Stuart Subotnick HOF
This past fall, the Wireless History Foundation inducted Stuart Subotnick (left) into its Hall of Fame. Dick Sherwin, CEO of Spot On Networks, inducted him.

Back in 1982, Stuart Subotnick (’62, LLD-Hon. ’97) took a leap of faith. Cellular technology was in its infancy, and telephone company AT&T projected that it wouldn’t amount to much. In fact, the company was handing over its rights to cellular licenses to the new Regional Bell Operating Companies. But Subotnick—then chief financial officer of Metromedia Company, an independent broadcaster—thought AT&T had it all wrong.

“It turned out to be an amazing miscalculation of how this new technology would skyrocket in use,” recalls Subotnick, who at the time began traveling the country, visiting mom-and-pop paging companies that were applying for licenses for this emerging tech. He went back to New York and immediately told John Kluge, Metromedia’s then-chairman: “We have to get into this.”

Setting Metromedia’s sights on the top U.S. markets, Subotnick orchestrated financing to acquire seven of the largest U.S. paging companies and their cellular applications in major cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. “In ’83, when the awards came in, we had the largest non-phone cellular company in the U.S.,” Subotnick says. Deals to expand cellular technology in China, Cuba, and Russia followed, and Subotnick later brought Metromedia into the fiber optics and Wi-Fi businesses.

Stuart Subotnick speaking at podium.
Subotnick speaking at the Wireless Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

His early bet clearly proved right on the money: today, more than 5 billion people around the world use cell phones, and wireless technology is now part of the fabric of modern society.

In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the industry, the Wireless History Foundation inducted Subotnick—who now serves as Metromedia’s president and CEO—into its Wireless Hall of Fame this past October, calling him a “pioneer and a visionary.”

“I believe in opportunities—along with a lot of luck,” Subotnick says. “If you don’t take risks, you can miss the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Subotnick’s taste for taking on a challenge underlies much of his career, like his initial bid for a Metromedia job. After graduating with his Baruch accountancy degree, and later a law degree from Brooklyn Law School—all while simultaneously working as an IRS tax agent—he interviewed at Metromedia for a position as federal tax manager. “I had no experience in actually preparing and filing tax returns,” he says. “But I figured, what do I have to lose? In my tax auditing work for various businesses, I’d studied what they were planning and why. And I had studied the law. I put all I learned into my attaché case, as they say, and got the job.”

Among his other career highlights: helping broker Metromedia’s $2 billion deal to sell the company’s television stations to Rupert Mudoch; co-founding Major League Soccer; becoming a breeder and owner of thoroughbred race horses; and investing in breakthrough medical research on treating cancer, diabetes, and sepsis. “I am not a person who does as they’ve done in the past, to not disturb and you’ll do okay,” he says. “That’s not where I come from. I’m always taking risks.”

In addition to his trailblazing career, Subotnick has played a role in shaping the future of his alma mater. He serves as an advisory member of the Baruch College Fund Board of Trustees and, in 2000, generously supported the creation of the College’s Wasserman Trading Floor/Subotnick Financial Services Center, a state-of-the-art facility featuring real-time market data feeds and financial analysis tools.

Asked why he had such a strong sense that portable phones would hit big, Subotnick says part of it harks back to his childhood in the 1940s, particularly his love of Dick Tracy detective comics.

“Tracy had that watch that was a two-way radio—it never left me. And as it turned out,” he says with a laugh, “Dick Tracy was right on.”

Nanette Maxim

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