and other new corporate chiefs to keep their collaborative ways as their responsibilities mount is expected to result in some big changes in corporate culture in the coming decade.