Former Accenture Partner Tappen Takes Helm At Strategic Services Highflier NWN, Aims To Accelerate 'High Touch' Cloud Model

NWN President and Chief Operating Officer Skip Tappen, who has helped shape the services culture at the CRN Solution Provider 500 powerhouse for the past dozen years, has been promoted to CEO.

Tappen, who before joining NWN spent 14 years as a consultant and partner at Accenture, takes the top job as NWN, No. 68 on the 2016 CRN SP 500, moves aggressively to accelerate its "high touch" cloud services sales march under private equity owner New State Capital Partners.

A driving force behind the "it's all about the customer" and "business is a team sport" culture at NWN, the soft-spoken Tappen takes over the CEO role from NWN founder Mont Phelps.

[Related: NWN Steps Up 'Phone Company Of Future' March With Acquisition of Cisco Contact Center Superstar Collabramind]

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Phelps, a formidable industry figure who architected the strategy that took NWN from a small Waltham, Mass.-based solution provider into a $350 million national technology services power, plans to remain active focusing on "strategy, strategic acquisitions and relationships" with NWN customers, partners and employees.

In the internal memo announcing the succession, Phelps praised Tappen as a key figure in "developing and executing" the NWN vision over the past 12 years. "Today, we are well positioned and a force in the industry. I wouldn’t want to change places with any other company in our market, and Skip is the ideal leader as we scale NWN for the future," said Phelps.

Tappen, for his part, said he sees the new role as a natural extension of what he has considered his job from day one at the company – "helping out" or enabling the NWN "team to be the best we can be."

"I have always had that philosophy," said Tappen. "I see this as just another opportunity to do just that – knock down the roadblocks so the team can operate successfully and service our customers."

A University of Vermont mechanical engineering graduate who still teaches skiing to young children, Tappen said he sees part of his job as continuing to nurture the strong NWN culture of "teamwork and putting our customers first."

Tappen's top priority as CEO: "putting the pedal to the metal" on the company's fast-growing cloud services business, which has been doubling in size year over year for the past five consecutive years.

NWN, in fact, is already a leader in cloud services with its NCloud hosted VoIP and collaboration service winning customers over at a breakneck pace. The company, which has beat out telecom giants for sizable, multiyear contracts, has a full suite of collaboration cloud services including videoconferencing and contact center.

Most recently, NWN formed NCapital – under the aegis of its private equity owner -- to provide the financial muscle for customers to aggressively embrace cloud services models on a monthly operating expenditure basis.

Now, NWN is "doubling down" once again on its high touch cloud services model -- building out new teams to make it as simple as possible for customers to consume services in whatever form they want – on-premise, in the cloud or hybrid, said Tappen.

"Our goal is to be as flexible as possible so customers can consume what they want, when they want it in a pay-for-service model," said Tappen. "What you are going to see is the continued simplification, breadth and flexibility of our services offerings. A lot of the as-a-service players provide vanilla or chocolate, and that is what you get. With us, we can provide you sprinkles or a fudge twist. It all goes back to the customer and how the customer wants to consume it. It's all about the services. We are investing significantly in services teams that can help customers solve their business problems."

The NWN services offensive comes with a growing number of NWN customers opting for a pay-as-a-service model rather than legacy on-premise solutions, said Tappen.

"We are one of the companies that is well positioned to take advantage of what we see as a critical apex in the market transition in terms of customer interest in the cloud and our ability to bundle it all together in a way that customers want to consume it," he said. "Now that cloud is taking off, the adoption curve is going to be very rapid."

NWN's full-court services press will be front and center when Tappen takes the stage for the first time as CEO at NWN's annual sales kickoff in Charlotte, N.C., from Jan. 24-26. The theme of this year's conference is Engage -- a call to action for the NWN team to actively collaborate on all fronts with the full suite of services and solutions that differentiate NWN from the rest of the pack.

"We have all the right ingredients and when you take all those ingredients and you actively engage with customers, partners and each other, that is the secret sauce that will lead to our success," said Tappen. "It is all about the services. The customer is thinking less and less about the technology. They want the service and value. We are providing a high touch model where customers are looking at more than just buying compute and storage in the cloud. They are looking for a partner to provide strategic services as an extension of them."

Tappen says the Accenture experience provided him with a critical foundation to drive successful long-term customer relationships. "I always talk about the fact that we are in it for the long haul at NWN whether we are designing solutions for customers or doing something internally," he said. "Our relationships with our customers, partners and each other and the systems we put in place are for the long haul. It's about long-term relationships."

Tappen said he feels fortunate to have worked under Phelps and is looking forward to continuing to "learn" from the NWN founder. "Mont has really deep relationships and connections in the industry," said Tappen. "The opportunity to have him stay involved is a big advantage for NWN."

Tappen, meanwhile, is committed to continuing his behind-the-scenes work to shape the superior customer service culture at NWN. That sometimes includes his simple email response to the many stories of NWN employees going above and beyond for customers: "There is nothing better than a happy customer."

"I feel fortunate to continue to nurture a culture which I already really like," he said. "To Mont's credit, this has been a very thoughtful and smooth transition and he is still going to be there to help."

Tappen said he couldn't be more excited about NWN's future as he steps into the new role. "There are so many opportunities out there for us," he said. "We have a great team and a great customer base. From my perspective, the future is bright. We are not just standing still. The market is moving fast. The technology is moving fast. Anybody that is standing still is going to be left behind. We have been leading the market and that leadership positions us really well for the future."