Integra's New CEO Reflects On Whirlwind Year

To say Integra Telecom had a busy 2011 might be the understatement of the year.

In 2011, the Portland, Ore.-based CLEC reorganized, invested $100 million in its fiber network, and bore a series of leadership changes at the top, in December naming Kevin O’Hara its third CEO in less than a year.

O’Hara, who has served on Integra's board since 2009, replaced Tom Casey, who left Integra for a position as CEO of Oklahoma City, Okla.-based pigment manufacturer, Tronox. Casey had only recently taken over for long-time Integra CEO Dudley Slater following his ouster in February.

O’Hara, co-founder and former chief operating officer of Level 3 Communications, said the all the recent changes have laid the groundwork for Integra’s success in 2012.

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“In 2011 we really accelerated,” O’Hara said. “We weren’t abandoning or doing away with any of our service offerings, but on a relative basis in terms of where the investment was going, there was a significant shift.”

Integra has faced setbacks in recent years. Its $710 million purchase of Minnesota-based Eschelon Telecom in 2007 nearly tripled its debt load, and brought Integra to the brink of bankruptcy when the economy collapsed the following year, The Oregonian. reported The CLEC was able to avoid bankruptcy with a debt recapitalization in 2009, but facing competition from cablecos targeting their traditional SMB customer base, Integra has had to rethink its strategy.

“The product set at Integra, which historically was very competitive, had gotten to the point where it was less competitive than it used to be. We stepped back and said we want to introduce new products and services and take advantage of our facilities,” O’Hara said.

Integra’s new tactic involved major investments in facilities-based services, in fiber- and copper- based Ethernet, fiber to buildings, and new technology and capabilities. Integra also made organizational changes to move from a decentralized, regional structure, to a more unified model, O’Hara said.

The organizational changes affected all aspects of the company -- from its channel program, with the promotion of a new “channel chief,” Ken Worcester, to operations, provisioning, customer care, and sales. O’Hara said Integra’s shift in strategy was made with an eye toward attracting more sophisticated, enterprise level clients, while maintaining focus on Integra’s traditional SMB “sweet spot” clientele.

“We eliminated what was a very traditional decentralized model at Integra toward a functional organization. That was done to standardize our offerings across all markets, to standardize the way we supported those offerings across all markets, and make it easier to introduce new products and services across all markets. There were a lot of changes.”

Integra Telecom is a leading telecom and Internet service provider in 11 Western markets. Last year, it was named to CRN’s list of the 75 Coolest Telecom Providers -- “mavericks” who were well-positioned to take advantage of the booming cloud market. O’Hara said Integra is indeed moving beyond the role of the traditional CLEC and being proactive about the cloud.

Next: Integra's Cloud Strategy

“We’re embracing it. We think [the cloud is] a big part of our future, but we’re trying to be smart in terms of how we roll it out so we play to our strengths and we don’t kid ourselves into believing that we’re good at things we’re not,” O’Hara said.

Integra’s first cloud offering debuted late last year. The service provider teamed up with the red hot security vendor Palo Alto Networks to provide a hosted security suite for its SMB and enterprise clients. O’Hara said Integra’s cloud strategy is to develop its areas of expertise in-house, for example hosted voice, and to collaborate with partners on other offerings.

The company plans to roll out its new hosted voice offering late in the first quarter of this year, for which Integra will provide the functionality and underlying components. Integra also plans to unveil a hosted web collaboration product in 2012.

O’Hara said the transitions Integra undertook in 2011 -- heavy investment in infrastructure and products, leadership shake-ups, and organizational restructuring – have helped put the company on track for the year ahead.

“We invested aggressively in 2011,” he said. “2012 is really a push to execute a lot of those plans that were put in place this year, and to demonstrate that we can actually sell a lot of the products and services that we’re rapidly rolling out.”