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C Spire President focused on delivering for customers, aiding in workforce development

  • In part two of a two-part series, Magnolia Tribune Business Columnist Phil Hardwick visits with C Spire President Suzy Hays to learn more about her and the company she helps lead.

In part one of this two-part series visiting with C Spire President Suzy Hays, we discussed the company’s vision and marketing strategy, and learned about what inspires and fulfills her.

Today, we continue our conversation with Hays, looking toward the future of C Spire and how it is working to attract and retain both customers and employees.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing C Spire? 

Our biggest challenge, and focus for 2024, is that we are growing very rapidly and are gearing up to grow even faster.  To ensure that we are able to deliver in line with our vision “to be the best”, we’re spending a good deal of resources investing in systems that will enable us to do that effectively at scale.  As an example, we are wrapping up the implementation of ServiceNow across our back office which provides best-in-class workflows and continuously developed AI features.  These types of efforts, coupled with continuous development of our team, will not only ensure that we are creating a “machine” that can predictably deliver for our customers, it is also a tremendous competitive advantage.  For our business division, especially, most of our competitive set is not positioned to make these types of investments and as a result are capped at how much they can grow and deliver with consistent quality.

Q: I see that C Spire has expanded into Tennessee and Florida and has even installed a 243-mile fiber line from Meridian to Birmingham. What are C Spire’s growth plans? How much via acquisitions or expansion? Where do you see C Spire five years from now? 

We’ve talked about how important helping our customers and communities stay ahead of technology has been in the past.  That’s just as true today.  There are still homes and businesses that need faster, higher-quality, internet to keep up and get ahead.  While we already provide 150 communities with fiber for residential, multi-dwelling units (MDUs) and businesses in Mississippi, Alabama, and parts of Tennessee, we are continuing to expand our fiber network.  Construction projects are underway to expand off of our existing 243-mile long-haul mile fiber line, and a $52.6 million middle mile project is under construction across southern Alabama, as an example.  

In addition to fiber connectivity and telephony, our business division continues to expand, now providing services to customers in 47 states and with offices in Ridgeland, Hattiesburg, Nashville, Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Birmingham, Montgomery and Mobile.  Our business team of professionals includes specialized IT experts who deliver a suite of solutions to businesses and government agencies including IT managed services, hardware resale and professional services that include solutions such as public and private cloud, managed network connectivity, managed IT, collaboration, and security. 

We also continue to uncover and address the needs of our customers and communities.  Connect and Protect, for example, is a product our team developed to help ensure that when parents are buying their child’s first phone, they can do so with confidence that they are protecting them from the downside of full access to the internet and social media.  Our business division works with small to very large businesses to protect them from bad actors through our cyber security practice.  

Growth so far has been organic and through acquisitions.  Over the last 10 years, we have purchased four companies, based in Alabama, that have accelerated our growth in fiber expansion and business services.

Q: You’ve been actively involved in advocating for a computer science curriculum as a core part of their education in Mississippi. What’s the status of that initiative? 

Years ago, we saw a need from a workforce standpoint to drive awareness and education opportunities around computer science, coding, and other STEM-related skill sets.  We also knew that without that kind of training and job development, our region would continue to lose our young people to neighboring areas that were more advanced in STEM.  

We created what we call the Tech Movement to help move our region forward from a technological standpoint. Part of this was the expansion of fiber so that more people would have access to fiber connectivity. The other part was to make more people (in particular students) aware of opportunities that existed in the STEM world and to help them take advantage of them.  At the time, kids in California were learning to code in kindergarten but weren’t even required to take a coding class to graduate high school in Mississippi.

We helped lobby the state legislature to pass a law requiring all schools in Mississippi to offer computer science classes.  To ensure we had teachers to teach computer science, our C Spire Foundation donated $1M dollars to support the training of computer science teachers across the state.  To date, there have been about 3000 teachers trained. C Spire helped create a coding academy called Base Camp in north MS which provides unique opportunities for young people to get into the field, several of whom we are proud to call C Spire team members today.  And we developed coding challenges for high school and elementary school students to create awareness and drive interest in the tech field.

Q: What advice do you have for students who want to get into a career in the telecommunications industry? 

Internships are a great way to be sure any career is the right fit and to prepare you for your ultimate field of work.  Someone at one of my internships recommended I get my MBA and work at the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which I did, and this turned about to be great advice.  My MBA taught me how to be effective within teams and at the SBDC, I learned how to write business plans and create financial analyses.  These skills turned out to be invaluable throughout my career.  What I learned in college and graduate school were great foundations, but learning how to learn quickly was even more important.  That’s especially key in technology, where things are always changing and doing so very quickly.

Generally, not just in our field, the best advice I give to students is to choose your company, not just your job.  I’ve been incredibly blessed that I’m still working with the same company that I chose after grad school.  I talk with a lot of young people, I was the same way, that are very focused on the job they are offered or are doing today.  

But what I’ve learned over the years is that the job really isn’t what is important.  It’s the company.  When you’re lucky enough to come across a company that is literally intent on changing their part of the world, that’s pretty special.  And if you find a group of people that thinks like you and is driven to make a difference every day, and you’re not only enabled but required to make a difference every day – choose THAT company.  Work hard, do your best and the rest will all work out.  I’ve had many jobs at C Spire, and not all of them were my “dream job” at the time.  However, the skills and perspective I gained in each of them are precisely why I’m prepared for my role today.  

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