Elena Kilpatrick is the kind of leader who follows her curiosity.
In 1996, after nearly a decade in the telecom industry, she changed direction, becoming the general manager of an auto dealership. She wanted to test her leadership skills, she says.
“I thought, ‘If I have the right foundation and passion and desire, I should be able to apply that anywhere,’” she says. “I said, ‘I’m going to give this a try and see how I do.’”
Within a few months there, Kilpatrick helped to double the firm’s sales. She was the Sun Auto Group’s only female general manager at that time.
“It was a very rewarding experience,” Kilpatrick says. “It was a very interesting industry. I was able to affect the business positively from what the dealer was averaging prior. The industry was a little slower than what I was used to. (I learned to) be bold. I always thought I had confidence (but) my confidence was strengthened, and the ability to be bold I really learned that there.”
The experience helped to shape Kilpatrick’s career, which largely has remained in the telecom world.
In March she became senior vice president and general manager of New York operations for Frontier Communications Corp. The recent promotion followed her successful run at the helm of Frontier’s Pennsylvania operations.
Frontier, based in Connecticut, has roughly 1,800 employees in the Rochester area and more than 2,800 in New York.
Prior to the recent acquisition—which closed April 1—of Verizon Wireline Operations in California, Texas and Florida, Rochester had been in the top five markets for Frontier.
Historically, Rochester has been one the firm’s largest markets and remains a significant hub for corporate functions. Some 680 staffers report to Kilpatrick in New York, including 250 people in Rochester.
Kilpatrick, 51, grew up in Dumont, N.J. As a youth, she dreamed of going on digs and finding lost artifacts.
“I wanted to be an archaeologist,” Kilpatrick says. “I would go to the library and I would read all these books on it. I was very much interested in the whole lost civilizations, lost art and going through and finding something that had such a rich history behind it—and the fact that over the course of decades and decades you could discover that point in time.”
She attended Montclair State University in New Jersey, earning in 1987 a bachelor of science degree in business administration with a concentration in marketing and management.
She figured if she was not going to be an archaeologist, a business career would ensure some independence, she says.
“I felt that going into a business administration direction would be a path for me to be able to create my own way,” Kilpatrick says. “Even when I was younger I would give counsel to other people, and in my current role a big part of my job is to help mold, motivate, develop (and) inspire people, and I think that was just something ingrained in me way back then.”
After a college job fair she interviewed with Bell Atlantic NYNEX Mobile—an AT&T Inc. spinoff that grew into Verizon Wireless Inc. Though it took a few months of checking in, Kilpatrick got the job and launched her career.
She began working in retail stores in 1987 as an assistant doing scheduling, inventory control and customer-facing work. She was promoted within 11 months to retail store manager.
“In my gut I was like, ‘I want to be there,’” Kilpatrick says. “So I had to follow up consistently for three months before I finally got the job. … The point behind that is (you have) to be very tenacious; you just don’t take no for an answer.” If you are “persistent you can get there.
“I’ve always had a sense of urgency and passion and just curiosity in diving right into what my scope was,” she adds.
She changed roles within the company every couple of years, as she found her stride within the industry. She remained with the company for almost a decade.
In 1996, she moved into the auto industry, and after a year she felt ready to return to the fast-paced industry of telecommunications.
She became sales residential manager for Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises Inc.—then an independent phone company—in 1997.
The Telecom Act of 1996 brought about a lot of competition in the industry. Kilpatrick moved from the wireline side of the operation to the competitive local exchange carrier—commonly referred to as CLEC—side of the business.
“I came from a very competitive high-paced atmosphere to a different type of culture that was a little odd to me,” Kilpatrick says, referring to Commonwealth. “It was a very conservative culture. The Telecom Act of ’96 just happened, so it was becoming a more competitive environment and leadership recognized that and the company needed to transform.
Within nine months she was running inside sales, outside sales and contract administration.
“I find Elena to be very driven and very focused,” says Ken Mason, vice president of business operations for Frontier’s East Region. “She is very good with customers, and from a business standpoint she will dig into details that go beyond what many others in a similar role would do. She gets into the nuts and bolts of everything at a detailed level.”
With a CLEC focus she became senior manager of residential markets and then moved into a director role.
“As I approach each role, I try and think about what I affect,” Kilpatrick says. “It’s a matter of people, so I need to really understand my team and the larger, broader organization. A big part of what I need to understand is the people. One of the things that I like to do in any role that I’m in is be very clear on what we need to accomplish.”
At the CLEC at Commonwealth she ran residential call center sales, marketing forces, and the Internet division.
“I’ve never made it a secret internally that I want to continue to progress and look for opportunities that are right within the company,” Kilpatrick says. “And through my career there were opportunities that I thought I should have been awarded, and I was disappointed that I did not get them, and that’s just what happens. You have to learn from all of your experiences and you have to take that as a learning experience on how to improve.
“There was a great strength of leadership, but new blood needed to be brought in.”
She added marketing, customer service and an inside sales channel to her responsibilities before switching to the incumbent local exchange carrier, or ILEC, side of the business in Pennsylvania.
“Elena balances managing in a very tactical and strategic manner,” says Angela Christian, assistant vice president of human resources for Frontier’s East Region. “She sets a very clear course for her team and stays the course until results are achieved. If required, she will adjust the plan accordingly, but always has her focus on delivering the results.”
In 2007, Frontier acquired Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises for $1.29 billion. The deal included keeping Kilpatrick. She started as the firm’s area general manager for Pennsylvania.
“When you’re going through an acquisition sometimes people could look at it in fear, (but) from my perspective I always try to look at everything as an opportunity,” Kilpatrick says. “Prior to the close of the properties, I had opportunities to present to a lot of the leadership from Frontier. When I knew those opportunities were coming, I knew this was my opportunity to talk about the business that I’m running and how I affect it.”
She understood it was her chance to prove her worth.
“You have to welcome (change)—you can’t paralyze yourself with fear because you can’t control it,” Kilpatrick says. “The only thing you can control is what you do in that moment. No matter what the situation is, I try and approach it and control my actions. I can control my communication, my interaction and what I present to ensure I leave that impression with that person.”
Kilpatrick oversaw some of Frontier’s most competitive Pennsylvania markets, including Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Harrisburg, Lancaster, York and Reading.
“She is very driven, very hard-working (and) very humble,” says Jim Kilpatrick, her husband. “I think the main thing with Elena is she doesn’t shy away from any task. She’s pretty comfortable with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and small-business owners.”
When the opportunity came up to focus on New York, Kilpatrick was ready.
“When this opportunity came up, I was super-excited about it,” Kilpatrick says. “I was not a stranger to New York. I’ve seen a lot of opportunities here in the three-four weeks that I’ve been in the Rochester market. Rochester alone, it’s really exciting to hear and see what’s going on with the economic development.
“It’s such a renaissance that is happening here that creates such an energized vibe to the area.”
Mason says Kilpatrick’s hard work is known throughout the company.
“The position she is in now is a promotion, and it’s truly in large part due to her performance in a similar role in Pennsylvania where she had a very successful 2015,” Mason says. “I think a big part of Elena’s success is not just being driven, not just being able to get into the detail of the business, but she takes the time to build her relationships with her staff.
“She can be tough when she needs to but she really does a very good job of getting the people who work for her to respect her and want to do well for her.”
Goals for Rochester
Kilpatrick says her leadership style is focused on people.
“I like to have fun doing what we need to do, but everybody, no matter who it is in the organization, I want to make sure I’m very clear that we’re on a no-fail mission here,” Kilpatrick says. “I don’t approach things to fail, so everyone needs to know and needs to be impassioned. … We’ll accomplish our goals and objectives.”
In Rochester, Kilpatrick says, the goals include:
focusing on the customer experience—how can Frontier look at metrics to make sure that it is providing the best experience it can;
evaluating workforce transformation—does the Rochester workforce have the skills and the ability to be able to deliver the service to the customer in an efficient manner as the company moves toward a data-centric environment; and
assessing financial profitability and growth—how can Frontier grow market share and revenue.
Rochester is lucky to have Kilpatrick, Mason says. She is the right person to lead New York.
“I do think she will be good for the state of New York and she will be good for the market here in Rochester,” Mason says.
Outside of work she unwinds by spending time with her family and their dog.
She has learned that leading requires seeking counsel herself.
“You have to lean on people. You need to have a good support structure,” Kilpatrick says. “My husband has been a phenomenal support structure. You have to have—whether they’re formal mentors or not—you need to have your core group of people that you can lean on to help you through, and then you just have to have the tenacity to persevere.”
The magic happens in an organization when all staff understand the vision. The business then takes on its own rhythm, Kilpatrick says.
“At the end of the day it’s that rhythm, that buzz—that shared sense of passion and excitement—that really creates the whole wave of driving towards what we’re trying to accomplish,” she adds.
Position: senior vice president and general manager of Frontier Communications Corp.’s New York operations
Education: B.S. in business administration with a concentration in marketing and management, Montclair State University, New Jersey, 1987
Family: husband Jim; sons John, 26, and Kevin, 22
Activities: Gardening, riding ATVs, playing with her dog, reading, antiquing and attending plays and concerts
Quote: “I like to have fun doing what we need to do, but everybody, no matter who it is in the organization, I want to make sure I’m very clear that we’re on a no-fail mission here…I don’t approach things to fail, so everyone needs to know and needs to be impassioned. … We’ll accomplish our goals and objectives.”
4/29/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.