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Raymond Bauer: Cellular One

Raymond Bauer loves the sell.
“Do you have a cellular phone?” he asks, smiling his I’ve- got-a-deal-for-you smile. “You oughta have one, you know.”
Selling cellular is Bauer’s main mission, as vice president and general manager of Cellular One properties in Upstate New York.
The operation stretches from Albany through Syracuse to Buffalo, a 34,000-square-mile territory. In Rochester, the unit’s headquarters, Cellular One has a network of more than 40 authorized agents and retail locations selling wireless products and services; some 200 locations are active across the state.
“We’ll have more,” Bauer says, sitting in his South Winton Road office. “(Distribution) is the key to our success.
“If I could have them on every corner in Upstate New York, that’s exactly what I would do. And someday we may be there.”
Giving customers easy access to Cellular One goods is critical as competition in the telecom industry heats up. Until recently, the firm sold cellular phone service and its accoutrements–end of story.
But thanks to sweeping telecommunications reform measures signed into law in February, Cellular One now sells long-distance service as well. Paging services are available, and Bauer expects Cellular One to offer local phone service later this year. Cable service is on the horizon, too.
“The reality is this: Everyone will be delivering the same stuff. There won’t be any difference on who can deliver what,” Bauer explains. “When you break it all down, the bottom line is: Who’s going to service the customer the best? They will be the winner.”
It’s Bauer’s job to make sure that customers–faced with the choice of buying from Frontier Corp., Time Warner Communications or other telecom competitors–turn to Cellular One instead.
In Upstate New York, Cellular One is a property of Dallas-based Southwestern Bell Mobile Systems, the wireless subsidiary of the Baby Bell SBC Communications Inc.
SBMS bought territories in Syracuse, Utica and the Finger Lakes in 1994. It acquired the Rochester and Buffalo properties from Associated Communications Corp. in December 1994, and added Albany in March 1995.
Bauer was the firm’s “No. 1 candidate” to lead the SBMS push into Upstate New York, says Patsy Parker, who as SBMS chief operating officer promoted him to that spot.
“We needed someone who we thought to be one of our best–and we have not been disappointed,” she says.
The upstate region is the third largest market for SBMS, following market leaders Chicago and Washington, D.C./Baltimore, says Parker, who now is president of SBC’s Center for Learning, the company’s professional training unit.
When acquired, the New York operation was weakest in marketing, Parker says. Now, the group makes a strong contribution to the SBMS portfolio, both in revenue growth and margins.
Like others in the cellular business, Cellular One keeps its numbers close to the vest. Bauer says his operation has increased its customer base 40 percent since the SBMS acquisition. SBMS claims a 9.2 market share across all its wireless properties, compared with an industry average of 4.5 percent.
Cellular One’s business is a mix of roughly 60 percent residential and 40 percent corporate, Bauer says. Services like FreedomLink–a personal communications system that acts as a wireless extension of a firm’s existing phone system–focus on the corporate side; FreedomPlus, a similar service for the home, will be rolled out later this year.
Enhanced services like FreedomLink are a must to draw customers, Bauer believes.
“It’s a simple deal: Make sure customers can talk anywhere, anytime, for an affordable price,” he says. “And that’s what you bring to the marketplace.”
In Rochester, Cellular One faces stiff competition from the hometown player, Frontier Cellular. And On-Air Time Warner Wireless came on the scene last year, reselling cellular service from Frontier. Since January, Time Warner Communications has sold bundled cellular with its cable services, too.
But Cellular One executives insist their own numbers have never been better.
“All their advertising helps our business, because it stimulates awareness of the marketplace,” says Elizabeth Clune, regional marketing manager.
Clune has been with Cellular One more than five years, and witnessed firsthand the transition between owners. It wasn’t always easy: “We were all worried initially,” she says.
“The direct salespeople in Rochester were concerned that they weren’t going to be part of the action, so to speak,” says Judith Allen, general marketing manager for Rochester who previously worked for Bauer in Dallas.
Bauer took pains to ease those fears, Clune says, and indeed, no one was laid off. But several chose to leave, including the division’s top marketing executive, who took a job with Frontier Cellular.
Bauer maintains employee “churn” is no higher than it was five years ago. And now the firm is hiring like mad as it ramps up long-distance, local and other services. Cellular One employs nearly 150 workers in Rochester now, and a total of 590 statewide.
Cellular One also added employees as it changed from a regionalized customer- service operation to the current, decentralized approach, with customer-service reps operating “as close to the customer as possible,” Bauer says.
That change has helped boost scores on customer-satisfaction surveys: Upstate New York placed first in customer satisfaction of all SBMS properties nationwide, in the first quarter of 1996. Rochester earned the top spot in the upstate region.
“To decentralize the customer-relations piece of the business was a phenomenal task, in that there’s always questions of costs increasing,” Bauer says.
“But what increases the most that you can’t ever put dollars to is customer satisfaction. And that’s what happened. We saw a phenomenal change from 1995 to 1996 first quarter.”
Adds Bauer: “(Last year) was the building year and that put some heat on us. But right now we’re feeling the glory from that.”
Other changes are in the works.
Bauer expects to sign on more agents to distribute Cellular One services–stores like Cellular Unlimited, the Cellular Shop and Empire Cellular–at a rapid clip.
“The only reason we went to Upstate (New York) was because of Ray,” says Chris Jones, president of Empire Cellular and Texas Cellular.
Jones, who was an agent for the SBMS operation Bauer ran in Dallas/Fort Worth, was impressed by Bauer’s marketing savvy.
Although agents control the hardware, cellular carriers like SBMS control promotions–free activation, free minutes or free features like voice mail–that drive business, Jones says.
In part because of promotions spearheaded by Bauer, Texas Cellular grew from one store in 1991 to seven stores today, Jones says.
And because of Bauer’s support in this new market, Empire Cellular has expanded from one store in mid-1994 to 14 locations throughout Upstate New York, including three stores in Rochester. Jones plans to open another Rochester store later this year.
In addition to signing on more agents to sell its products, Cellular One plans to open its own retail stores by September, including shops in Penfield, Greece and a third yet-to-be-determined site south of Rochester.
Bauer’s marketing plans also call for stepped-up community involvement.
The firm has a visible presence at festivals and sporting events like the Ryder Cup and the Rochester International. As a major sponsor of the Rochester Raging Rhinos, Cellular One employees manned a booth at the soccer team’s premier season opener earlier this month. Cellular One also sponsors the Rochester Red Wings and the Rochester Americans.
Cellular One takes an active role in local charities as well. In January, the firm hit its millionth minute of donated air time to charities. Cellular One has raised more than $85,000 for local charities over the past two years, and is a big supporter of the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester.
Aside from marketing and distribution, Cellular One will invest roughly $90 million across the state this year in upgrading its network and rolling out services. The division has five Ericsson switches statewide, including one recently installed in Syracuse.
Certainly, Cellular One has a lot on its plate. And all of this change takes time, as Bauer is well aware.
“We may be one of the last ones to the party,” he says, “but we’ll be the best-dressed. That’s just how we work our business.”
Bauer started his career with a summer job peddling big-ticket items–refrigerators, washers and dryers, and such–for Polk Brothers, a now-defunct Chicago retailer. He liked it so well that he quit college and signed on full time.
One day in 1983, a neighbor dropped by and offered him a sales job with Motorola Inc.’s cellular division, then in its infancy. Bauer bit.
There was one hitch: Bauer had no product to sell, as Motorola was preselling its cellular service a year before it was available.
Bauer pitched the drawing-board phone like this: “I’d throw a piece of paper in front of someone and say, “It’s going to work real close to this, your office phone, and it’s going to look something like this. And as soon as I can get it and put it in your car, I’ll call you.”’
The price was steep, around $3,100 a pop. Still, “you couldn’t write orders fast enough,” Bauer recalls.
That was especially true for this young go-getter. “There were a couple of us who were doing half of what the entire sales force was doing. We were up at 4 in the morning, on the road at 5, and didn’t get in ’til 10 at night,” he says.
After a year, Bauer was promoted to district manager with roughly 10 salespeople reporting to him. For Bauer, the transition from sales rep to manager was transparent.
“My philosophy as a manager is you simply clone people just like you. If you’re good and you know what you’re doing, then you teach people what you know. And that’s exactly what I did.”
Bauer stayed with Motorola until late 1986. That year, a Washington, D.C.- based company called First Cellular Group won the lottery on a cellular license in Ventura County, Calif., just west of Los Angeles. The firm hired Bauer to start up operations there.
As sales manager for the subsidiary– called Ventura Cellular–Bauer took charge of everything from sales and marketing to cell-site acquisition. He and his 15 or so staffers went head-to-head with the other cellular operator, Pacific Telesis Group, better known as the Baby Bell PacTel.
“Our quota for the entire year was to add 1,200 customers–and it was a very small community,” Bauer says. “We did it in 60 days.”
Word of this feat reached the folks at SBC, who contacted Bauer with an offer too good to pass up.
By February 1988, Bauer had set up office as sales manager for SBMS in Dallas, the firm’s headquarters. Hired to grow that operation, Bauer did just that.
Starting with eight sales reps and 10 authorized agents in 1988, within four years the unit boasted 78 reps and 380 distributors. Along the way, he nailed several promotions, climbing from sales manager to regional sales director to director of sales for SBMS.
While in Dallas, Bauer initiated a fund-raiser for the Ronald McDonald House there, getting employees and agents involved. The first year, SBMS raised $500,000 for the charity. That effort served as a prototype for a similar program SBC sponsors nationwide.
After making his mark in the Dallas market, Bauer in 1994 was tapped to head the properties SBMS acquired in Central New York.
Bauer and his family settled in Skaneateles, a small village near Syracuse where the family still resides. Bauer and his wife, Sonia, have five children, ranging in age from 2 to 18–a “hers, mine and ours” family, he says.
Although Bauer often is on the road, traveling to touch base with Cellular One offices statewide, he places a top priority on being home.
“We have a rule at the house that we have four meals a week together. That is an absolute don’t-make-any-excuses- you’d-better-be-there thing,” he says.
An avid fisher, Bauer also obsesses about his yard.
He shrugs: “It has to be perfect. The lines have to be straight. It’s just one of those things.”
That obsession reflects his attitude toward business as well.
“He sets high goals and high standards for people,” Allen says. “He always wants you to stretch.
“But he sets no goals higher than for himself.”


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