Long Distance Warrior is a new documentary about Bill McGowan, a man who grew the telecommunications company MCI from a small operation to a global giant with more than 30,000 employees. In the process he paved the way for modern communications, including free long distance phone calls, email, and the Internet. It is one man’s story of triumph over adversity, and a modern day retelling of David and Goliath.
The documentary starts with a short history lesson on Microwave Communications Inc., better known as MCI, which began with meager roots in Illinois. MCI founder, Jack Goeken, imagined a system of microwave towers between Chicago and St. Louis, extending the range of radio signals between truckers and giving local businesses a cheaper alternative to long distance phone calls. But, when its progress was stymied for years by AT&T and the FCC, MCI reached out to touch someone for help, and that person was Bill McGowan.
McGowan, a Harvard Business School graduate, became the model for the modern day CEO. He was a more gentle warrior, and a boss who is in tune with the needs and desires of those in his employ. He had a magnetic personality, a strong work ethic, and the confidence to take on the biggest telecommunications monopoly in the world, AT&T. In doing so, McGowan facilitated the landmark anti-monopoly case U.S. v. AT&T, which ended in the breakup of the media giant in 1984, and paved the way for MCI to offer cheaper long distance phone calls.
The documentary continues with a mix of personal biography and MCI history, interspersing archive footage and current day interviews from McGowan’s family, friends, and associates. The project creators include Sarah Holt, an Emmy Award-winning television producer and editor who worked on several similar segments for public television, including NOVA and The American Experience; and Bestor Cram, who brings more than 25 years of experience as a director and cinematographer. In their able hands, Long Distance Warrior moves along at a good pace, from its very compelling first minutes to the closing credits.