|When Thaddeus Arroyo talks with students, he often encourages them to take risks and get out of their comfort zones, because with great risks come great rewards, as well as personal growth.
That's advice that Arroyo has heeded himself, and it has served him well. He's the chief information officer for AT&T, the largest telecommunications company in the world. Arroyo has been lauded for his leadership and creativity in a career that has spanned over two decades, and he's done it all because he never imposed any limits on himself as to what he thought he could or couldn't do - a valuable lesson for college graduates just starting out in the world.
Arroyo - a UT Arlington alumnus who earned a B.S. in Mathematics with a Computer Science option in 1986 and received the Distinguished Alumni Award for his civic and professional achievements in 2001 - spoke to UT Arlington students as part of the College of Science's Science Week in April 2011. He returns to campus on May 13 as the special guest speaker during the college's Spring 2012 Commencement ceremony in College Park Center. He'll tell the new graduates to never limit their options and to never stop learning.
"There's opportunity in all that we do," he told UT Arlington students in 2011. "Success will only come by way of hard work, so embrace it. You can't ever stop learning, because if you do, you'll fall behind."
Falling behind is something with which Arroyo isn't familiar. Born in San Francisco as the second-oldest of five children, he and his family moved to Texas, where he lived in San Antonio before moving to the Metroplex. He graduated from Lewisville High School in 1982. He had a talent for problem-solving and a facility with numbers growing up, so he focused on math and computer engineering when making a choice on which college to attend.
"I chose UTA because of their math and computer science degree programs, and the presence of a recognized ROTC program," he said. "While it seems so long ago, I have many fond memories of my studies in the engineering and science schools, challenging me to grow as a student while providing me the resources and support to succeed."
While at UT Arlington, he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, served as the College of Science student congress representative, and was a member of the Department of Military Science Army ROTC and the Core of Cadets' Carlisle Cannons, a group charged with firing the University's cannons at official events and ceremonies.
After graduating, he joined Southwestern Bell Telephone in the information technology (IT) department.
"My interests were always piqued when applying technology to solve problems, so the field of information technology was an obvious path for me," he said.
While working full-time, he began work on a master's degree at Southern Methodist University's Cox School of Business in 1986, receiving an MBA in 1989.
In 1990, tensions between Iraq and the United Nations reached a boiling point due to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and the United States led the way in organizing a coalition designed to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Arroyo spent almost a year in active military service with the U.S. Army in connection with the First Gulf War mobilization. He would go on to serve 12 years in the U.S. Army Reserves-Signal Corps.
After the First Gulf War, which was won swiftly by U.S.-led coalition forces, Arroyo returned to Southwestern Bell. In 1992, he joined Sabre Corp. and held a number of positions, including vice president of strategic infrastructure, vice president of global outsourcing, senior vice president of information technology services and senior vice president of product marketing and development. In 2001, he joined Cingular Wireless as CIO. Following the consolidation of Cingular, AT&T Wireless, BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications into one company under the AT&T name in 2007, Arroyo was named AT&T's CIO.
Since then, Arroyo has led a number of innovative changes at AT&T, particularly technology changes related to the merger. He is most proud of being able to support AT&T's business evolution across all its markets while also transforming and integrating a massive IT organization composed of approximately 26,000 IT professionals.
"We've increased the velocity with which AT&T can bring products to market and successfully scale and commercialize those products," he said.
Arroyo is credited with helping reshape AT&T's information technology infrastructure from a system built for accountability, as a large utility company, into one with speed and flexibility. Under his leadership, AT&T has been an Information Week 500 Award recipient for four consecutive years and a CIO Top 100 award recipient in four of the past five years. In addition, AT&T received the American Business Awards' 2009 IT Department of the Year.
Arroyo says the ability to help drive the company's overall direction is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.
"Within AT&T, and I believe in many other firms, the information technology team serves a prime purpose of creating business velocity," he said. "In this capacity, I enjoy leading efforts that transform business processes and market offerings in ways that have positive impact for our business. It is very rewarding to see the tangible benefits in applying innovation to directly enhance the end customer experience."
Along the way, Arroyo has been recognized and honored for his leadership and vision by a variety of organizations. Among the awards he has received:
2002 - Won the Georgia Global CIO of the Year award for technology leadership and creativity in planning and deploying enterprise systems.
"I'm honored by this recognition, coming as it does from an organization which shares AT&T's philosophy of inclusion," Arroyo said of the HITEC Estrella award. "Inclusion enhances innovation through diversity of thought, approach, and understanding. In a global economy driven by innovation, competitive advantage comes from the ability to create technology that is as broad and creative as the people it serves."
Arroyo tells those just starting out to consider careers of all types and to not limit their options. Don't be afraid of making bad decisions, he says, because the lessons which can be learned are invaluable.
"Most importantly, never limit opportunity by self-imposed perceptions or barriers that can ultimately be overcome. As Henry Ford said, 'Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.'"
Arroyo is married and has one daughter; he lives in Dallas.
Posted May 10, 2012