Cheri Beranek, Clearfield

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Cheri Beranek, ClearfieldWords like "visionary" tend to get thrown about by PR flacks when describing senior-level personnel, particularly in the technology and communications fields. But Clearfield CEO Cheri Beranek may well have earned the term.

Earlier this year, Beranek was declared a finalist in Ernst & Young's "Entrepreneur of the Year" for the upper Midwest. Her work to turn around Clearfield (formerly APA Cables & Networks) and change the company's vision of its own future caught the attention of the panel of judges. Awards will be announced in November of this year, but it's a clear vote of confidence in her leadership abilities.

When Beranek came on board as president of APA Cables & Networks in 2003, parent company APA was treating the subsidiary as "a cash cow (that) they milked but didn't feed," she told FierceTelecom, something they could collect revenue from in order to fund technology development in other areas. Feeling that there was much more the company could do, Beranek searched for a niche it could fill and found, in the process, that listening to their customers was the key to Clearfield's future. "We found we were really good at listening to customers. They were trying to compete against the big guys, but their basic block and tackle weren't being addressed. So we found out what their needs were."

Armed with that knowledge, the company began working on an affordable and scalable solution for customers looking to build fiber networks. At the same time, Beranek began searching for a way to get the parent company's approval, and funding, for its technology development. The result of that search was the dismissal by the board of directors of APA's leadership, Beranek's promotion to CEO in 2007, and the rebranding of the company to Clearfield--freeing the company to pursue investment and move forward with its ideas.

The result of the company's goal for an affordable, scalable solution was the Clearview Cassette, the key component of its FieldSmart fiber management platform. With this solution, smaller providers can scale available ports from 1 to 1,728, and purchase as little as 12 ports at a time. Clearfield also designs custom enclosures for each of its customers, whether it's a panel, frame or cabinet at the CO or an in-building solution.

Beranek's solution appears to be paying off: in 2011, Clearfield grew revenues from $11 million to $35 million, and saw its most profitable quarter since she took over as CEO. But the focus remains squarely on listening to the customer.

"When we were operating as a public company … our parent made promises every year and lost money," Beranek said. "We're done making promises. … I can sit across the table from a small company and say I understand where you're coming from."