Recent articles in Forbes, GigaOm and other media hail CenturyLink as a case study in transformation. I thought it only right to share some insight regarding what’s behind the transformation at CenturyLink. When is “transformation” more than just a word? What makes it last longer than your latest ad campaign? Transformation, like most change, is a journey and to shed some light on these questions, it’s good to start at the beginning.
In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone and a revolutionary new way for people to communicate over unimaginable distances was born. This was a technological breakthrough that would change the world and invent an entire new industry.
Years later, on a warm, sunny morning in 1933, in the tiny north Louisiana community of Oak Ridge, Clarke McRae Williams rode his bicycle to hand-deliver telephone bills to the 75 customers of his parents’ small telephone company.
As Clarke Williams pedaled, he may have pondered the future of the telecom industry – then just at the beginning of an incredible era that would connect people and businesses and eventually create the network fabric for a global data system called the Internet.
Clarke Williams went on to found the company today known as CenturyLink, leading it on an incredible journey of growth and setting the foundation of core values that remain the heartbeat of the company.
True to who you are
Today, standing prominently in CenturyLink’s new Cloud Development Centerin the Seattle area, a tall telephone pole welcomes customers and employees of the now $18 billion telecom giant.
While it still provides millions of customers with high-speed Internet, TV and voice services, CenturyLink now also serves businesses across the world and is a global leader in colocation, managed hosting, cloud and network services.
Just like back in 1933, we can only ponder all the changes that cloud, still in its infancy, will eventually bring to the world. For CenturyLink, as a leading provider of cloud services, we have seen this kind of potential before.
We know it’s all about unlocking that potential for our customers. In the 1930s, CenturyLink was not the first to invent the telephone or the first business to sell telephone services, but it became one of the most successful growth stories of the telecom industry by connecting to the potential that was in the network to improve lives and strengthen businesses.
Transformation – More than an Ad Campaign
Transformations are begun for various reasons. We may see a need to change a behavior or refocus on new priorities. These changes sometimes require tough decisions and the ability to stay focused. Whatever the driver, the need or desire to reinvent ourselves begins a journey of growth.
But simply saying we have changed doesn’t mean transformation occurred – we all have examples in our lives of transformation failures and successes. One undeniable common characteristic of successful transformations is genuineness.
Businesses are no different. They are constantly faced with change – change that needs to be met with genuine transformation to succeed and sometimes to even survive.
There are many case studies that highlight businesses that simply failed to recognize the need to change. I’d propose that there are just as many businesses that recognize the need to change but just fail at transformation. Transformation isn’t easy and for those who forget who they are and try to be something they are not – it’s impossible.
What’s behind CenturyLink’s transformation?
During its 90-plus year history, CenturyLink has repeatedly demonstrated its ability to recognize change and embark on genuine transformation.
When faced with the dawning of wireless technology and the mobile phone, the telco industry faced disruption. Traditional phone lines for fax machines and dial-up Internet were being replaced by high-speed Internet connections. Voice lines began being replaced by wireless phones. In addition, cable companies started offering competing services.
CenturyLink recognized it needed to transform. The transformation was focused on scale, and what began was nearly a decade of industry consolidation that transformed CenturyLink from a rural telco to a global communications, hosting and IT services player. The company made tough decisions along the way, deciding to sell its relatively small but growing wireless business to focus on scaling its network.
More recently, CenturyLink embarked on a more subtle transformation. Just eight years ago, 90 percent of our revenue was from the consumer segment, while today about 60 percent is from the business sector. With the launch of new services in the IT space, we have leveraged our network infrastructure and services to move into new markets like colocation, cloud and managed hosting.
Despite these changes, CenturyLink has stayed very connected to its roots, retaining its headquarters in Monroe, LA with a management team still relying on the core values that Clarke Williams instilled in the company all those years ago.
A new challenge
Unlike the disruptive forces caused by the wireless era, the cloud era represents a positive opportunity for CenturyLink to transform again.
We are meeting this change in a familiar manner – with genuine transformation. There are endless possibilities to connect the network to IaaS and offer global scale to businesses in a programmable, automated and self-service way. It’s about connecting those possibilities in a genuine way to people and business so they can benefit from them.
A great example of this is in the outreach to developers. Believe it or not, CenturyLink is not currently a household name to the developer community! While developers are not the only users on which CenturyLink focuses, they are a very important part of any cloud provider’s service. If you visitwww.centurylinklabs.com, you see this in action; it’s a developer-focused community that we are cultivating through open-source contributions and by helping people better understand Docker and Linux containers.
The telephone pole
So the telephone pole that greets you as you walk into our CenturyLink Cloud Development Center is not just an artistic statement, it is a symbol and proof that by being grounded in your past and comfortable with who you are is the basis for all genuine transformations.