By Betsy Rosso, for Bisnow on Business
“What’s interesting about satellite communications is that most people don’t understand that when they turn on their TV and watch CNN or ESPN or MTV they’re watching it via satellite. That’s true whether they’re using cable or broadcast or satellite. Signals have traveled at least part of the way to them using satellite.”
As general counsel of Intelsat, Phillip Spector has learned a lot about satellite technology. But his main focus, of course, is how it’s regulated; the company must comply with laws everywhere Intelsat operates, which is more than 200 countries and territories. Spector also oversees Intelsat’s government services business which provides satellite capacity to the US and other governments.
Spector enjoys the breadth of his job. “When you’re in private practice you tend to specialize in a narrow area,” he said. “Here, I have to understand everything: securities, tax, telecommunications, real estate, employment. That’s stimulating.”
Before joining Intelsat two years ago, Spector was in private practice for two decades, primarily with Paul, Weiss, serving as managing partner of the DC office and chairman of the firm’s Communications and Technology Group. Spector says that given his substantive background, it was a natural transition from outside to in-house.
“A meaningful part of what I do is function as a senior executive, setting policy for the company,” he says. “About half my time is spent on that, half on straight legal work.” Making executive-level decisions is nothing new to Spector. “At the law firm, many of my clients would look to me not only for legal advice but for strategic and business advice as well. You develop that skill set by seeing a lot of business situations over a prolonged period of time, through the application of common sense, and by applying your analytical capabilities.”
Spector recalls always knowing he wanted to be a lawyer. He earned his law degree at Harvard as well as a master’s degree in public policy at the JFK School there. “With many things there’s a certain amount of luck and accident,” Spector says. Right out of law school he clerked for a judge on Second Circuit Court of Appeals and for Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Spector then worked for two years as an “associate assistant” to President Carter. After leaving the White House he joined a law firm. “It happened that a busy area of the firm’s practice was telecom and I started doing projects for it. I liked the area and they liked me.”
Telecommunications piqued his interest because it combines legal and public policy issues. “Telecommunications is regulated in the US primarily by the FCC, which sets policies that affect all kinds of telecom companies—big phone and satellite and small start-up companies. The FCC’s policies are worked out within a framework of laws.”
One of the highlights of Spector’s tenure at Intelsat has been its merger with Pan Am Sat. “We had been second largest satellite company in world. The third largest was Pan Am Sat. In August 2005 we signed a deal to merge. The merger closed in July 2006. This transaction was a big part of my life and still is. We had a significant process to go through with the antitrust authorities at the Department of Justice, convincing them that the merger was in the public interest. We had to help them understand the industry and how the two companies were positioned, what kinds of services they provided. We explained why the two companies were complimentary in what they did rather than competitive. Pan Am Sat did more in video and in the US, and Intelsat did more in telecom and internationally.”
Internally, integrating the two companies has presented significant challenges as well. “Once we were approved, we had the job of turning two companies into a single unified company,” Spector said. “The challenges include a lot of human resources issues—deciding among a group of talented employees which ones to keep and which ones should move on. There’s another set of issues dealing with the wide range of facilities—which locations to keep and which to shut down, and how to combine technical operations.”
In order to manage legal requirements worldwide, Spector travels a great deal, primarily to Asia, Europe, and Latin America. His favorite destinations are Tokyo and Hong Kong, although when he travels for work, he says, “mostly I work.” :)