In each “On Leadership” column, Allen Lima Leadership Executive Director Matt Childers talks with a regional business leader. This week, he profiles Chris Daniels, the president and chief executive officer of Watch Communications.
Matt: How would you describe your early years?
Chris: I grew up in rural Kentucky. My dad was a high school teacher and in charge of the marching band. I spent a lot of time after school learning music. I play guitar, trumpet and drums. I learned how important it is to practice. I was all-state with the trumpet, and it taught me how to be disciplined not only in music, but professionally in business and all parts of life.
Matt: Do you happen to know what you wanted to do professionally?
Chris: I wanted to be a surgeon. But, as I studied at Purdue, I realized my desire to dive into computer science.
Matt: Let’s fast forward and have you share your first business experience.
Chris: In 1993 I started with an internet company in Cincinnati — the internet was a very new thing then. This company had about five people at the time and was one of two internet services company, and we built servers for operating systems. We built servers for law firms and manufacturing companies. I was doing technical sales and consulting. I also managed a few teams of people. I was off to combining technical and sales, which served me well going forward.
Matt: What would you look for in hiring on your teams?
Chris: Some of the common threads are enthusiasm, attitude and how they fit into the company. As we have here at Watch Communications, we have a specific culture in this company, and we want to hire people who fit our culture. The fit is very important. We do not want to hire someone on the personality side that would disrupt our culture. If I met the most qualified person ever, but if they do not fit the organization, we will not hire them. That can be very damaging. We also want to make sure they have the correct qualifications, but enthusiasm and attitude really stand out.
Matt: What are some of the most important aspects of successful organizations?
Chris: The companies that are the most successful have leaders that are visionary and are able to communicate that vision and then motivate people to execute that vision. The opposite of that is a “top down” approach that is really task-oriented and not a vision at the top and all the way through the organization. It’s important in building a successful company that people have to believe in what they are doing, otherwise it is just a job. That is one of the most critical factors within successful companies.
Matt: What is your passion in business today?
Chris: I love technology. I am a technology geek. (Laughs) My 21-year-old son, who is finishing his degree, is also in computer information systems. We love all things associated with technology. But, I would say my passion today is delivering what we do here at Watch Communications, which is delivering broadband to the rural parts of America. This is something I am passionate about. It’s easy in the centers of Cincinnati or Cleveland to gain access to high-speed internet. What we are doing today is giving rural America and people and businesses the tools to participate in the economy.
Matt: Share with our audience what the federal government is doing to partner with and incentivize Watch Communications to do the things they are doing.
Chris: The Federal Communications Commission and the government are putting funding programs together to motivate the deployment of broadband in areas that have limited speeds of broadband. The FCC has allocated $16 billion of funding to this end, to award to companies like Watch, in a reverse auction process, coming this October. We just participated in a similar auction in 2018, where we were awarded $53 million (over 10 years) to help rural America receive quality internet.
Matt: Looking at your path, you had some international experiences in the tech world. What was that chapter like?
Chris: In 2009 I joined an Israeli telecommunication company called Telrad, a leader in the tech world. I worked in a variety of roles from (vice president) of sales (for North and Latin America), to same internationally and then promoted to president in 2017. At that point, I managed everything from (research and development) to sales and marketing, on a global basis, Africa, Asia as well as North America. It was a great experience.
Matt: Why Watch Communication now?
Chris: In my previous job, I wasn’t able to impact my local community. Here at Watch, I am able to serve locally — Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Illinois — on helping people in rural America with access to broadband. It has a real personal feel to me helping our local communities.
Matt: What recent leadership lessons have you learned?
Chris: Management and leadership are two different things: one can manage tasks and goals, but that is not leading. Leading is casting a vision and having people execute that vision.