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New leader brings a customer service focus

When Christopher Felix went into sales for Bell Atlantic Mobile in 1988, his dad presented him with a study predicting the inevitable doom of the wireless industry.
"My father worked for the FBI, so he was really into researching things," says Felix. "He showed me an IBM case study that said wireless would never take off and would be just something the wealthy were interested in. It was his way of warning me about my career choice."
Fortunately for Felix, both the case study and his father were wrong.
Felix has spent 23 years in the wireless industry. In June, he took over as president of Verizon Wireless Inc.’s Upstate New York region, one of the top regions for the top wireless carrier in the country.
Market research firm IBISWorld Inc. estimated Verizon had more than a 36 percent share of national wireless telecommunications market in 2011, beating out AT&T for first place.
Though it expects Verizon Wireless’ share to decrease a bit, market research firm IE Market Research Corp. forecast in a recent report that Verizon will remain the industry leader with more than a 31 percent share of what could be as many as 468 million mobile subscribers by 2015.
For the second quarter, Verizon Wireless posted total revenue of $18.6 billion, up 7.4 percent from the same period a year earlier. The company does not disclose its regional results.
Felix works out of the Verizon Wireless regional headquarters off Calkins Road in Henrietta, with roughly 1,400 local employees under his leadership.
Verizon made a network investment of nearly $158 million in the region last year, pushing its network investment in the region above $1.4 billion since 2000, officials say.
Prior to becoming president of its Upstate New York region, Felix was vice president of the company’s federal government sales division, managing sales and customer service for federal government accounts. He also worked in several sales positions for Verizon Wireless’ Washington-Baltimore-Virginia region, as well as heading corporate sales in the company’s Carolinas-Tennessee region.
"Having all that experience, from indirect sales to in-store sales to B2B sales, is huge," Felix said. "I feel like I’ve had the best kind of training ground you can have when you move to running a market like this."

On the move
Moving around is nothing new for Felix. With his father in the FBI, Felix says, he moved 11 times before the age of 13. He eventually settled in Virginia, where he attended James Madison University in Harrisonburg and earned a degree in business administration management.
After college, Felix had a short stint as a radio DJ in Harrisonburg, serving as host for a 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. time slot on WQPO-FM. However, after Felix’s eventual wife, Kelly, graduated from school, he began looking for a more stable career.
"I was always into music, and it was a job I just came across back then," Felix recalls. "But I quickly realized it was a little tough to support a family as a radio DJ."
Felix says he started working in radio sales to earn more money. From there he moved on to Bell Atlantic, where he sold car phones.
His quota was to sell eight phones a month; now some sales reps can sell eight phones in one day.
"The evolution of this industry has gone beyond realizing a phone is more than just something you can talk on or text on," he says. "It’s something people use to manage their business or do credit card swipes or do video surveillance on."
Felix says a big part of the company’s growth plan in this region is to build out its 4G LTE-long-term evolution-network. The system provides mobile ultra-broadband for Internet access as well as gaming, mobile television viewing and video conferencing. Felix says a targeted area of growth for the company’s 4G LTE is with business-to-business clients.
"(Upstate New York) is as advanced or more advanced than any area I’ve been in, and I’ve traveled the whole country," Felix says. "I think what you’ll see going forward in this marketplace is the convergence of the tablets and the phones, and the connecting all the products we offer for customers to manage their lives and businesses.
"Anything that a business needs, there’s a wireless solution or an outside vendor we can partner with to make it work."
IBISWorld’s report shows that companies such as AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc. are the biggest competitors to Verizon. Felix says he sometimes finds himself driving around testing his Verizon phone in different areas to see if the service measures up.
"The other carriers are strong as well, but it’s tough to beat Verizon in this market," he says.
"Upstate is known throughout our business as being one of the most loyal and vocal markets. The people here let it be known what they want and what they expect. That gives us a good base to work with."
Felix also likes to make unannounced visits to Verizon stores in the region, seeking the same experience a customer would get. That can be tricky, though.
Most stores now have his picture up in the back room to show employees who is leading the company in this region, he says. And Felix’s physical stature makes him stand out: He has a shaved head, a goatee and an impressive build-a product of his favorite hobby, powerlifting. Felix won multiple state powerlifting championships when he lived in Maryland.
Yet what might stand out most about Felix is his customer-friendly disposition. He is a three-time winner of the Verizon President’s Cabinet award for outstanding sales performance and leadership in customer service initiatives.
Felix says he likes to work closely with employees to help them develop customer service and sales skills.
"I’m pretty hands-on when it comes to management," he says. "I’m going to show you how to do a job, but I’m not going to do your job for you. I want people to be able tell or ask me anything. It’s all about serving the customer."
Marquett Smith, who was president of Verizon’s upstate region from January 2007 through April 2010, has known Felix since high school. Smith, now vice president of federal government sales for Verizon, says Felix has the personality of a leader.
"I think Chris’ background and the skills he brings into the market set him up for success," Smith says. "Chris is also an active father who participates in his kids’ lives and whatever they’re involved in. He’ll be visible to the public not only in regards to Verizon but within the community as well. I think there’s a lot of upside to him leading the Upstate New York region."
Felix says one of his goals is to make each Verizon location as inviting as possible. One recent development he is excited about is Verizon’s companywide initiative to get rid of formal dress shirts and ties on employees. The policy went into effect Aug. 1.
"That was based on customer feedback," he says. "My goal is to make customers as comfortable and see what I can do to provide employees with what they need to better serve customers."
When he’s not at work, Felix says, he enjoys spending time with his family. His two teenage sons are involved in lacrosse, which has excited them about the move to the Rochester area. Felix also enjoys attending football games with his father, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame.
As for his father being wrong about his career choice, Felix says it has never come up again.
"He conveniently forgot about it," he says. "That was one of those things I could have done an ‘I told you so.’ But I think at the time I was trying to buy a house and he was helping out. So I left it alone."

Christopher Felix
Position: President, Upstate New York, Verizon Wireless Inc.
Age: 48
Education: BBA, James Madison University, 1987
Family: Wife Kelly; sons James, 14, and Jon, 13
Residence: Pittsford
Interests: Weightlifting, watching football, spending time with family
Quote: "I’m a big believer in your actions. It’s not about what you write in an email or what you say in a speech. It’s all about what you do."

8/10/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.



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