The great connector: LigTel CEO the thrust behind $25 million fiberoptic expansion | News Sun |

2022-08-08 11:46:10 By : Ms. May Lin

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Ligtel CEO Randy Mead is leading an major broadband expansion across northeast Indiana, taking fiber-optic lines to areas where no other telecomm will.

Ligtel CEO Randy Mead is leading an major broadband expansion across northeast Indiana, taking fiber-optic lines to areas where no other telecomm will.

LIGONIER — Over the next 36 months, LigTel Communications CEO Randy Mead is going to be overseeing a project spreading fiberoptic cable to most of Noble County as well as chunks of LaGrange.

The project involves between $12 million-$14 million of LigTel monies and $11.5 million in three grant awards from the Office of Rural and Community Affairs Next Level Connections program.

The 59-year-old Mead had been hopeful to get one grant OK’d. He said he couldn’t believe all three of LigTel’s applications approved.

“I had goosebumps,” he said. “I was like giddy.”

During a meeting with the Noble County Commissioners in May, Mead said the plans would bring broadband internet speeds to 8,000 households in Noble County.

$25 million or so of work in 36 months.

“This is the biggest expansion we’re going to go through,” Mead said.

Mead and LigTel obviously made an impact with state officials to get those three grants.

“They say a lot about Ligtel and some of the ideas they have,” state Sen. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, said. “They have shown some innovation and ability to move quickly.”

It isn’t the company’s only big project. A new headquarters is currently under construction in Ligonier, just to the north of the older building.

LigTel has worked hand-in-hand with city officials on the project. That kind of development is huge for Ligonier’s main drag, according to Police Chief Bryan Shearer.

“That’s what we need,” Shearer said. “That’s what we want.”

The company recently completed work on a facility in LaGrange that will provide a complete redundancy should a disaster strike in Ligonier.

Mead said it’s the company making strides, not him.

“I don’t do this for me,” he said. “It’s not about Randy, it’s about us. You want to do more for the people around you.”

And now for the big project.

Simply getting easement rights to lay that much fiberoptic has to be a nightmare unto itself. And complying with federal grant programs adds a darker shade of black to that nightmare.

If the devil is in the details, this has to be close to hell.

Then why is Mead smiling?

Well, for one thing, he has got a great staff.

“I have all the confidence in the world they’re going to do this and knock it out of the park,” Mead said of his 26 employees. “They always have.”

Another reason he is smiling? This is Mead’s sweet spot. Calculated risk. High reward.

A shark with the largest project his company has ever done in so short a time, and while he’s battening down the hatches on this effort, he knows what the next big thing is going to be for LigTel after the current projects are completed.

“I’ve got a couple things in the back of my head,” he said. “It’s already in my mind.”

He’s too cagey to say what those projects might entail, but for Mead there always has to be another thing. Like a shark that dies when it stops swimming, Mead’s brain is always at work.

“I don’t sleep,” he said. “But I’ve always been like that. My mind never stops.”

But lest you think he is a cold-hearted predator, he’s not. In fact, he’s equal part shark and teddy bear.

Mead was working at a fiberoptic company in Idaho when networking brought him in touch with the job opening at Ligtel.

He applied in July of 2016. He came to Ligonier for a visit and had a lunch with all of the company’s employees.

“I was really impressed,” he said. “It was a family culture. I felt like I really connected with the employees.”

He was contacted by LigTel officials in January 2017.

He was upfront. He was taking the call from a hospital where his daughter was being treated and told Ligtel representatives as much.

It was the 11th day of his stay in the hospital so he could be with his daughter. If he came to Indiana, he told LigTel officials, that need to go to the hospital with his daughter at a moment’s notice wouldn’t change.

“They said, ‘That’s part of who you are. We accept that,’” Mead recalled.

Since Mead took over the helm at LigTel in 2017, the company’s overall revenues have increased 36%. Fiber broadband revenues are up 158%.

Things were going well. Why bite off a chunk of business only a Great White would take?

“You can’t rest on your laurels,” Mead said. “You can’t become complacent.”

He credited LigTel’s ownership with supporting the move, which became possible because of some great foresight by previous management.

In the early 2000s, LigTel invested with 22 companies in the Indiana Fiber Networks. Ligtel decided to sell its interest in that venture in May 2021.

That made the new fiber optic project possible.

“We decided to take the money and invest it into the community,” Mead said.

There is risk to the new investment. People have to sign up when the cable is laid.

The return on investment will take some time.

But Mead doesn’t shy from risk.

The day before he started work in the summer of 2017, he got on LigTel’s Facebook page and read one line that stuck with him — “LigTel sucks.”

At that time, the company’s technology, particularly its wireless service, needed upgraded. There was so much business, calls were being dropped due to an overload on its wireless towers.

He set about changing that “LigTel sucks” on Day One.

He immediately set out to upgrade the culture among LigTel employees, creating an atmosphere of accountability, of making employees want to work by making them part of the solution.

One of his first decisions as CEO was to stop accepting new business.

“We froze all new wireless customers,” Mead said.

It wasn’t a popular move amongst all at the company. New customers meant growth.

“There was a lot of hesitation,” Mead said.

About the same time, he decided to invest approximately $2 million in fiberoptic lines.

The fiberoptic lines would go to three underserved areas. If people hooked up to the service, it would mean more revenue and decrease the load on the towers while technology was upgraded.

If no one signed up?

“The only way to make it in business is to take a risk,” he said. “I manage it like it’s my money. I know I am putting my career on the line.”

And now comes the $25 million overall investment.

Not bad for a small-town Kansas man, whose only post-high school education came from attending a trade school to study sound engineering in Wichita, Kansas.

His first job came as a worker for a phone system company.

“I just fell in love with the industry,” he said.

He now has 37 years in the business. LigTel is his fifth employer.

Along the way, he has pretty much run the gamut of jobs in the industry, from sales to accounting and marketing.

“Everything my employees do, I have done,” he said.

He spent 23 years for one firm in Chicago, then in 2009 moved to a small town in Idaho. To call it remote is an understatement.

The town had 500 or so residents. The nearest grocery store was 50 miles away.

He brought fiberoptic to that town.

Four months after he arrived, he was voted in to serve as the town council. He eventually became the mayor.

He got grants from the federal government to provide water and sewer to the town’s energy park.

He wasn’t intimidated by the process.

“I didn’t know any better,” he said.

Now he does, and all of Noble County will be the better for LigTel’s investment.

“They’re taking care of the home folks,” Glick said.

And Mead’s No. 1 priority continues to be his daughter.

“I would move heaven and earth to give my daughter the best day, every day of her life,” he said.

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