After more than 40 years in the telecommunications industry, 36 of them with OTELCO, CEO Rob Souza is retiring. Rob’s leadership has been instrumental to the growth and success of OTELCO, but more importantly, he has been an inspiration to everyone that has had the pleasure to work with him.
We take this opportunity to thank and honor Rob for all that he taught us, and how he inspired us.
Rob grew up in Biddeford, ME, and began his telecommunications career in the early 1970s, literally in the trenches as a technician with the New England Telephone Company. In the early 1980s, Rob got his first taste of working for an independent phone company when he began working with the Ooltewah Collegedale Telephone Company in Tennessee.
In 1983 Rob returned to Maine and joined the Saco River Telephone Company. The rest is history as he came up through the ranks.
By 2001, the company was sold to Country Road Communications and Rob was named President. When Otelco Inc. acquired the holdings of Country Road, Rob was named Senior Vice President. By December of 2014, Rob had risen to the role of President and was named CEO with the retirement of Mike Weaver.
After he was named CEO, one of the goals Rob set for himself and the company was to reorganize the way Otelco Inc. operated. With a family of independent phone companies in 6 states and business to business operations in 7 states in all, Rob’s vision was to unify the company across all its service areas and eliminate the organizational silos in Alabama, Maine, and Missouri as well as the numerous DBAs associated with Otelco, Inc.
The first step was to prepare OTELCO financially for the future. After years of growth by acquisition and the loss of a major wholesale account in New England, OTELCO needed to streamline its cost structure and reduce debt so that the company would be prepared for the much-needed upgrade of our broadband network that is underway today. These were difficult times, to be sure, but Rob’s sure hand guided the company through its restructuring, ultimately restructuring the remaining debt with CoBank on more favorable terms in 2017.
During this time, OTELCO decided to opt-in to the Alternative Connect America Model (ACAM) and began the process of building out fiber to the home in many of our most underserved areas. Today, OTELCO fiber passes thousands of homes in Alabama, Maine, Missouri, and Vermont, and we are building more each day thanks to the strong footing we are on today.
The next step was to unify the billing system which included converting 3 separate billing platforms into one and importing upwards of 80,000 customer records to that new system. That required us to come up with one company name for the customer bills, and with that, Rob suggested that we refresh the brand too.
While our billing and revenue assurance team was orchestrating the billing conversion, everyone else was learning how to use and employ the new system, and the marketing team was developing a refreshed corporate identity, Rob was methodically rearranging the company into a single management hierarchy that spanned across all our footprints.
As one might guess these were some challenging times for all of us. We moved a lot of cheese for a lot of people – both staff and customers. Rob’s leadership was obviously critical to the undertaking, but his integrity and serenity were what really held everything together for all of us whenever things started to feel overwhelming.
Now that 95% of the project is complete, (there’ll always be little things that need tweaking) Rob can retire knowing that not only did he achieve his goal for the company, but he did it with style and grace.
Rob and his wife Tammy live in Durham, have three grown daughters, grandbabies, grand-puppies, and a beautiful camp (that’s Maine talk for a cottage in the woods). No one deserves to enjoy all of it more than Rob and his family.