The Benefits of Blended Cultures

John Lunny helped reinvigorate FairPoint Communications by unifying the technology department and creating a best-of-breed organization

John Lunny, chief technology officer at FairPoint Communications, has spent his career in technology and communications—first with AT&T, then with Level 3 Communications and Comcast. This decades-long view has provided not only technical expertise, but also a comprehensive view of the telecommunications industry’s evolution.

John Lunny, FairPoint Communications
John Lunny, FairPoint Communications

Lunny’s knowledge has been put to good use helping to transform the products, services, and overall business model at FairPoint. The company successfully emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, but also faced challenges resulting from a mix of internal cultures after its 2008 purchase of Verizon Communications’ landline operations in New England.

As Lunny describes it, FairPoint’s staff fell into three distinct camps: long-term Verizon employees accustomed to a heavily regulated and compartmentalized environment with reliable revenue streams from local telephone services; legacy FairPoint staff experienced in small, rural, heavily subsidized local exchange companies; and professionals from cable companies and competitive local exchange carriers, like himself, who had spent years competing against Verizon.

Each group had its own specific, valuable skill sets, according to Lunny. “That gave us in-house expertise on critical business drivers like regulatory compliance and entrepreneurial approaches to advanced technologies and optimizing the customer experience,” he says. “But we weren’t initially effective at leveraging all those strengths to face ongoing business challenges.”

Those challenges included FairPoint lagging behind consumers’ shift away from traditional telephone services to alternative digital and mobile technologies. Lunny was also keenly aware that steps were needed to win back business customers that had aligned themselves with competitors like Comcast and Level 3.

Over a three-year period, FairPoint adapted to the new marketplace realities through the organic evolution of leadership and strategic personnel changes. However, the company needed a more direct initiative to leverage its existing network and technology organizations and to provide more focus on customers and the next-generation products that they required.

Until 2013, technologists at FairPoint had consisted of two separate groups: one for network architecture and engineering and another for IT. Recognizing the extensive expertise these two groups presented in customer-facing networks, products and services, and in enterprise-facing application and server infrastructure, Lunny set out to create an integrated and unified technology organization.

At first, the new department had its own operational challenges. For example, the original IT team members had little experience in a customer-facing environment, and those with network expertise had to adapt to a server-based, and application-oriented focus.

“Successfully blending these capabilities required coaching, training, and confidence building, which we still do on an ongoing basis,” Lunny says. “But now I can look at someone in the organization as part of a team that helps lead our technology and business innovations, not as someone who originally came from a particular group or another company.”

The team that handles all of FairPoint’s product development, has, in fact, been at the forefront in accomplishing a number of company milestones. It helped develop the largest fiber and Ethernet-based network in northern New England, which serves
1.3 million subscribers.

That network has served as the foundation for rolling out extensive new products and services in response to market demand. These include a full suite of Carrier Ethernet services, SIP for business communication, hosted IP PBX and cloud automatic call distribution, Wi-Fi and managed router services, VoIP, infrastructure-as-a-service, and fiber 1 gigabyte Internet to the home.

“Reconfiguring the technology organization has transformed FairPoint from a traditional phone company model with a fixed set of offerings to a vibrant, entrepreneurial, responsive service provider that’s giving customers the products and services that they need and expect,” Lunny says.

The chief technology officer points out that there have been two other benefits of the departmental reorganization. First, it has developed enhanced products and services using the company’s existing workforce in a cost-effective way. Second, customers are now able to get technical support from individuals who are truly experts in their field.

Lunny’s industry experience and expertise were critical to his fully understanding FairPoint’s business challenges and the existing resources that were available internally to address them. He believes that this has also been instrumental in creating a more
cohesive team.

“I’m not a traditional executive since I’ve done many of the jobs my team handles. I can meet with team members and talk to them about what they’re trying to accomplish,” Lunny says. “It’s a big part of developing a creative and productive working environment, which is so important in a dynamic, customer-facing organization like ours.”

Lunny also stresses the importance of being flexible and open-minded. “Technology professionals tend to see things in black and white, but being right isn’t always relevant if you don’t handle it correctly,” Lunny says. “The best idea will always win out over time, but you get there much faster if you handle it the right way.”