Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A STORY OF EXCELLENCE - MAKING $384-MILLION FROM YOUR BUSINESS IN 2 YEARS


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Saw a story yesterday that CEO’s are cutting their sales force. Smart thing to do in a bad economy – cut your sales force or cut their bonuses. Cutting off your right arm is brilliant, too.


This leads me into this post about excellence. Imagine starting a company on $10-million and selling it in a year-and-a-half for $384-million. That’s what SOL Communications, formed as STPCS (South Texas PCS) did at the turn of the century.


Here was a business that saw the future, rode it and made money beyond your wildest dreams.


SOL offered wireless phone service in South Texas, south and west of San Antonio, from roughly late 1999 to the day the first George Bush was inaugurated president.


The company’s headquarter was in Scottsdale, Arizona. It had one of the nation’s finest call centers in Harlingen Valley, Texas.


There were brick and mortar stores, mostly in low-cost strip malls or shopping mall kiosks, but the largest demand was through its call center. Batteries, accessories, all the things that added to a bottom line, were available through the call center. Next day delivery at no fee added to the customer experience.


It's slogan was big buckets of minutes with no contract.


SOL was successful because it hired the best and the brightest. Didn’t matter if you had been in telecom – but that helped. It was the best and the brightest that got hired. It wasn’t a place for the recent college graduate or recent intern. A majority of employees at corporate headquarters were over 40, or as is sometimes called the “mature worker.” In other words, the best and brightest.


There were six or seven partners. How the company was incorporated was unique and would make a good book. It was an international cloak-and-swagger (no daggers involved) story of last minute intrigue for obtaining valuable FCC licensing – again worked on by the best and brightest, not the recent college graduate.


It was the little things – always the little things – that made SOL excellent. Today while I call at least 10 businesses, have the phone ring and ring, and immediately told, “Will you hold,” and that turns into a quarter-hour wait. Then to be put through to voice mail.


Here’s how SOL handled it. They had a receptionist at the front desk. When someone walked in the building, they were greeted. Most businesses today have laid off so many people that you walk in and need to show yourself around to find someone.


This reception knew where all her employees were, even if it was the bathroom. Computers are a wonderful thing when they’re utilized in the right way – and excellent companies make sure they are.


There were mistakes, and may yours be so minor. One day President Ed Horner had a “bring your dog to work day.” Employees were placing bets on a big doberman before noon.


SOL’s environment was having fun at your work. There was lots of needless travel, like a turkey shoot someplace in the heartland woods of Texas. Those people from Nokia selling the company phones were offering volume discounts after that expedition.


Today, those expenses are only ventured into by excellent companies who know we’re going to come out of this economic downturn and want to be ready to – or more accurately currently are –take advantage when money flows again.


The company, dubbed the world’s fastest growing wireless by some trade publication, was going to be the first to offer a voice service. The idea was if you wanted weather in San Antonio, you could say, “weather, San Antonio en Espanol,” and get the weather in San Antonio in Spanish on your cell phone.


SOL was a GSM platform wireless carrier. VoiceStream was the nations’s largest GSM carrier at that time. It did not want to go to the expense of rolling out this new technology nationwide. It was easier to buy SOL than launch this technology. End of story.


Post-mortem – VoiceStream (now T-Mobile) hired less than five of the best and brightest when acquiring SOL Communications.


Here’s some coverage of SOL:


Serving South Texas: Politics, And Wireless Markets, Are Local
By Bruce Felps
WirelessWeek - July 26, 1999

Some might take a wary view of south Texas when considering a new location to set up shop. The area, dotted with small towns, hardly stands out in the national business mind as a magnet for new business ventures. Economic news rarely emanates from the area.

One new personal communications services carrier, however, sees a rosier picture just north of the Rio Grande. SOL Communications, the brand name for STPCS Joint Venture LLC, recently chose south Texas for its first commercial launch of global system for mobile communications services.


The move reflects the adroit manner in which some wireless carriers are approaching underserved, often rural or secondary markets that are growing at an attractive rate. In three words: speak the language. In response, communities in these areas often provide tax incentives to sweeten the market.


The launch, which covers six basic trading areas, fulfills STPCS' charter, which was laid down by joint venture partners AmeriCall International LLC and VoiceStream Wireless Corp. SOL's market area comprises 44 communities inhabited by 2 million people. The largest cities in the region are Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Laredo, McAllen and Victoria. To reach the melange of cultures and incomes that inhabit south Texas, SOL offers relatively low-cost pricing plans and personnel conversant in English and Spanish.


To counter what one company official called the "exorbitant rates of incumbent cellular carriers," SOL offers three basic rate plans designed for the range of income levels in the area. The lowest priced plan costs $25 per month and includes 500 minutes of anytime use. For $60 a month, subscribers receive 2,000 minutes, and $100 per month buys 3,000 minutes. All SOL plans include call waiting and forwarding, caller ID and the first minute of incoming calls free.


Because of the ubiquity of Spanish-speakers in south Texas, SOL set up its customer service center in Harlingen and hired bilingual residents handle customer service. All store employees also speak both languages. "The vast majority of our employees are bilingual; it's one of our hiring requirements," said Ron Belin, executive vice president of sales and marketing of SOL Communications. "You can't offer a high level of customer service if you can't speak the language." SOL also gives customers the option of receiving monthly bills in either language.


Belin said SOL specifically targeted south Texas because it represents the fastest growing population in the country in percentage terms. In return, the company received financial incentives from at least one city government.


Natalie Prim, city manager of Harlingen, said the municipality gave SOL special tax abatements based on the number of new jobs the carrier brings to town. Harlingen will rebate SOL $200,000 per year for two years as the carrier gets established in the area. The agreement also carries a renewal clause, Prim said.


In addition to bringing new jobs to the city, and lessen any potential public backlash concerning new towers, SOL opted to collocate one transmission site on a tower owned and operated by one of the city's public-safety agencies. The company signed a five-year agreement to lease space for $1,200 per month on a tower located at the Harlingen Fire Department.


Although SOL fills out its license holding with the south Texas launch, Belin didn't discount future launches. Parent company STPCS, which stands for South Texas PCS, owns licenses in Del Rio and Eagle Pass, Texas. One of the joint venture partners in STPCS, VoiceStream, also purchased the recently re-auctioned PCS license in Dallas. "We're always looking at adding new licenses, but right now, we're focused on getting this market up and humming," he said


Sports Business Journal, July 30, 2001

SOL COMMUNICATIONS COLISEUM

City: Hidalgo, Texas

Tenant: WPHL expansion team

Architects: PBK Architects Inc., Eduardo Vela Architects

Owner/operator: City of Hidalgo/International Coliseums Co.

No. of seats: 5,000

No. of suites/club seats: 24/500

Projected cost: $18 million

Funding: Certificate of obligation for $8.8 million from the City of Hidalgo; Sol Communications signed a 10-year, $1.85 million naming-rights deal last April; the remainder will come from International Coliseums Co.

General contractor/construction manager: Nustadia Developments, USA Inc./Williamson Construction

Concessionaire: TBD

Scheduled for completion: Fall 2002

SOL COMMUNICATIONS COLISEUM

City: Hidalgo, Texas

Tenant: WPHL expansion team

Architects: PBK Architects Inc., Eduardo Vela Architects

Owner/operator: City of Hidalgo/International Coliseums Co.

No. of seats: 5,000

No. of suites/club seats: 24/500

Projected cost: $18 million

Funding: Certificate of obligation for $8.8 million from the City of Hidalgo; Sol Communications signed a 10-year, $1.85 million naming-rights deal last April; the remainder will come from International Coliseums Co.

General contractor/construction manager: Nustadia Developments, USA Inc./Williamson Construction

Concessionaire: TBD

Scheduled for completion: Fall 2002


Number of Early Terminations Granted Between 10/23/00 12:00:00 AM and 10/23/00 11:59:00 PM: (FTC)

Transaction Number:

20005118

Early Termination Date:

10/23/2000

Acquiring Person:

Joe Fojtasek

Acquired Person:

Gary R. Chapman

Acquired Entity:

WWLP Holdings, Inc.





Transaction Number:

20005140

Early Termination Date:

10/23/2000

Acquiring Person:

VoiceStream Wireless Corporation

Acquired Person:

STPCS Joint Venture, LLC

Acquired Entity:

STPCS Joint Venture, LLC



Riding Out A Nasty Storm
By Bruce Felps

WirelessWeek - August 30, 1999

The typical and probably safest reaction to a hurricane boring in on the South Texas coast involves packing up the car and heading northward. That's exactly the tack taken last week by about 140,000 residents of Corpus Christi, Texas, when Hurricane Bret blew into town. One small band of wireless professionals, however, stayed behind.


A group of about six engineers and technicians working for SOL Communications, the service brand name of STPCS Joint Venture LLC, took up temporary residence inside a local switching center to monitor network activity while the storm raged outside. During the night spent inside the facility, the techies had little to do except report power and landline service interruptions to the appropriate organizations and make sure service crews were standing by, ready to repair any damage after the storm ran its course.


As it turned out, the switching center proved one of the safest places in which the group could weather the Category 4 hurricane. Average wind speed associated with Hurricane Bret measured about 145 mph with gusts up to 165 mph. But the building is made of 10-inch thick reinforced metal and concrete walls and has no windows, shielding the occupants from potential injury from flying debris. Constructed on a site 8 feet higher than surrounding terrain, the the building was safe from flooding. In fact, the switching center presented such a haven that a few of the SOL employees brought along their families and pets.


About the biggest threat posed to the people inside the make-shift shelter was boredom and taking care of the four dogs and two cats prowling the switching center. "There were a lot of card games going on, and we brought in a [TV set] to monitor the storm," said Al Fowler, SOL network operations manager. "About the only major concern was getting the pets outside when they needed to go."


After evaluating the storm's aftermath, Fowler reported no significant damage to the cell sites covering Corpus Christi. Of roughly 25 sites in the metropolitan area, he said, "only a few antennas gave us any problems." Those problems came in the form of antennas blown off of their set directional bearing by the high winds, throwing off the radiated radio-frequency patterns. Although wind speed exceeded the 125-mph wind-load specification to which the towers are built, Fowler said no towers suffered any structural damage.


Meanwhile, SOL did its part to help the community deal with the storm. The company donated 17 phones to local law enforcement and disaster recovery groups, primarily the Nueces County Constable office and the local chapter of the American Red Cross in Pharr, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. Jerry Boucher, chief deputy constable for the county, said the phones were used as a backup to the department's 800 MHz radio dispatch system. "The trunked system has two towers, and if one of those had gone out during the storm we would have been without communications." Boucher said the dispatch system carries two voice channels for 100 officers. "Things can get a little congested, so we used the phones to keep from tying up the radio system."


Other wireless carriers in the area pitched in to help the communications cause. Caran Snitz, a spokeswoman for Sprint PCS, said the company contributed about 70 phones and free airtime to the Red Cross, Salvation Army, the City of Brownsville and the Valley Baptist Hospital. Farther north, Southwestern Bell Wireless did its part. The company took about 150 phones to evacuation shelters in San Antonio which housed about 40,000 displaced Corpus Christi residents. "The majority of the shelters were set up in school gymnasiums, so the evacuees didn't have access to phones," said Jena Evans, spokeswoman for SBW. "Most of the people called friends and relatives back home to say they were OK."


SOL Communications Expands Digital Wireless Services To Four New Areas; Company Will Service Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Carrizo Springs and Crystal City.

Business Editors

HARLINGEN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 10, 2000

SOL Communications will build on its highly successful first year of operations by expanding services into four areas northwest of its present South Texas base of operations, the digital wireless provider announced today.

The company said that beginning this month it would add four Texas cities -- Eagle Pass, Del Rio, Carrizo Springs and Crystal City -- to its list of service areas. SOL currently provides services in...

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