Shirley Manning: A Study in PerseverenceIndustry Innovator: Shirley Manning
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...Lincolnville has experienced tremendous growth due to the vision of its president and general manager, Shirley Manning.
Turning the Tide at Lincolnville
Eyeing the New England ExchangeGrowing the NetworkAn Independent Leader
Turning the Tide at Lincolnville
...At the time, Shirley Manning was vice-president of finance and commercial operations for Hampden Telephone Company in Maine.She
had occasion to meet with the Lincolnville
directors, who had decided to sell the company.She
told the directors that the problems Lincolnville
faced were similar to the ones she
had confronted at Hampden
.After the meeting, they asked her
to work for them and took the company off the market.
Their decision to keep the company quickly bore fruit.She
got the company in the REA (Rural Electrification Administration) telephone loan program, collocated the small switch, and rebuilt the outside plant.Lincolnville
went from being an average schedule company to a cost company.It entered the cable business.
heard a rumor that GTE
and Continental might merge.
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had to grow.The telco was surrounded by Continental Telephone Company
exchanges.Why not buy a few? She
contacted Dave Cosson, NTCA's then-vice president of legal and industry, and asked if she
had any chance with this venture.
"So I made a list," says Manning
, "But when I started listing exchanges, I ended up putting all of GTE's Maine exchanges down because . . . why not?If GTE was going to sell anything at all, it would probably be all of Maine or New England." She
talked to some other companies in Maine before sending a letter of inquiry to GTE
responded by saying that although the company liked being a local exchange carrier, if it received a good offer, GTE
would take a look at it.
Encouraged that her
proposal had not been "flat-out rejected," Manning
had to have partners beyond the Maine borders.On a paddle boat ride at the Balsams, she
seized the chance to talk to Eleanor Haskin of Waitsfield Telephone Company (Waitsfield, VT).
...Manning, Haskins, and Violette formed the New England Independent Group; they were committed to pursuing the purchase of the GTE properties in their respective states.
, Haskins, and Violette walked into the GTE suite in Bally's and unrolled on the table a map of New England
...The New England Independent Group
made a bid along with "a whole bunch of other companies," according to Manning
."We got through the first cut.It sounds pretty simple, but it was a long, arduous task."
The deal fell apart regularly, but somehow the group managed to put it back together.Recalls Violette, "There were times during the process when sticking together meant everything.Eleanor, Shirley
, and I were determined to hang together through thick and thin."
: "We all needed partners.I couldn't buy the whole state of Maine.I didn't want the whole state.There were six exchanges with about 8,500 access lines that I wanted, but I had 40, with 46,000 access lines.She
goal by being the principal buyer for the state of Maine."Then I turned around and sold exchanges to five other companies at a premium rate.This gave me most of the equity that funded my part of the purchase.
describes the three-year process as the most "intriguing, interesting, challenging thing" she
had ever done."The partners all committed and then they'd either lose their financing or something would happen and we'd have to find another partner."In the end, she
did acquire the six GTE exchanges.She
formed a company from those exchanges and named it Tidewater Telecom
(Nobleboro, ME).She became its president and general manager.
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Growing the Network
With the deal came an entire group of GTE employees.Lincolnville
divided them into five different companies.
"It was hard trying to pick who you were going to keep and who had to move because companies were establishing their own headquarters," says Manning
.Plus, the culture needed changing.The staff was used to working for a large corporation."GTE was managing from a distance; we brought in a little more formality and accountability.Plus, GTE had closed all the business offices, so when a customer came in the door, they were directed to a telephone.They had to call GTE's services center to apply for a telephone.We opened the business office back up, and customers came in to pay their bills, buy telephones, apply for service, or just chat.
says the thrust of her
business is the network.She
is particularly proud of Lincolnville
's five-year contract with a major carrier to provide network services.This carrier has located a POP (point of presence) facility in one of Lincolnville
's exchanges.Adds Manning
: "We built the POP.We own it and all the equipment inside.The carrier leases facilities from us and we have a major customer, a common customer, with this carrier."
That customer is a major credit card company, the largest user of telecommunications services in Maine.Lincolnville
negotiated with the credit card company to send its traffic over its network."We had a chance to provide some services to the company on a small scale.
says the company is pleased with the relationship.
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An Independent Leader Manning, currently a member of the Telephone Association of Maine (TAM) board of directors, is the only person to serve a three-year term as TAM president (1986-1988).She also served a two-year term as president of the Telephone Association of New England (1991-1993).Manning
believes it is a time of great opportunity for independents.For the first time, exchange boundaries no longer dominate their business plans.In other words, says Manning
: "You can go anywhere in the state or in the country and provide services.People ought to take advantage of this window of opportunity that's out there right now."
On the regulatory side, she
feels that "as long as you know what the rules are and make your plans accordingly, you can be successful whatever the regulators do."
Spoken like a woman who will persevere.
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