Jeff Gardner, Windstream: Wireline's most powerful people

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Jeff Gardner

Jeff Gardner, Windstream

As the President and CEO of Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), Jeff Gardner knows that he can no longer think or act like the leader of just another Tier 2 ILEC delivering plain vanilla voice service.

Since taking over as CEO of Windstream after the company was created as a spinoff of Alltell's former landline business, Gardner has set the ILEC on a path of becoming a broadband and IP company.

Like his counterparts Maggie Wilderotter of Frontier (NYSE: FTR) and Glen Post of CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Gardner has been bitten by the M&A bug as a way to scale his business and reach his goals. But unlike Post and Wilderotter, which have made ambitious acquisitions of larger companies like Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) rural lines and Qwest Communications, Gardner has focused on smaller acquisition targets that add key components to his vision.

Since Windstream became a separate company in 2006, Gardner has overseen eight acquisitions. Over the last two years, Windstream has acquired service providers Hosted Solutions, NuVox, and Q-Comm--three game-changing deals for the ILEC.

Each of these acquisitions has enhanced Windstream's business, residential and wholesale solution sets.

Looking to expand its IP-based business and cloud service capabilities, Windstream's acquisition of NuVox gave it gains of about 90,000 business customers leveraging IP-based services in what it says are complementary markets in 16 Southeast and Midwest states. Since then, Windstream has been integrating the sales team and adding new products including a UC (unified communications) based VoIP offering to its business lineup.

At the same time, Windstream has been no less aggressive on the wholesale side, building out its fiber network organically and through acquisitions. By acquiring Q-Comm, Windstream gained Kentucky Data Link (KDL), a service provider that focused mainly on providing dark and lit fiber services to other carriers, including wireless operators. Rounding out its business vision was its acquisition of Hosted Solutions, which provided Windstream with expanded colocation facilities in a number of key markets, including Boston, to deliver colocation and new cloud-based services.

On the residential side, Gardner and his team continue to innovate. In Q1 2011 the ILEC not only reported lower line loss, but also embarked on its first broadband stimulus project in Prentiss, Miss. and continued to target new broadband opportunities with higher speed VDSL2 services and targeting MDU market opportunities.

Part of those results can be attributed to Windstream's "cable quitter" and Lifetime Price Guarantee marketing campaigns to lure more subscribers away from cable.

Like his other ILEC compatriots that lack a wireless component or their own TV service, the challenge for Gardner will be to find new ways to innovate with services like over-the-top (OTT) video and its aggressive marketing campaigns.