Attend his interactive keynote on Wednesday, August 15, 2018, at the Colorado Convention Center, Denver, Colorado —
It must be interesting balancing being the CTO AND President of Fiber Solutions. Tell us about the ups and downs of that role. What would you recommend to someone who wants to achieve such a high-level position in their career?
Jack Waters: From a career perspective, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to balance both roles. I have been a CTO for more than 20 years, so I generally know how to do that job. Running Fiber Solutions, Zayo’s largest business segment, is incredibly challenging and rewarding. I’m honored that our CEO, Dan Caruso, and the board of directors, have confidence in my leadership — and I’m grateful for an amazing team here at Zayo.
My advice to others: always stretch yourself, at any age. You can do far more than you think is possible.
Talk about the biggest challenges providers face as they plan for 2019.
JW: In our case, execution is our biggest challenge as we help our customers increase their infrastructure capacity, prepare for 5G, and integrate new technologies like machine learning and AI. The demand is there.
We have a strong foundation: the right organization and leadership, tremendous people, and a great network in North America and Europe. Our challenge is to sell, construct, install, and manage services, doing all of this while delighting our customers every day.
Please share the unique challenges the macro tower project presents, and how it impacts your field teams, given the scope of the turnkey implementations, site acquisition, permitting, and the timeline, to accelerate 5G for this wireless provider.
JW: Zayo was uniquely positioned to win this deal, which leverages a lot of our existing network. Our objective is to exceed our customers’ expectations in terms of the speed to implement and the quality of our network. The scope of the macro tower project falls within the normal and well-understood role of the Zayo field operations team, in that it involves the construction of relatively short fiber laterals off of the existing Zayo fiber backbone, predominantly in jurisdictions that Zayo is already familiar with permitting requirements.
In addition, the macro project positions Zayo to expand its response to 5G proposals in that it increases the metropolitan fiber footprint and brings additional macro sites on-net, which will be used to aggregate small cell and 5G node traffic.
In the last two years, the Zayo field operations team has become experienced with small cell and 5G turnkey deployments, successfully deploying several turn-key markets, and continuing to leverage our extensive fiber footprint to expand Zayo’s role in the 5G and small cell arena.
ACQUISITIONS AND INTEGRATION
Share your greatest lesson learned from the many acquisition processes you’ve led. What is the hardest to manage? How does this impact culture at Zayo? What could be improved when providers acquire other companies with network and human capital assets?
JW: We’ve made 43 acquisitions over the last 11 years, and we’ve established processes and systems to quickly integrate new infrastructure assets. For example, our Tranzact platform enables us to pull the new network routes into our maps Day 1 post-acquisition so we can offer those routes to customers immediately.
By far the most important and most difficult aspect of an acquisition to manage is the talent: identifying and retaining and transitioning teams to Zayo’s culture. It’s not always easy, and we have learned a lot from recent acquisitions in the US and Canada, which have involved large teams. Our approach is to be direct, transparent and move forward as quickly as possible.
We’re also doing a much better job of onboarding new teams, sharing our history, vision, and values, in addition to business direction and priorities. Our goal is to create a culture of inclusion and ownership right from the start.
Zayo has heightened its focus on the public, health, and utilities segment, recently securing 20 K-12 school districts for E-rate projects during the first calendar quarter of 2018. Texas and California are the states with the largest projects.
Share how Zayo’s focus on those verticals impact your fiber infrastructure development plan and your Fiber-to-the-tower (FTTT) network in those regions.
JW: The mega vertical structure and an enhanced sales channel strategy has given us an improved understanding of the opportunities in each vertical. This dedicated focus has also led to higher quality conversations with our customers, unique long haul and FTTT route development, which typically leverages some of our acquired networks and includes some new builds. With the emphasis on stronger relationships, we’re better able to make the right customers aware of follow-on opportunities. We’re also doing a better job engaging our channel partners, many of whom have strong relationships with school districts, universities, and the public sector. Our recent success with E-rate customers is a result of improved focus and improved utilization of our channel partners.
FIBER and 5G
More than ever, consumer habits are fueling the growth of mobile video, data, IoT and AI. As a result, there is no stopping the strain on the fixed and mobile networks. And with 5G networks being rolled out by AT&T and Verizon in select cities, the challenges will build exponentially. That means more fiber in more places across varied topologies. It means field challenges, cost challenges, and even people challenges.
Why is that not happening faster? What is needed for fiber densification, fiber to rural areas, and fiber to meet the needs of 5G, sooner than later?
JW: The demand for mobile infrastructure is clearly accelerating, and Zayo is well positioned to help the carriers densify their networks. We recently announced a large mobile infrastructure deal for a wireless carrier to connect macro towers in 21 states. In Minneapolis, we worked with all 4 carriers to install infrastructure, including small cells and DAS antennas, to boost capacity for the Super Bowl and in preparation for 5G. Both the capital and operational requirements for this type of densification are significant, including the fiber, equipment, RF design, site acquisition, and permitting.
Identifying locations for small cells has become an increasingly challenging issue, which can slow the process. In rural areas, fiber deployment has been slow, largely because it’s so expensive to deploy.
Increasingly, I think we’ll see companies leverage subsidized rural fiber for mobile communications, as well as deploy hybrid technologies that may include fixed wireless and satellite.
What is your approach to leading your teams, and how is it different than that of other leaders? Is there a “secret sauce” to your method? What advice would you give to readers who want to be on your executive team one day?
JW: My approach to building and leading high-performing teams is to begin with a foundation of trust. In high-trust relationships, team members communicate well, keep the commitments they make, and are willing to go the extra mile for each other. My role is to provide the vision, strategy, and direction, so the teams can develop and perform as highly as possible.
Those who aspire to an executive role at Zayo should build a portfolio of experiences that demonstrate deep technical knowledge and skill, plus initiative, curiosity, ownership, and the ability to manage and lead.
What do you do to help create work/life balance in your life? How does Zayo encourage their employees to find work/life balance?
JW: Whenever I can, I commute to work on my single speed. Pedaling up and down the hills around Boulder provides the perspective and energy to tackle the daily challenges of the job.
I also believe that work/life balance is not a zero-sum game. I encourage my teams to find ways to integrate work and life on a day-to-day basis, and to take a “long view” of balance. Some weeks are going to be intense, 80-hour weeks. But when I am off or on vacation, I do my best to disconnect. I encourage my teams to do the same.
Share a quote from someone who inspires you.
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” -Albert Einstein
ISE EXPO 2018 is proud to host Jack Waters, Chief Technology Officer and President of Fiber Solutions, Zayo Group.
Join Jack on Wednesday, August 15, 2018, to hear about the most pressing issues telecom providers face today. From dark fiber strategies to fiber cell site densification, Zayo is on the leading edge of building fiber networks for the future. See ISE and Jack Waters for this unique and interactive keynote address at the Colorado Convention Center, Denver Colorado.
Read more about Jack Waters on page 36 of the August print issue. Click here to read it in the August Digital Edition.