With a touch of pride in her voice, Cherie Scheidegger, vice president at Founders, says, “We were their very first customer! They installed the whole phone system. They handle all our local and long-distance accounts at both locations.”
Congratulations to Gabriel’s Brian Beers, whom Scheidegger says was “very attentive. The customer service is just outstanding. Whenever there has been even a minor problem—a line went down for a couple hours at Glendale—they were right on top of it, finding out what the problem was and fixing it.”
Guy Brandt says his law firm gets their local, long distance and Internet service through Gabriel.
“E-mail is a must-have for sending documents to our clients,” he says, “editing right there with them, online. And doing a lot of research; we hook up with the Secretary of State’s offices to examine corporate records.”
Brandt says the firm’s “Internet capabilities are far better. There were a few glitches getting set up, but now everything seems to be working better than before.”
He worked with Gabriel’s Mitzi Jones and Ron Cook.
Ron Cook? Wait a minute. Isn’t he Gabriel’s marketing manager, the guy who sets up interviews with the company’s executive corps?
Cook: “Whether it’s in our job description or not, we’ll do what it takes to make certain the customer is satisfied.”
All-hands-on-deck service may also be a part of the entrepreneurial growth curve. Gabriel started up last year with a payroll of 15, primarily investor-execs, who collectively kicked in about $3 million to play.
Now the company employs more than 250. Some are techies. Some are suits. But all of them are potential investors, with options for stock that vest after three years.
“Bob likes everyone to have some skin in the game,” Howe says.
In January, Gabriel announced it had elected David L. Solomon as company vice chair and CEO, the latter a capacity vacated by Brooks. In the same press release, they announced that Meritage, a private equity fund Solomon had founded, would invest $12.5 million in Gabriel.
New technology, new money, old friends. Howe, Solomon and Brooks, along with a gaggle of other Gabriel brass had worked together at Brooks Fiber…some at Cencom as well.
In his five years as executive vice president and CFO at BFP, Solomon raised $1.5 billion in equity and debt facility.
“I relied heavily on David’s advice at Brooks Fiber,” Brooks says. “I believe he is extremely important to the future of Gabriel, but he was under a lock up [non-compete agreement] for 18 months after the sale to WorldCom.”
During his lock up, Solomon kept busy with projects ranging from raising $120 million in equity and $300 million in bank facility for Diginet (a competitive telecom provider to South American markets, and on whose board he sits) to working with Jack Tankersly (an investor in Cencom and BFP) and Salomon Smith Barney to raise $340 million from pensions, endowments and insurance companies to form Meritage.
Also he was a partner at KPMG Peat Marwick LLP where he says he helped take companies private, “among other duties.”
So floating around with that kind of money, why did it take so long to invest in Gabriel?
“When Gabriel was formed, Meritage hadn’t been fully formed,” Solomon says. “Now that that’s taken place, this was an opportunity for me to join the organization and complement it with an additional investment by Meritage. Everybody wins.”
Asked to outline Gabriel’s goals for the next 12 months, Solomon says, “Our first and never-ending goal is to have satisfied customers—not at parity with their current provider but far superior—and also provide them service that is significantly easier to use, because it’s a bundled product.
“If we don’t take care of this one first then our [growth] goals don’t matter much.”
Growth goals include going from serving “four or five markets to at least 14 markets. At that point we’ll have raised…[an] additional $150 million or more in equity and a commensurate amount in debt facility.”
Howe says Gabriel has offices operating in Kansas City and Springfield, Mo., Wichita, Kan., Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., and Little Rock, Ark. For new markets, Gabriel has targeted Indianapolis, Ind., Lexington and Louisville, Ky., and Akron, Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Howe says Ohio offered a lot of “telecommunications opportunity,” because demand for advanced services is high, state regulations are favorable, and few other CLECs operate there.
“We focus on tier two and tier three cities. A lot of other telecommunications providers concentrate on the NFL cities, the top 26 markets or so. They establish a national presence that way, but they overlook these other communities.”
(We won’t tell the Chiefs, Colts or Bengals what you said, Jerry.)
Beyond opening those 14 markets, Solomon says one of the company’s goals is to have its own “national footprint, and look to some M&A [merger & acquisition] activity that broadens our geographic coverage and expands or complements our product offering.”
Solomon says prospective takeover targets include “organizations that could help us enter into datacentric services, such as ASP.”
(ASP: application service providers, for instance, offering software packages on-line.)
Solomon is optimistic about more than the future for Gabriel. “Bob’s track record is extraordinary,” he says, “but more importantly I’ve had the opportunity to work from the outset of BFP, and I know his management style. Of even greater importance is his integrity and his desire to grow people.”
More Solomon: “Bob provides people an opportunity to meet their potential. That’s what he did at Cencom, I saw it at Brooks Fiber, and he’s doing it here.”
Brooks explains, “They’re at the right age for the respect of their peers and they can handle the work. It’s gratifying to sit back and see them go, and it gives me the freedom to not tie myself down to a desk, and to be active in the Church.”
Active, indeed. Brooks studied for the permanent diaconate from 1991 until his ordination by Archbishop Justin Rigali in 1996. Rigali appointed him to serve Ascension parish in Chesterfield. And, Brooks says, the “Bishop of Venice also granted me faculties, and assigned me to Mary Star of the Sea parish here in Florida.”
There’s more: Brooks has chaired the Archdiocesan Development Appeal (sort of a Catholic United Way) twice; he helped established the Today and Tomorrow educational foundation for the archdiocese at the request of Archbishop John May; he chaired the foundation until Rigali asked him to co-chair (with Sansone Group’s Tony Sansone) Returning God’s Gifts, the archdiocese’s $66 million-plus capital campaign.
“I thought I was done with all that,” Brooks says about his high-profile Church work. “Then I got a call one day that the Holy Father was coming, and would I serve on that committee.”
For all his activities, Brooks says, “I don’t enjoy the day-to-day stuff. I’m more of the visionary. If you go back to all three companies, you’ll see that I organized them and served as CEO for 18 months. During that time I groomed a new CEO, so we had someone ready to pay attention to day-to-day details.”
Brooks also has a management philosophy regarding the rest of the employees.
“Everyone who works in a company I founded…delivery van or CEO…they’re all treated with equal respect and afforded the opportunity to participate in ownership of the companies,” Brooks says.
This approach “allows me to build a nucleus of talented young people who might not have an opportunity at either ownership or high-level management. This gives us the ability to get top-notch people in the future, because they’ve seen how well others have done financially and in their careers.
“You see the results in the sale of Brooks Fiber,” Brooks notes. “We had something like 30 people come out of that deal who, because of stock and options, had a net worth in excess of a million dollars.
“Gabriel,” he says, “has the potential to add to the financial strength of our employees.”
Kevin Kipp runs Bubble Communications, a creative services and community relations firm in St. Charles.