Talk's cheap, they say. but some CEOs who provide cellular telephones to executives and key employees might argue otherwise. On the theory that "if you can ignore the cost, car phones are a help to business," CEO Hayden Solomon of Hydro-Environmental Technologies, in Acton, Mass., installed them for sales and field personnel. But it turned out he couldn't ignore the cost: the crew ran up bills that averaged close to $1,000 a month -- per individual. Eight months later Solomon yanked the phones and gave out beepers.

Environmental Remediation, in Baton Rouge, La., distributed cellular phones first to middle management, then to sales staff. "The more phones we gave out," reports Cheryl Chiquet, head of communications, "the more extravagant the calling." As tolls mounted, Chiquet set a $150-per-month ceiling; anything over that is charged to the individual. Staffers grumbled at first but now use pay phones when possible.

As handy as a phone in a car may be, it does have drawbacks -- fuzzy signals, high usage rates, rapidly changing technologies, and such. To determine how businesspeople view cellular phones' advantages and disadvantages, Inc. commissioned a survey of 275 small to midsize companies that had issued car phones to their employees.

The balance is shown in the chart below: by a ratio of nearly two to one, businesses endorsed car phones' virtues over their drawbacks. A mere 5.4% cited lack of cost-effectiveness as a problem -- not enough to make the top six demerits. And only 16% of companies tempered phone use through formal rules, despite the high percentage of abuse complaints. Even fewer companies -- just one, actually -- complained that employees weren't using their phones enough. -- Phaedra Hise

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Car Phones: the Good and the Bad
Benefits % of respondents

Keep people in constant contact 59.6%

Increase productivity 56.4

Help sales and service 53.9

Are valued as a perk 16.4

Function as a modem/fax 1.8

Are a good emergency tool 1.0


Have poor sound quality 27.1

Encourage too many personal calls 22.5

Make driving unsafe 12.1

Make billing too confusing 8.6

Make have-nots jealous 7.5

Increase car theft 6.8

Source: The Executive Committee, San Diego, 1993. n