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Telecom veteran returns for a new frontier

When he was a youth growing up in Fairport, Phil Yawman had a newspaper route that meant much more than an early morning job and some extra cash. It was serious business.
 
"I chose to be the 100 papers-a-day route guy," Yawman recalls. "From an early age, I wanted to make my own money. I wanted to be the best I could be. I’ve always had a competitive drive in me."
 
Yawman is vice president and general manager of Frontier Communications Corp.’s Rochester market, where he showcases an entrepreneurial and competitive spirit that has been with him throughout his telecommunications career.
 
"Phil is one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met," says Kevin Dickens, who co-founded fast-rising Choice One Communications Inc. with Yawman in the late 1990s. "His desire to compete and succeed has certainly served him well in business.
 
"I think it’s rooted in his lifelong interest in athletics. He played sports growing up. I think it’s very much a carryover from that into his career. Phil plays to win. He thrives on it."
 
Prior to being named general manager in May, Yawman served as regional vice president of commercial sales for the company. It marked his second stint with Frontier, where he began his career in 1989 when the company was Rochester Telephone.
 
Yawman said Rochester is Frontier’s largest individual market in the country. It has some 1,400 workers in the area and makes up roughly 50 percent of Frontier’s New York operations. The company this year detailed network enhancements and capital investments in New York totaling more than $123 million in which Rochester was an integral part.
 
"My presence in this market is just more evidence of Frontier’s commitment to this area," Yawman says. "It’s a real honor for me and something I’m really excited about."
 
Yawman has spent more than 25 years in the telecom business, weaving his way through various segments of the industry. Yet, that path almost never was.
 
Before enrolling at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Yawman was considering a career on Wall Street. While in graduate school at the University of Rochester’s Simon School of Business, however, he changed his mind.
 
"I enjoyed the deal side of Wall Street," Yawman says. "But I realized there was going to be a lot of time doing analytics and creating spreadsheets before you got to that, which didn’t excite me."
 
He next turned his attention to marketing. After graduation, he was presented with two job offers: a market research post in Washington, D.C., and a product management position at Rochester Telephone.
 
"I felt like product management would give me greater exposure to all of the different aspects of marketing," Yawman says. "I also thought telecom would be an interesting industry to get into, because of (the) technology and the changes that were taking place with long-distance deregulation."
 
At Rochester Telephone, Yawman worked his way up to director of investor relations. He remained there until 1997, when he was recruited to become vice president of investor relations at ACC Corp.
 
Yawman spent nearly one year at the long-distance service provider before ACC was acquired by Teleport Communications Group Inc. in late 1997 for a stock swap valued at $1 billion. Though short-lived, Yawman says his time at ACC laid the groundwork for one of the most meaningful parts of his career.

Choice One
ACC represented Yawman’s first taste of senior leadership. It also provided the opportunity for him to work with Dickens, Steve Dubnik and Mae Squier-Dow, the fellow ACC alumni who co-founded Choice One Communications with Yawman.
 
At the time of the acquisition, ACC was adding local services to its base of offerings. Yawman said he and his Choice One co-founders saw an opportunity to branch out on their own.
 
"Through what ACC was doing, we identified that there was an opportunity to compete for local service and bundle long-distance and Internet services in segments of the market that were not competitively saturated back then," Yawman says.
 
The foursome founded Choice One in June 1998. Yawman talks about his time with Choice One in the same way a loyal alumnus might describe fond memories of college.
 
"I could spend all day talking about Choice One," says Yawman. "You start with a three-ring binder, some partners and a lot of blind ambition."
 
Dickens agrees, saying the four leaders of Choice One caught lightning in a bottle.
 
"It was a very special time," Dickens says. "There’s a lot of excitement when you have the opportunity to build an idea from scratch and execute it the way we did. We were challenging ourselves and the industry."
 
Choice One had a meteoric rise. Within two months, the company had obtained $60 million in financing. A few months later it doubled its available capital with a $60 million credit facility.
 
The company moved into the Marine Midland Building in downtown Rochester, began installing its first run of telecom switches and expanded into other markets such as Albany and Rhode Island. More funding and acquisitions followed, along with the initial public offering in 2000.
 
Choice One spent the next few years growing its revenues and expanding into new markets. However, as competition increased and the telecom bubble burst in 2001, the company’s rise came to a halt. Choice One filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004.
 
Yawman left Choice One in 2005. One year later, the company became a part of a three-way merger with two Boston-based companies, CTC Communications Corp. and Conversent Communications Inc., to form One Communications Inc.
 
For Yawman, it was time for a much-needed break.
 
"It had been seven years of going full tilt," he says. "The treadmill never slowed down."
 
Yawman took a nine-month break, which he says consisted of three phases. First, he felt a sense of relief and was able to reconnect with family and friends he had lost touch with. Second, he felt a tremendous amount of guilt for not being an active, working member of society. The third phase featured a significant amount of boredom.
 
"Things became dull," he says. "I must have played about a hundred rounds of golf during my time off. I didn’t get much better, so I figured it was time to get back to work."
 
Through networking, Yawman met the people behind Troy-based private-equity firm High Peaks Venture Partners. In 2005, High Peaks made a $2.25 million investment in a Buffalo telecom company, Rocket Broadband Networks Inc., which provided bundled telephone, high-speed Internet and satellite services in bulk to apartment complexes.
 
Yawman was named CEO of Rocket Broadband. After nearly four years of slowly building Rocket Broadband, Yawman says the national recession hit and the capital market began to dry up. The subscribers and related assets of Rocket Broadband were sold to New Jersey-based MDU Communications International Inc. in 2009.
 
"The big takeaway from my experience with Rocket Broadband was that I realized that with Choice One I was really part of a leadership team," Yawman says. "At Rocket, I was a bit more of a single-threaded leader. I didn’t think that yielded the best result for an organization. It really solidified my belief in team-oriented leadership."

Back to Frontier
That belief is what led Yawman back to Frontier in 2009, where he says, as a leader, he seeks to empower his management team with an entrepreneurial spirit. Yawman says the Rochester market will be essential in helping Frontier grow its service offerings and customer-base nationwide.
 
For the full-year 2012, Frontier posted a net income of $136.6 million, or 14 cents a share, down from $149.6 million, or 15 cents a share, in 2011. Revenues for the full year were $5 billion, compared with $5.2 billion a year earlier.
 
During the first quarter 2013, Frontier reported a net income of $48.1 million, or 5 cents a share, compared with $26.8 million, or 3 cents a share, during the first quarter 2012. The company logged revenues of $1.21 billion for the quarter, compared with $1.23 billion a year ago.
 
Of perhaps more importance, Frontier recently completed the integration of the assets it had acquired from Verizon Communications Inc. in July 2010, shortly after Yawman rejoined Frontier. The company announced it had signed an $8.6 billion agreement to acquire Verizon Communications’ landline assets in 14 states.
 
Frontier saw the acquisition as an opportunity to boost revenues by increasing its service offerings and broadband penetration. The company spent two years integrating Verizon Communications’ operating, financial and human resources systems into Frontier’s IT network.
 
With the integration complete, Yawman said, Frontier is reintegrating control of its operations and sales on a local and regional scale. The move gives more oversight to regional and local leadership with the intent to advance Frontier’s local engagement.
 
"There is no better person to lead the Rochester market in this next phase," said Kevin Smith, Frontier senior vice president and general manager for New York State. "He is from the area and has the passion and drive to make it succeed. Phil will play a very important role in Frontier’s growth as a company."
 
Yawman says he has three goals for the Rochester market. He wants to retain the customers the company already has, grow market share in the residential and small to midsize business space and grow the wallet share of its customers’ telecom spending.
 
To accomplish those goals, Frontier will have to compete with companies such as Windstream Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and EarthLink Inc., as well as fiber-based carriers. Still, Yawman says he is confident.
 
"Companies like EarthLink, Windstream and Time Warner Cable have all lost some of their ties to this local market by virtue of their own organizational changes," Yawman says. "Frontier has very much stayed the course and is continuing to invest more and more resources in this market."
 
As part of its push forward, Frontier recently launched a national advertising campaign featuring the character Frank the American Buffalo. The company also, for the first time, has begun offering data services without the requirement of landline service, including a $19.99 offering for high-speed Internet to be rolled out to businesses later this month.
 
"The way you win in the market is to understand the customers’ needs and requirements and take care of delivering a service to them that exceeds their expectations," Yawman says.

More balance
Being back at a team-oriented leadership environment has given him more balance, he says. When he is not executing business strategies at Frontier, Yawman spends a lot of time with his wife, Cheryl, and their two daughters in Perinton.
 
"Both my wife’s parents and my parents are happy, healthy and local," Yawman says. "It’s a real blessing to have all that family around."
 
Yawman now spends more time in the non-profit world as well. He is a board member for the MCC Foundation and a member of the board of trustees for St. John Fisher College. He also coaches Amateur Athletic Union girls basketball.
 
And he still plays tons of golf. He is a member of Oak Hill Country Club and has been involved in planning this year’s PGA Championship. Playing golf gives him time to reflect on how blessed his life has been.
 
"I never thought anything like this was in the cards for me," he says.
 
Phil Yawman
Title: Vice president and general manager of Rochester market, Frontier Communications Corp.
Age: 47
Home: Perinton
Education: B.A. in economics, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Geneva, 1987; MBA, Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, 1989
Family: Wife Cheryl; daughters Shannon, 16; Megan, 13
Hobbies: Golf, music, family
Quote: "I preach 300 percent. What I mean by that is 100 percent, from 100 percent of your team, 100 percent of your time. When you’ve got an organization operating at 300 percent, great things can happen."

7/5/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

 

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