In its 13 years, Goodman Networks, a telecom network builder founded by five brothers named Goodman in Plano, has grown up quickly. It now has more than 5,000 employees en route toward $1 billion in annual revenue, and recently completed its largest acquisition to date—a $100 million deal.
Sitting in the driver’s seat is Ron B. Hill, a telecom veteran with leadership experience inside vendors, service providers, and network integrators. He’s a former medical student, a former associate pastor, and a South Georgia native. He says he’s accomplished more in his life by focusing on “prophets” than he has by focusing on “profits.”
Hill had never been a CEO before his appointment to the post two years ago. He’s the only person on the Goodman Networks board of directors not named “Goodman,” and he says he couldn’t be more excited by what lies ahead. “Goodman is making that transformation from a mom-and-pop business to a multi-faceted, multi-technology enterprise …” he says.
After helping Goodman acquire three companies in 2013 alone, Hill has his hands full. He’s making a big bet on what will be required in telecom networks over the next few years, and is adding people and capabilities to match those predictions. At the same time, Goodman remains a family business where people matter.
“This is my first role as president and CEO of any company, and it’s a change for me to not only have an impact on the business and the sector that I work in, but also in the lives of the people in this sector as well,” Hill says.
Indeed, what makes his job so remarkable is that he sees it as the fulfillment of a higher calling. “I’ve always considered leadership as something that is a God-given privilege at all places at all levels,” Hill says. “With leadership comes stewardship. You have the responsibility to do what is right with everything you’ve been given. I recognized that with me as a CEO, as a leader, the people that I support have to know that I care for them and not just for their work. … I have a genuine care for them as people.”
LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT
Hill grew up in Thomasville, a city in southern Georgia with a population of around 18,000. He had always wanted to become a doctor. He went to school and started his training, but his medical school ambitions were put on hold after a temporary job led to a permanent role inside AT&T’s Consumer Products Division in Atlanta. His career inside AT&T included the company’s rigorous management training program. In 1997, he earned his master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business.
Hill prospered at AT&T, but was looking to make a bigger impact as an executive. So he moved from the service-provider ranks to the ranks of the companies supplying the technology. “Service providers like AT&T and Sprint are just that—they’re service providers,” Hill says. “They look to innovators like Alcatel-Lucent and Goodman Networks and other companies to provide ways to make their networks faster, smarter, and more efficient.”
For the next six years—from June 2002 to July 2008—Hill served in the executive suite at Alcatel-Lucent, one of AT&T’s largest technology suppliers. His last post there was as VP of network engineering, integration, and optimization. Meanwhile, in Dallas, Goodman Networks, one of Alcatel-Lucent’s contractors, was growing its business at a fast clip and wooing him to come work for Goodman.
BUILDING GOODMAN NETWORKS
Goodman Networks started out life as a telecommunications construction firm. But it has quickly become a firm that telecom service providers hire to help design, build, integrate, maintain, and tear down networks.
Hill credits executive chairman and former CEO John Goodman for helping the company establish itself in the wireless networking arena. In 2002, while Hill still was at Alcatel-Lucent, Goodman Networks already was working with Cingular Wireless and Southwestern Bell, two phone companies that AT&T would later acquire.
Over the years Goodman Networks kept working with AT&T’s various subsidiaries. Among other things, the company helped find and identify good cellular tower sites, helped build the towers, and upgraded and maintained the equipment on these critical nerve centers in the nationwide wireless network.
Under John Goodman’s leadership, Goodman Networks was awarded “master service agreements” for several companies, including AT&T. Such agreements make Goodman responsible for specific towers in specific states, and ensure a sort of stability while the service provider can ensure that there are enough technicians and engineers around when something goes wrong, without increasing its payroll.
While all this was happening at Goodman, the mobile phone and mobile data market would go from steady to white hot. The iPhone debuted in 2007, and the market for mobile data exploded. From 2008 to 2010, AT&T’s annual wireless data revenue increased more than 70 percent, from $10.6 billion to $18.2 billion. The amount of mobile broadband traffic on its 3G wireless network increased during that same time by more than 2,300 percent.
The need to build and add capacity to AT&T’s network during that period was critical—and Goodman delivered in spades. By the end of 2011, AT&T would account for nearly 90 percent of Goodman’s annual revenue—more than $700 million. On Oct. 30, 2012, AT&T extended the terms of a key contract with Goodman (called Turf) to Nov. 30, 2015.
Goodman Networks was a solid player in the telecom industry by 2008, but it was time to for the company to grow again and to make its next big bet. The extreme growth in mobile data had already begun to change how networks were designed. The pressure on service providers to keep showing strong growth and earnings meant that those companies were going to be using fewer contractors and vendors—outfits that would be expected to handle a growing variety of jobs.