Sunday, February 28, 2021

Executive Checklist

Advice for today’s business leaders: When obstacles get in the way, build something that rises above them

Most people can agree that the entire world is at a tipping point. Depending on one’s perspective, however, we’re either in for a monumental fall or courageous climb. As a serial entrepreneur who is passionate about building and growing businesses, I believe we are on the cusp of a new paradigm of creation. And it’s exciting, although not without tremendous challenges ahead. Watching my father, a small business owner who went through daily business challenges, I learned at an early age what it took to succeed. At the heart of every new innovation, whether it is a software product or widget, is an individual or team driven by insatiable curiosity, persistence and tenacity.

When I chose to study electrical engineering and computer science in college, I was well aware that these would become the building blocks of nearly every business, if it wasn’t already. Seeing the trajectory of technology and the advancements happening in shorter time frames, it seemed logical that the next giant leap for humankind would eventually be the shift to digital. Following my instincts, I took a risk and in 1992, just a few years after completing my master’s degree, founded my first company—CommTech—in the proverbial garage (or in my case an empty small room in my house). I felt confident in my capacity to concur the challenges, having gained tremendous knowledge working at AT&T Bell Laboratories as the lead data communications architect to win a $1.4 billion contract for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

Recognizing the complexities in the telecommunications industry, I began CommTech with a mission to automate business processes. That intense desire resulted in growing the company from three employees (me, my sister and my wife at the time working from home) to about 400 employees in under a decade. After creating state-of-the-art management and provisioning software for the leading telecommunication service providers, the company was purchased by ADC Telecom for $178M in 2001. I stayed on in an advisory role for a few years, but that intense desire to build resurfaced, leading me to join IntelePeer in 2005. It was just a small team at the time but has now grown over the years to become a leading communications platform as a Service (CPaaS) provider for enterprises.

As CEO since 2007, it has been as important to grow the company as it is to get to know our employees, and not just on a professional basis. I have always believed that if a caring, positive culture is fostered, there’s nothing a company cannot achieve. This has certainly been the case for IntelePeer, which now has approximately 240 team members dispersed around the country. We attract exceptional talent and have a very high retention rate not because it’s an easy environment—actually it’s quite demanding—but because it is an incredibly supportive and flexible environment.

IntelePeer has also established strong core values and a solid infrastructure, and because it is essentially a cloud-based company, everything is available to team members from anywhere at any time. So, when the pandemic hit, IntelePeer was at an advantage. That didn’t mean it was smooth sailing for everyone. Many had the added stress of children learning from home not to mention the feeling of isolation with several rounds of shutdowns. With the inability to get together as a company for special events, as we had done in the past, it wasn’t long before employees were offering up and implementing solutions, from a morale committee to early-off Fridays and “time-out blocks,” which were basically do-not-disturb zones everyone respects when scheduling calls and meetings. These were all merely obstacles, and we were able to think, build and work through the problems and become better for it.

In fact, it was our collective realization of how the pandemic had put immense stress on families, schools, the economy and our country as a whole that led us to many ideas to help businesses and state agencies deal with the incredible demand by consumers and citizens for more information and interactions.  One such idea recently was creating an automated vaccine hotline solution. It quickly became apparent that while the development of a vaccine in just months was nothing short of herculean, the rollout was proving to be extremely challenging. Looking at IntelePeer’s incredibly scalable communications platform that can handle millions of inbound and outbound calls and text messages simultaneously and understanding the urgency to help beat the pandemic and aid in the recovery phase, IntelePeer quickly moved to innovate a solution on Atmosphere® CPaaS. It can automate vaccine scheduling, with a multi-lingual self-service hotline that pre-screens callers and collects pre-registration information before passing them to a live person to schedule an appointment if qualified only. (The last people thing need at a time like this is a busy signal, long hold times or an unanswered call.)

The best part is that the solution works with any existing contact center system and can be deployed in hours rather than days, enabling any state or healthcare provider to deliver a streamlined appointment-setting experience for their residents and patients. Once deployed, it can expand over time to provide automated SMS reminders, patient follow-ups and appointment confirmations, and additional customer service hotlines for FAQs and automated information collection.

It’s this kind of perspective—taking big problems and innovating to bring forth solutions—that gives me hope we are heading for a new era of innovation where technology and the human genius come together to solve humanities new challenges. I see it with so many businesses and entrepreneurs here in the U.S. and around the world. When one way of life seems to be coming to an end, they envision another. And if obstacles get in their way, they build something that rises above them.

Over time, I have recognized that situations do not change until I help make the change happen. And when that occurs, the climb to the top becomes more about seeking higher ground for everyone rather than a singular goal to achieve personal success.

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Frank Fawzi
Frank Fawzi, Executive Officer at IntelePeer. He has been a guiding force in driving the company’s growth and achieving its mission to become a dominant Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) provider for enterprises. With IntelePeer’s voice, messaging, ready-to-use applications, open APIs, and AI-powered analytics, companies can build and integrate communications-enabled workflows without the need for any programming to create world-class customer experiences and improve business processes through automation. Frank founded and grew CommTech Corporation between 1990 and 2001 to be an early leader in the communications software sector before selling the company to ADC, a leading provider of broadband solutions for the telecommunications industry, for $178 million. Prior to founding CommTech, he worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories as the lead data communications architect for a $1.4B winning bid to the IRS. Frank received a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and a Master of Science in Management from Stevens Institute of Technology and participated in the Wharton Executive Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He was also selected as a QuantumShift’s Top Entrepreneurs in America for 2017 by KPMG’s Private Markets Group and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Frank Fawzi is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on LinkedIn.