Joseph Nacchio

CEO, Qwest Communications International

Joseph Nacchio, Chief Executive of Denvers Qwest Communications International, could have ended up just another anonymous "Bell head" in the benign management culture of Ma Bell, AT&T.

But Nacchio -- who can be brash and abrasive when it suits him -- couldnt help but rock the boat. He had ideas for the future of telecommunications, and they were not being recognized.

So, in 1997, after 27 years at AT&T, Nacchio left to lead Qwest. He saw it as a unique chance -- namely, access to thousands of miles of railroad right of way owned by Qwests top stockholder, Phillip Anschutz. And Nacchio saw currency in that relationship.

But Nacchio wasnt satisfied with Qwest being just a fiber-optic carrier. Qwests strategic acquisition of U S West in 1999 was its boldest move, giving it a steady revenue stream from a 14-state customer base, as well as new business for its bandwidth sales.

Nacchio also proved he had the punch to do a major takeover, beating out another U S West suitor, Global Crossing, in a hostile takeover. Insiders say he has been positioning Qwest to make other acquisitions to fuel his ambitious plans for growth.

Last month, Qwest bought back $1 billion of its shares from BellSouth, which had invested in the company just two months before it acquired U S West. The move led some analysts to predict that Nacchio might be turning the tables on BellSouth, which earlier had indicated an interest in merging with Qwest. Analysts at Credit Suisse First Boston predict Qwest would position itself to acquire Sprint later this year, doing what BellSouth and WorldCom could not.