Orville Wright, Former MCI Exec And AT&T Challenger Remembered

Wright was also the driving force behind MCI's e-mail service -- MCI Mail -- which was popular in the 1990s.

W. David Gardner, Contributor

August 22, 2008

2 Min Read

V. Orville Wright, the MCI executive who pushed the U.S. government into breaking up AT&T more than two decades ago, died this week at his home in Chevy Chase, Md.

Wright was the former president and CEO of MCI, complementing the company's public face, William G. McGowan. Wright once described himself as MCI's "inside man, the man who worked with employees, who did the nitty-gritty work."

He also found it difficult to retire from MCI (Microwave Communications Inc.), which rose from humble beginnings as a supplier of radio microwave communications to truckers on the way to challenging the old telephone monopoly AT&T on long-distance calling.

In April 1987, Wright was happily retired from MCI at Hilton Head Island, S.C., attending an MCI golf tournament when he was informed that Mr. McGowan had suffered a heart attack and that Mr. Wright was needed to take over the helm of the company.

"I have no problems with coming back full time," said Mr. Wright at the time. "I didn't just stop." He explained that he had continued at MCI as vice chairman and so was familiar with its ongoing operation.

McGowan was a key agitator in the drive to break up AT&T and Wright was his loyal lieutenant. Back in 1982, Wright framed MCI's battle with AT&T. "We can beat them from the standpoint of cost," he told Time Magazine. "I see the possibility now that we could get a third of the long-distance market."

Wright was the driving force behind MCI's popular e-mail service -- MCI Mail -- which was popular in the 1990s. He also pushed the company to deploy fiber optic cable before it became popular.

Born in Kansas in 1920, Wright graduated from the University of Kansas and then spent 13 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring with the rank of commander. Later, he was an executive at IBM, RCA, Amdahl, and Xerox.

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