16 Oct Interview: WTN Gets Real with Appleton’s Brad Hansen – Dot-Com Experience helps Executive to Spot Trends
Brad Hansen joined Green Bay’s Nsight Telservices (www.nsighttel.com) in 2001 as Vice President and COO of Fixed Operations after an action-packed stint as Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of Chicago startup BidBuyBuild. Hansen oversees Northeast Telephone, Nsight Long Distance, Local Nsight, NET Cable, and NetNet and heads up the company’s Digital Subscriber Line and Local Multipoint Distribution Services (LMDS) deployment.
WTN: How did your dot-com experience prepare you to work at Nsight?
BRAD HANSEN: Why don’t I talk instead about the most valuable experience? It’s no fun closing down a business, but the good thing is that the business climate always comes around. Prior to Nsight, I was CTO of a Chicago startup called BidBuyBuild. When BidBuyBuild ran out of money, the executive team stayed on to close it down. As we were winding down operations, we were able to make a lot of friends out of a very bad situation. We took our responsibility to our creditors, vendors, and employees very seriously. We went out of our way to make sure everyone was in the loop and kept up-to-date. People appreciate that kind of honesty and the extra effort made a bad experience a little bit better. It’s good karma to treat people the way you’d like to be treated. I brought this philosophy with me when I came to Nsight.
WTN: What trends can you recognize based on your previous experience?
HANSEN: If you recognize trends too late, they can kill you. During the boom years, Nsight was so busy growing that we created a lot of replication between departments and functional areas. We took a step back, recognized the situation, and then took steps to pull together different systems, eliminate duplicate functional areas such as HR and billing and even spent time getting our own network infrastructure under centralized management. We reduced our headcount by 30 percent, eliminated an entire building, cut marginal customers, and saw sales decrease by only 2 percent. Now revenue is up 5 percent. It was a difficult but necessary step.
WTN: How do you define a marginal customer?
HANSEN: If you eliminate the 20 percent of your customers that are responsible for 80 percent of your headaches, you can dramatically improve the customer services and support to the remaining 80 percent. It’s simple math, but the hardest part is saying no to a paying customer – even if that customer is costing you more money than they are generating.
WTN: What’s the best way to handle headcount reductions?
HANSEN: The worst thing you can do is to prolong the process over a long period of time. It sucks the life out of your people. At Nsight, we were forced to downsize. We kept the planning for our restructuring very quiet and were able to do the entire series of layoffs very quickly – in just a few hours. Everyone remaining knew the worst was over, knew they had job security, and kicked into high gear right away.
WTN: Does anything good ever come out of a recession?
HANSEN: Absolutely. There is no point wasting a good recession. When money was plentiful, Nsight didn’t over-leverage itself. We’ve always operated under manageable (even in the worst times) leverage ratios. Now that the restructuring is done, we have improved communications, product launches, and converged products. Recessions are important because they give you focus. You first figure out what you need to do to survive, then you figure out what you need to do to thrive.
WTN: What about regulatory issues?
HANSEN: Money hates uncertainty. Especially in telecom, money has run from this industry because no one knows what the future holds. Regulatory issues have the potential to completely reshape our business for better or for worse. But through all this uncertainty, we have done much more than survive. In fact, we have become one of the Midwest’s success stories in an industry plagued by poor service, failure and consolidation.
Ben Bradley is the founder of Growingco.com (See the DarwinMag.com article) and Benbradley.net. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.