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Jeremiah Carr: An executive who knows no fear of change

You’ve seen him on television. You’ve heard him on the radio. But just what does this man do?
“I’m in charge of the telephone,” Jeremiah Carr jokes. “I watch it.”
That’s not all he watches.
As president of Frontier Corp.’s Telephone Group, Carr keeps tabs on 33 regional telephone companies in 13 states.
And as of last month–much to competitors’ chagrin–Carr took charge of Rochester Telephone Corp. and its sister company, Frontier Communications of Rochester Inc. Both Frontier Corp. subsidiaries offer local, long-distance and cellular telephone services; both are players in the cutthroat market opened wide Jan. 1–the first in the nation to do so.
“We’re not testing here. We’re fighting for our lives,” says Carr, CEO of Rochester Tel and corporate vice president of Frontier Corp. “It’s fun, but it’s a pretty butterfly-in-the-stomach kind of thing.”
Hard to imagine Frontier–or Carr–as a nervous Nellie. Freed this year from most of its regulatory restrictions, the telecommunications firm powered through the first quarter of 1995, buying up smaller firms across the country at a rapid-fire clip.
Then came the mother of all deals.
In April, Frontier Corp. announced a proposed merger with ALC Communications Corp., a long-distance company based in Detroit. If consummated, the marriage would make Frontier Corp. the nation’s fifth-largest long-distance carrier, with nearly $2 billion in total revenues–70 percent from long-distance operations.
Even before these dramatic changes, Frontier Corp. marked solid growth.
Revenues in 1994 popped up 9 percent to $985 million, compared with $906 million in 1993. Operating income grew 14.5 percent to $223 million, up from $195 million the previous year.
Telephone operations–Carr’s domain–accounted for 62 percent of last year’s total sales and 82 percent of total operating income.
“Some pretty damn good results have come out of that unit over the last few years,” says John Purcell, corporate vice president of partnering and alliances.
Purcell credits Carr with pulling off Frontier Corp.’s much ballyhooed plunge into the competitive pool.
“Jerry’s enthusiasm for it and willingness to take on the change … was the reason we could get it done,” he says.
Even more change is in the works.
With an eye toward the planned merger, last month Frontier Corp. reshuffled its management team. Carr, 52, took charge of both Rochester Tel and Frontier Communications, handing his title as Rochester Tel’s president to Anthony Cassara. Both Cassara and David Rusin, president of Frontier Communications, now report to Carr.
Competitors cried foul, charging that Frontier Corp. had reneged on a promise to keep Frontier Communications–its retail business–at arm’s length from Rochester Tel, the regulated wholesaler that sells telephone service to both consumers and competitors like AT&T Co.
Carr dismisses the uproar.
“The concept isn’t new or different, it’s just the recognition that we’re becoming a much larger organization,” he says.
Carr contends that the new structure allows Frontier Corp. to better handle rapid growth as it braces to more than double in size within a year.
And he notes that the state Public Service Commission already vested one individual with responsibility for both the wholesale and retail operations. Previously, that individual was Ronald Bittner, Frontier Corp.’s chairman, president and CEO; now, as Bittner prepares to mind a larger store, that person is Carr.
As to charges that overseeing both Rochester subsidiaries is a bit too cozy, Carr counters: “You don’t have a cozy relationship–cozy in the sense of unethical or even illegal–and expect to stay in business very long.”
Longevity is important to Carr, who began his career with Rochester Tel in 1969.
The eldest of four boys, Carr grew up in Rochester, where his father worked for the Davenport Machine Division of Dover Industries Inc. and his mother kept her men in line.
Carr studied history at St. Bonaventure University, graduating in 1964. For the next five years he served as lieutenant in a missile platoon stationed in El Paso.
Fresh out of the army in 1969, Carr landed a job at Rochester Tel as foreman of an installation and repair crew.
“I had no clue when I first started what I was doing,” he says. “But having a career in the military got me prepared for that.”
Leadership skills learned in the army helped Carr make the transition to a business setting.
“You gain people’s respect by looking out for them, making sure they’re trained, making sure they’re respected and able to do the job, and that you’re behind them,” he says.
“So what do I need to do–carry a screwdriver? Whatever. I’ve stood under poles in the snow holding the ladder. You see, that’s the point. That’s what leaders do, or should do. Not actually do the work but make it possible for that work to be done.”
Carr–who in 1981 earned a master of business administration degree from the University of Rochester’s William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration–learned other lessons during his quarter-century at the telephone company.
At one point during his tenure managing long-distance operations from 1985 to 1990, the customer-service department ran into problems. Attrition was high and Carr felt the group did not offer top- quality service.
So he took over the department, moving into a position several levels lower on the company hierarchy and running the department for a year.
“That taught me the value of having a much flatter organizational structure,” Carr says. “You don’t need lots of management. You just need managers with enough clout to make changes.”
That experience resonates with recent changes at Frontier Corp.
“We have many, many fewer management people operating here in Rochester, about half as many here now as operated here two years ago,” Carr says. “At the same time, we’ve got more customer-service reps, people installing and maintaining phones.”
Since April 1993, middle management has dropped 40 percent at Rochester Tel, while engineering and first-line management has decreased 25 percent. The firm employs roughly 1,600 workers.
Carr’s management style gives workers a lot of elbow room, says Randal Simonetti, director of corporate communications for Rochester Tel and the Frontier Telephone Group.
“Jerry is really a study in understatement,” Simonetti says. “He’s very aware of what’s going on all the time, because he’s a very good listener. There are some leaders that like to tell you what to do all the time, and there are two or three directions we get from Jerry. But most of the time we have enormous latitude.”
In the early 1990s, Carr also gained insights from his year as president of Rotelcom Inc., now Frontier Network Systems Inc.
The subsidiary sells telecommunications equipment, a tough task in an economy still rebounding from recession. Inventories were too high, Carr says, and the sales process was too cumbersome.
Carr and his managers set an operating income goal they felt was within reach. But midway through the year, it was clear the firm would fall short.
So Carr and his management team each took a 10 percent pay cut, saving roughly $100,000 and meeting the income goal.
“We made our goal by about $60,000,” Carr recalls. “If we hadn’t taken a pay cut, we wouldn’t have made it.
“More importantly, although we didn’t publicize that, people knew we did it. They got that we were in the game, that this is a business we’re committed to.”
Such commitment–from all employees–is crucial as the company enters the competitive arena, Carr says.
“I want to set high goals–we’re going to go for it,” he says. “However, I’m not going to ever be out of the boat.”
Competitors aren’t the only ones making waves.
Although Carr has climbed to the “top of the heap,” Rochester Tel’s 700 union workers are unimpressed with his leadership, says Robert Flavin, president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1170.
“Since he became president of (Rochester Tel) he doesn’t speak to us,” Flavin says. “He’s not accessible at all, in my opinion.”
Unlike his predecessor, Louis Massaro, Carr never comes to the negotiating table, Flavin says. And more grievances have been filed under Carr’s time in office, he notes.
“There’s a difference between accessibility and not liking what you hear,” Carr says, responding to Flavin’s comments.
Although he is absent from the negotiating table–“I have very experienced, well-trained and competent people who handle that”–Carr says he meets monthly with union representatives.
Earlier this month Carr spoke at an open forum for Rochester Tel employees, where workers had the chance to raise questions and concerns. He also responds to hundreds of comment postcards from employees, who offer suggestions on changes they would like to see in the company and in their jobs.
And Carr sees his share of Flavin: “Bob and I shared hors d’oeuvres and drinks two weeks ago (at a United Way function).”
On a more relaxing front, Carr and his wife, Sally, spend time at their vacation home on Otsego Lake, near Cooperstown.
“We found from renting places in Canandaigua and other places over the years that if I’m within an hour of work, it’s all over,” Carr says. “(Cooperstown) is 2 1/2 hours away, so you’re just not going to make side trips back.”
Carr’s Fairport home provides a more reasonable commute.
Aside from work, much of the past two years was consumed with planning the weddings of his daughters Amy, 24, and Paula, 28.
Watching his family and job transform, Carr says he is comfortable with changes both personal and professional.
“I like change, and I like situations where I’ve got to figure a way out,” he says. “I’m very confident that I can do that. I think it’s an ability to not be bothered by a lack of rules.”
In an industry where rules are dissolving, Carr has found a good fit.

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