Jeff Gardner, President and CEO of Windstream - rising independent ILEC stars

Out of the big three independent ILECs, Jeff Gardner, President and CEO of Windstream (Nasdaq: WIN), is probably one of its more conservative executives. That's not to say Gardner--who came to Windstream via the former Alltell's acquisition of 360 Networks--is not innovative or aggressive in building his company either.

Unlike his counterparts Frontier (NYSE: FTR) and CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) that chose to strike major transformational deals, Gardner has quietly and diligently built up his company base via smaller deals.
To expand its reach over the past year, Windstream acquired Iowa Telecommunications, NuVox, Lexcom and D&E Communications, all of which--with the exception of Iowa Telecom--came under the $1 billion mark.

At the same time, Windstream is being aggressive with its network build outs, committing $20 million to upgrade its fiber network to connect last mile and metro areas. This fiber network ties into Windstream's desire to expand not only business and consumer broadband, but also wireless backhaul.

Jeff Gardner, WindstreamWith broadband being a big part of its fiber roll out, Windstream finally decided to join the broadband stimulus race earlier this year to expand availability in its respective territories.

As a pure-play wireline operator, Windstream has had to be creative with its offerings. While not taking the same fiber to the X plunge of smaller operators, the service provider has created lifetime price guarantees for its voice/broadband offerings. More recently, Windstream added satellite video service it resells from DISH to its lifetime guarantee.

Among Gardner's chief concerns in 2010 will be slowing landline loss--a factor that Gardner saw reduced in its recent Q1 earnings statement--and integrating the assets of its various acquisitions. The one asset that has brought Windstream into a new territory as a CLEC is the acquisition of NuVox and its SMB segment.

And while many industry watchers will be waiting to see when Gardner decides to make a larger transformational deal with a large independent ILEC, it's likely that Gardner is going to stick with his careful approach in choosing companies that strategically fit their footprint and service vision.

Jeff Gardner, President and CEO of Windstream - rising independent ILEC stars