Bill Cheek, President of Wholesale Markets Group (WMG) at CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), is squarely facing down the service provider's wholesale future and past.
Although CenturyLink recently re-aligned its business services leadership by consolidating its business and government segments into two common groups, Cheek's role as the president of WMG is unchanged.
A 34-year telecom industry veteran who got his start at Allied Tel--now Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN)--Cheek has had plenty of experience in running wholesale operations at CenturyLink and his predecessor companies Embarq and Sprint Business Solutions and its Local Telephone Division (LTD).
Prior to the creation of Embarq, the spinoff of Sprint's local telephone division that was later purchased by CenturyTel, Cheek served as Assistant Vice President, Strategic Sales and Account Management in Sprint Business Solutions, where he worked with Sprint's largest wholesale customers.
Besides his experience in running the wholesale division, Cheek had a major role in merging CenturyTel and Embarq to create CenturyLink in 2009. Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, Cheek and fellow executive Karen Puckett used that experience when they integrated Qwest into CenturyLink in 2011.
Despite the fact that overall wholesale revenues in Q4 2011 declined 4 percent to $955 million, a factor reflecting the decline in legacy services, WMG's real growth is driven by emerging services like wireless backhaul. WMG reported $564 million in strategic revenues in the fourth quarter, up 5.4 percent due to ongoing wireless backhaul sales and wholesale Ethernet.
That is part of what makes wireless backhaul a major priority for WMG. During the quarter it built out fiber to 1,250 cell towers, ending the year with almost 10,200 Fiber to the Tower (FTTT) builds.
"Wholesale, in particular for us in 2011 and 2012 are the years for fiber to the cell," Cheek said in an interview with FierceTelecom. "By the end of 2011, we have installed and turned up just a few cell towers short of 6,000, which is huge when you think of capex."
Along with that aggressive network buildout drive, Cheek is very focused on providing a good customer experience for their wholesale customer base.
During the fall 2011 COMPTEL PLUS trade show, the service provider won five Best-in-Class awards on ATLANTIC-ACM's Metro Wholesale Report Card, including customer service, network performance, data value, provisioning and sales representatives.
"If customers are telling us we're doing a good job that's validation that everything we put in place is working," Cheek said. "I tell my team we're in the service business, and I don't care if we're serving a retail customer or a wholesale customer: that wholesale customer is serving end-users and we're enabling them to do that successfully."