Interview - Jack Baron, PAETEC Communications
Written for the 2003 Annual Report for PAETEC Communications
“PAETEC’s corporate mission is to be the most customer and employee-focused company in every market we serve.”
It’s as if, given a single sentence and five seconds, Jack Baron, PAETEC’s Chief Marketing Officer, wishes only to communicate something of genuine, intrinsic value. And no one knows better just how valuable this sentiment has become at PAETEC. It has come to define a corporate culture, underscore tremendous financial success, and inform every single customer interaction. In a way that most companies can only dream of, PAETEC’s corporate mission statement truly defines the behavior of the company. And Baron understands as well as anyone that behavior is what differentiates PAETEC as a service provider, as an employer, and as a successful business.
The Process Mission
PAETEC’s challenge in 2003 was to preserve this mission-inspired behavior in the midst of rapid financial and physical growth – growth that has been, by all accounts, the direct result of the PAETEC culture itself. The company’s answer to this challenge is straightforward to articulate, but challenging to execute. It is, in a word, process.
Process occupies the crucial middle ground between rigorous hiring practices and PAETEC’s outstanding customer retention rates, which remain the highest in the industry. “Great people create great processes, and great processes lead to great customer relationships. And in the end, success is all about relationships.” Success, then, is all of a piece, and process is the glue that binds and organizes.
The Art and Science of People
Every telecommunications company in the industry begins with the same set of basic building blocks. Why has PAETEC become so successful while so much of the industry has floundered? Baron’s answer is simple, direct, and immediate. “People.” In 2003, PAETEC placed extraordinary emphasis on the hiring process -- not in quantity, but in quality. PAETEC’s critical process initiatives begin with the hiring process.
“Believe it or not, there is a great deal of artistry in this business,” says Baron. “Artistry does not come from technology, it comes from people, and it is dependent upon the freedom that accompanies a great relationship. In our hiring, we try to look beyond pedigree; we look for intelligence, integrity, and common sense, but what we’re really after is a certain ineffable quality – the ability to create and nurture great relationships.” Frankly, this is a quality you don’t often find in the business of high technology. At PAETEC, it’s a prerequisite.
PAETEC is more – and must be more - than a communications company; it’s a company that communicates; actively, proactively, with intent. PAETEC’s communications efforts recognize that great relationships are predicated on excellent communications. Not surprisingly, then, Baron chose to focus hiring processes for marketing in the two areas that would best improve customer communications – Channel Marketing and Marketing Communications.
Customer Advisory Boards
PAETEC’s newly-minted Channel Marketing team initiated a number of innovative processes in 2003, but chief among these was the institution of Customer Advisory Boards in key geographic markets across the nation. Customer Advisory Boards afford key PAETEC customers the unique opportunity to provide direct, face-to-face feedback, advice, and even criticism to senior PAETEC officials in an informal but structured environment that is designed to fix problems, strengthen relationships, and shape company directions.
The success of the program has been overwhelming. “Customer Advisory Boards were intended as a way to improve communications and open dialog with our customers, and in this capacity, they are working quite well,” says Baron. PAETEC customers, it turns out, are now clamoring to get involved. It’s worth their time. It raises their profile. It carries cache’. Most importantly, it allows them to craft a relationship with PAETEC that serves their needs downstream. And for Baron, it’s an irreplaceable process that helps to nurture excellent customer relationships.
Customer Advisory Boards are becoming much more than simply a feedback loop. PAETEC’s customers are literally helping to re-brand the company.” Baron explains. “Our Marketing Communications team has undertaken a massive re-branding effort this year. PAETEC’s visual image has been polished, and our messages have been refined. We’ve revamped our sales collateral, redesigned our website, and our customers…” -- Baron just can’t resist a genuine smile -- “…are providing us with tremendous testimonials – in many cases, unsolicited. They’re actually eager to help. It’s remarkable.”
Vignettes such as this – and there are many - suggest the kind of relationship that cannot be bought at any price. And in an industry otherwise rife with disappointment, it is direct, incontrovertible evidence of the value of PAETEC’s mission statement, and how it embodies the behavior of the company – behavior that sets PAETEC apart.
Direct customer input may be the single most valuable source of information for product development, but it is by no means the only source. PAETEC invested heavily in market research in 2003, and acquired a thorough understanding of the telecommunications landscape in North America. These efforts confirmed PAETEC’s strategic initiatives into managed services, and suggested an acceleration of PAETEC’s efforts to develop top quality data offerings.
“Increasingly, customers require exceptionally high quality data capabilities,” says Baron. “That means three things to us – reliability, availability, and security. We’ve worked hard on this, and PAETEC can now boast of the best throughput and latency figures in the industry – better than Verizon, better than SBC, better than everyone. That means we can deliver feature-rich Voice over IP services that our competitors simply cannot match.”
What’s next? “Managed Security Services.” Baron’s voice is matter-of-fact. PAETEC’s research, customer feedback, and marketing initiatives each indicate that security is developing into a critical requirement for customers, and PAETEC has already begun to build the infrastructure necessary to meet their developing needs. It’s a project with a long time horizon, but it begins now.
In the fast-paced financial world of quarterly results, long time horizons invite challenging questions. How long? How much? How come? Baron has an answer that is at once brief and entirely consistent with PAETEC’s mission. “We look in the mirror.” PAETEC has much to be proud of, certainly, but this is not a statement of vanity. It’s a statement of introspection. PAETEC has understood from the outset that emergent strategies are vital to sustained corporate performance. One sets a destination, and follows a course, but continuously examines the road ahead. The destination may change, but the exact course will change. Guaranteed. Anticipating and executing course corrections, therefore, is vital. PAETEC continues to prepare for the future by examining the present. It’s a process.
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