The 2014-2015 season of Voices of Experience concluded on May 11, 2015, with a panel of executives from Level 3 Communications, one of the world’s leading internet providers based in Broomfield, Colorado.
Jeff Storey, president and CEO, Laurinda Pang, executive vice president and chief administration officer, and John Blount, regional president, North America and Asia Pacific, shared their insights and experiences in the wake of the company’s October 2014 acquisition of tw telecom, a provider telecommunication services.
The Level 3 executives sat down with Scott McLagan, who leads the leadership and global business elements of the Daniels Executive MBA and has delivered executive leadership programs for Level 3 and many other companies. McLagan led a captivating discussion about everything from the challenges of maintaining a strong culture to the executives’ views on leadership during times of change.
Level 3’s acquisition of tw telecom positioned the company as a global leader in the business communications market and gave it a combined enterprise value of $27 billion. Storey explained that the company’s decision to acquire Level 3 came down to an opportunity to expand Level 3’s geographic footprint, customer base and technology. “The technology that tw had used in their systems environment was conducive to where we believed the world was going in telecommunications,” he said.
Even on the tw telecom side, which Blount joined in 1995, the joining of the companies felt natural. “We built dense, local markets, but as we move up markets, it’s much harder to connect our customers,” Blount said. “For years, we looked at Level 3 and their capabilities and felt like the two companies belonged together.”
Since the announcement last summer and the closing of the deal in November, Pang has led the integration of tw telecom. She says that as a “company of acquisitions,” Level 3 is committed to three things with every acquisition: choosing a strong integration team, moving at a fast pace to make decisions (and bring clarity to the employees), and staying focused on the company culture.
As CEO, Storey said that guiding all employees toward a common vision was critical from the very beginning. “Make decisions quickly,” Storey advises leaders going through mergers or acquisitions. “Be decisive about what you’re going to do and what you will be, and then help people see themselves in that organization.”
At tw telecom, that open and honest approach to communication spoke volumes about the new leadership’s intentions. “Jeff said, ‘we are going to build the best possible company out of the two we have to work with’,” Blount said, adding that nobody on the tw telecom side feared that their company would be “acquired and discarded.”
At a time when many acquisitions fail to create value, Level 3 is focused on building a culture that will keep the company strong. Pang shared that the company learned from past successes and failures with other acquisitions and engaged in an evaluation of the two environments to assess the combined company culture. Blount added that for the tw telecom side, “it was a culture of getting big very quickly—that was the biggest change.”
Storey says that above all, he and the executive team believe in openness, integrity and telling the truth always. Being open to self-criticism and the human needs of employees and customers is the foundation upon which a strong company is built.
Good leadership is essential as well—and it comes down to aligning team members to ensure all are moving in a common direction. “We’ve got incredible talent in this company and I think it is harnessing that talent with a common vision and a common direction that is ultimately going to make us successful,” Blount added.
Level 3 had a strong first quarter of 2015, earning $2.053 billion in revenues and net income of $122 million (compared to pro forma 2014 figures of $2.003 billion and $99 million, respectively) but Storey, Blount and Pang agreed that the hard work is far from over. Storey says that the reaction from customers has been positive and that the integration continues to go well.
Storey explained that his vision is to be an organization with which customers are excited to partner. “I want Level 3 to be the best telecommunications company in the world,” he said, adding that they have the fiber, infrastructure and people to get there. “If you can satisfy your customers, make them excited, make your employees excited about delivering for those customers, the shareholders win automatically.”
For Pang, the future is bright and promising—but for Level 3’s goals to be realized, it will take engaged, excited employees. “We want them to understand that they are a part of an organization that has the potential to change the world.”
Level 3 Communications, Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) is a Fortune 500 company that provides local, national and global communications services to enterprise, government and carrier customers in more than 60 countries. Level 3’s comprehensive portfolio of secure, managed solutions includes fiber and infrastructure solutions; IP-based voice and data communications; wide-area Ethernet services; video and content distribution; data center and cloud-based solutions. Learn more at level3.com
View the Voices of Experience Level 3 Communications panel at daniels.du.edu/voe.