Future bound: satisfying tomorrow's customers, today.

Author:Renowski, Dennis

Sometimes operating a successful company is as much about seeing into the future, as it is about putting in hard work. The independent telephone industry is no different. With access rates falling and the use of wireless telephones rising, a traditional POTS (plain old telephone service) company's future may not be as bright as its past.

It was this knowledge that led Consolidated Telephone Co. (CTC), a 10,000-access line telephone cooperative in Brainerd, Minn., to make some serious changes in its operation throughout the past several years.

Beginning service in 1952, CTC's business trajectory mirrors that of many independent telephone cooperatives: acquiring exchanges, upgrading facilities and adding telephone services. However, it wasn't until almost 45 years after the cooperative was formed that it branched into a business line that was out of the realm of standard telephone service. That new business line, local Internet access, was not only the cooperative's first nontelco-related venture, it also was the first such offering available to those not in the cooperative's service territory.

"CTC was always a very profitable and conservative cooperative," said Kevin Larson, general manager. "We have always made the right decisions for the times, and we have always followed the traditional, conservative thinking that has made so many independent telephone companies successful."

Larson and his management group looked to the future of the telecommunications industry and saw that there were changes ahead. "The changing landscape in the telecommunications industry doesn't allow any company to be complacent," Larson said. "Past accomplishments are by no means a guarantee of future success, especially in this new environment."

Strategic Thinkers

Changes in the industry and a change in management focus and makeup helped to foster an environment where long-range planning and creative thinking were possible. The conclusion that the company came to was that strategic thinking is now more important than ever to sustain success in a changing telecommunications marketplace.

"Gone are the days of, 'if-you-build-it-they-will-come' thinking by telephone companies," said Larson. "We are now forced to run our operations as a truly competitive business. We have to think, plan and strategize like we never had to before." Larson pointed to a recent consumer study that CTC undertook as an example of this new way of doing business.

The cooperative's service territory horseshoes a community of 20,000 residents that is served by Qwest. In 2001, the company...

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