Building Fiber at Meta to Building Sustainable Rural Communities with Randy Brogle

Laura Johns: Welcome to the Know, Grow and Scale podcast where I, Laura Johns, founder and CEO of The Business Growers interview business leaders to uncover secrets of how to know, grow, and scale their organizations effectively. Today on the podcast, I have Randy Brogle CEO of LS Networks. Let’s get started with today’s episode.

Thank you, Randy, for being on the podcast today. LS Networks is a team of wonderful people and you are somewhat new to the company, but not necessarily new to the industry. So I’m excited to talk about all your experience and what you’ve brought to the table. At LS network. So if you don’t mind, gimme me just a brief, of your role at LS Networks and kind of a little bit about what your day-to-day looks like before we get into your background.

Randy Brogle: Sure. Well I am the CEO of LS networks. I started August 1st. So I am less than six months into my tenure. And think from a day-to-day, you know, when you’re with a small , I S P as small company of any kind. Your day-to-day still winds up being wearing many different hats. You’re, you know, there’s a lot of different activities and things going on, and depending on what the situation is, you can get pulled in many different directions on any given day that you hadn’t necessarily planned for.

So, you know, part of that I think is being new as well. You know, some of these are good opportunities for me to learn different parts of the business and get to know the people, a little better. So I think that’s part of that, in this current, call it six month ramp up phase.

Laura Johns: So your day-to-day today looks different than what it might look like if I interview you a year from now. Is that what you’re saying?

Randy Brogle: Yes, I would hope so. That we’ll get to a little better, you know, just anytime there’s change, getting into a good cadence, a good rhythm. Having all the right, you know, I have a lot of the background and knowledge. I don’t have to ask quite as many questions about every single detail that comes up.

Laura Johns: Right, okay. So how did you get in this industry? Can we talk a little bit about your background? You’re based in Denver now, but spend your work week in Portland where LS Networks is headquartered. So you do a little traveling, but I’d love to hear kind of your journey to in the industry, engineer background, correct. I wanna make sure.

Randy Brogle: Yes. .

Laura Johns: I don’t wanna label you as an engineer, but talk a little bit about your background and how you got. In this industry?

Randy Brogle: Yeah. Well, I mean, honestly, since I, ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed about being the CEO of a mid-sized I S P in the Pacific Northwest. It’s been a goal of mine.

Laura Johns: Right. Doesn’t everybody?

Randy Brogle: No, I, I think like most people, my story has lots of twists and turns. Again, I, yeah, I didn’t spend time envisioning this specific role and then this path and how to get there. And I think what I find, you know, everyone’s journey is unique based on their specific background experiences.

Often people wind up sort of, I’ll call that the same end point or in the same. General area, but they just have such unique, diverse backgrounds there. So, you know, I think in 2022 there was this perfect convergence of our LS Networks. You know, mission is to bridge the digital divide by bringing better internet to small towns in the Pacific Northwest.

I personally realized about five years ago that, you know, my life’s calling is to really help improve people’s lives, by bringing better internet to underserved communities. And, you know, LS needed a CEO and I was looking for ways to focus more on my mission. And so it was just a good alignment.

But I think, jumping backwards a little bit, you know, when I graduated with my engineering degree, I had two job offers, and both of ’em actually happened to be in telecom. And I decided, I took a job with a company called MFS and their engineering construction group, you know, and that was back in 1994 with the, I’ll call it the initial growth of the first commercial fiber networks.

So it was really good timing and was able to be exposed to many areas of not just, you know, this business as it grew and expanded, but building the fiber networks, but also working with sales and financial teams. To really understand multiple aspects of the business and really had, you know, various twists and turns from there. But it’s all really been around telecom and other components.

You know, over the years, I’ve worked for a broad range of people. I think some of ’em had, some of ’em only had a high school education and I worked for other people who had a Harvard MBA. You know, there’s been times where I’ve had offices that were in warehouses or even in trailers, and I’ve had offices in some of the fanciest buildings or tallest buildings in the in cities, you know, or these really great campuses. So, you know, I think as I talk about what led me here, I think it’s more about learning and growing from every person you know in your life that your path crosses with.

It’s about taking advantage of every experience and finding the lessons that help you grow as a person and a leader. You know, from each situation you have, they’re all different. It’s about what you take from it, and how you leverage that going forward. So, if I think about, you know, kind of what are the core elements, along that path made help get me to where I am. I think the biggest one, or basically taking on any role, you know, to help the team to be successful. Some I’ve done very willingly and sometimes not so much and some of the roles and and opportunities, but it’s, you know, willing to help the team out.

Couple others, I think is like, do what you say. You know, I, many a time, I found myself up at two in the morning, kicking myself for committing to deliver something by the next day. So I’ve learned a little bit not to overpromise.

Laura Johns: Last year, those moments as well. I’m the same way.

Randy Brogle: Yeah. But, you know, learning not to overpromise on deadlines, but also still meeting the deadlines that I set.

And then I think a big one I’m a fan of is no surprises, especially on bad news, you know, it’s good to flag issues early and run towards them rather than away from them. You know, putting out a fire when it’s a small embers is a little easier than when it’s grown and, gotten larger. And I guess the last one is, just being kind and respectful. I’ve worked in some pretty intense work environments. I’ve worked for some that are more collaborative, and I think today’s day and age, you know, those attributes are often discounted or overlooked. So we can still hold ourselves and others to high standards. We can still hold people accountable when they don’t execute. We just need to think about, you know, treating people as humans and being, respectful and and polite along the way.

Laura Johns: It’s kind of interesting in corporate America how, good old fashioned kindness seems to be a lost art sometimes. And I think that having that as kind of a mantra professionally is something that we could all benefit from. So, and I’ve been able to experience that. You’re very kind in the few short months that I’ve known you, so I thank you for that.

Randy Brogle: Thank you.

Laura Johns: This industry is very unique, and I’ve seen it kind of from a different perspective as you. I’ve never been building anything . You don’t want me building anything, anything. But what I mean, one thing I love particularly about the industry is that there’s never, you can never learn enough. I remember my first job was working for a company that put a cellular module inside an electric meter. So the first few weeks that I was there, everyone was spinning all like was the chitter, you know, chit chat or whatever around my desk was all these abbreviations, that I was supposed to know, you know? So I was just writing down everything and then, you know, Googling it or what, whatever later.

So, you know that learning that, or the fact that the industry’s always got new things is really interesting. Is there anything particularly, and that might be it for you too, but what makes this industry something, you know, an industry that you want to stay in, you could probably go do a lot of different things with your background and agree, but what do you, you know, find most compelling or exciting about telecommunications?

Randy Brogle: Yeah. Well, and to be honest, there’s been a few times in my career where I had no desire to be in the telecom industry any longer.

It’s a tough business, and it’s gone through some interesting boom bus cycles since I, entered it in 1994. So I can’t say like, I’ve always been a hundred percent like no, I’m definitely in telecom. Telecom is awesome. You know, I think technology has always excited me and I’ve wanted to be close to that, but I’ve wound up staying in telecom and now frankly, I would never think about leaving it.

And I think when you think about what, what we do, and I say we, I mean collectively, people in the telecom industry, whether they’re equipment vendors, you know, making the devices, the service providers, various carriers, it’s a whole ecosystem. But you know, people have really, you know, telephones have been a literally a lifeline for people in industries over many, many, many years.

And now sort of that’s been replaced to some degree by what I’ll call our digital lives. And they’re more dependent than ever on staying connected. And that’s not just, it is literally the lifeline aspects of it. Where it’s healthcare and monitoring and act with cell towers being able to make 9 1 1 calls and respond, or use cell towers to track people’s locations to help save them. But also, the business growth and the educational opportunities and so many other things that we’re all just, keeping people connected is critical. And so I’ve had the good fortune of working on projects in the past where our network was a key part of providing emergency support after hurricanes or flooding or other disasters.

You know, I on that basis, and you’d hear, see these things on the news and you’re like, Hey, I helped put in those cell towers. I helped run fiber to those things that we’re helping save people’s lives. And so that’s things that come up and remind you. But I think every day, day in and day out, it is just highly satisfying to know what we do. I mean, at LS networks, we keep cell towers, hospitals, schools, government agencies, you know, as well as a lot of businesses all connected and functioning. And that’s a core fabric of our lives. And so to me, that’s why I want to be a part of this industry and help make sure everyone, even in rural communities, has a chance to take advantage of that.

Laura Johns: Well, and truthfully, if you, if you think about it, that, I mean some may disagree, but that’s what allows communities in the Pacific Northwest and all over the country to be sustainable. I mean, if you don’t have that resource, you loose. Your ability to grow and thrive as a community. So I think that’s, and I’ve seen that just in our work with you guys. So that’s, so that’s really, you know,

Randy Brogle: yeah. I’ve even seen examples of, you think about a lot of, especially in the beautiful Pacific Northwest now that I’m putting a plug in, but you know, there’s a lot of tourism here. And so these people, people want to come to very rural areas to enjoy the outdoors and nature, but they wanna stay connected and so, they need to have strong internet connectivity in order to draw in their clientele, but at the same time, they need to be able to respond and have their webpage up and functioning and get their emails and be able to respond to requests in a timely fashion or chats, or test texts in a real time basis.

Laura Johns: Years ago you had to trade, it was a trade off . You know, if we’re gonna go up to the mountains, we’re gonna lose our service, we’re gonna lose our internet. So, and now it doesn’t have to be that way, which is exciting.

Randy Brogle: Although sometimes it’s good. It might be good when it’s that way.

Laura Johns: I know. It’s, yeah, it’s a, is it a good or bad thing? So let’s talk about the future of fiber internet and you’re as a leader in the telecom space, and with your experience the next five to 10 years, what do you see? And I’d love, I mean for LS networks, but for the industry alike, you know, what do you see coming around the corner? What are you hearing? What are the things we have to look forward to in terms of advancement in the industry?

Randy Brogle: Yeah. Well, I think I can boil it down to one word and that’s the metaverse.

Laura Johns: Oh yeah. Let’s talk about it. You would know.

Randy Brogle: Yeah. I mean, I worked for a company that changed its name to Meta. That was, it was so, felt it was so important. But I think many people, you know, metaverse has become the buzzword. It’s replace cloud, or back in the day, even dating myself it was VoIP and these are all the phrases people threw out that were the buzzword. So it’s become a bit of a buzzword. And I think because of that, it’s not fully understood by people. What exactly does it mean? And in this case, I think it’s actually kind of good because no one really knows what it means. Meaning what is, what is the metaverse going to look like in the future?

And, you know, to me it’s about what does it look like when it grows up. It’s in its nascent stages now. And while Meta changed its name to Metaverse, they by the metaverse is really, again, an ecosystem of many different companies, content companies, service providers, equipment providers, just so many components that will come and help dictate what the metaverse really looks like.

But to me, the metaverse is just the next evolution of the internet, it’s a change and evolved over the years from the early days with the text only messages, to the first webpages to now you think about the, the e-commerce on there, all the apps and things like that, so really, the Metaverse is just a fancy name of talking about how we get a little more immersed in the collaboration and the interactions with others and it’s part of that I think, is it’s, you have this convergence of these faster internet speeds, but also like faster graphics and processing on devices and people’s d real desire for immersive interactions with other humans.

And I think the pandemic has probably helped accelerate some of that adoption and realizing they were doing a lot more video interaction. I think people found it less than fulfilling in terms of meeting some of their core human needs. And so the question is, can the metaverse or those types of applications help provide that personal interaction and connections that we as humans, as social beings, you know, crave and need and can the metaverse deliver on that, or is it still leave us a bit empty and hollow at the end of that?

Laura Johns: Yeah. Yeah. You know, think about just how far we’ve come since I was a kid. I’ve got a six year old, that we’ve talked about before, and he I think, normal for his age and generation, and maybe he shouldn’t have an iPad, but he does, but I think about what he the standard of technology that he has in just six years come to expect.

And, I wonder what that’s gonna look like when he has a six year old, you know, because I’ve seen, we had the little, the water game that you could like push the buttons and the water would make the little thing shoot up, or we had the pin and the magnet where you drew the mustache on the guy in the car. Those were our car, things that we could play with on a trip. And now he’s six and he’s got his iPad and wifi in the car. And, I’m just think about what, which, by the way, is a savior on, eight hour trips, but I just think about what’s to come, like what’s that gonna look like in a couple years or when he does.

Randy Brogle: Yeah. Well, and you know, what we see today that we’re struggling with, I don’t wanna go off too much on a tangent on. Very social issues, but you think about some of the things you read and here about with social media and some of the negative aspects of it, but there’s so many things if you go back to some of the earliest technology and call it the television, or the telephone, and as we’ve seen the growth in adoption of those, I mean, These have all caused various challenges and shifts and changes in how our society thinks about our norms, our standards, how we interact.

And what’s happening is it’s the pace of innovation is accelerating. If you look at the time gap between these new launches and things, you know, going back again to the early 19 hundreds today. Huge acceleration in that, and so I think it’s the humans, both ability to adapt and change our, some of our core psychological functions and things along those lines. I’m paraphrasing what I’ve read and heard from others, so there’s lots of good in, content out there and discussions that people have done a pretty good analysis of that. But it’s, I think it’s interesting. So that’s just part of the curve on, and the metaverse, is the next phase of that.

Laura Johns: Yeah. When, if you think about, not to derail us too much, but if you think about what, you think about the pandemic, and there have already been, there’s already been research that shows the mental health challenges that resulted. What if we had not had the ability to connect with others, another form because thankfully, I had a newborn at home we had the ability to FaceTime our family and, do some of these things that had we not had that I think we would’ve been in way worse shape. So I’m thankful for connectivity. Oh, and with all the bad, I guess I’m saying that there’s so much good that it’s come from it too.

Randy Brogle: Well, that’s, I think like e everything in our lives in our world it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just how we leverage it and use it.

Laura Johns: That’s right.

Randy Brogle: There’s two sides to every coin.

Laura Johns: That’s right. So , we know that LS networks is, is really making a name for themselves in the Pacific Northwest in terms of fiber internet. Excuse me. I said fiber, like a real southern, gal that I know. fiber internet. But what about other products and services, I know that the LS network story doesn’t just, stop with fiber internet. What else does LS Networks have? What are they offering today? What are some other services that are available to your customers?

Randy Brogle: Yeah. And, not, well in general, we’re not a product driven organization and I don’t mean that to sound like a negative thing. Given the markets we serve the size of these markets, we’re really focused on delivering tested and proven products to customers. And so what that means is we’re really leveraging what the equipment, vendors and other technology vendors are developing.

To really support a broad range of ISPs and other providers. We’re not bleeding edge ourselves, but we wanna adapt and think about how we can do that. So I think it’s often about higher bandwidth, lower latency, having resilient networks. So we’ll continue to build and deliver on that core mission.

But I think as you talk about what you were saying, what do the customers need, whether it’s a commercial as we move into the residential space. It’s how do we enable them to manage their connections, to improve their security. Make sure they have the right applications and are performing at the right time, so you know that it’s still voice. I know , I talk about voice being moving away, but for many businesses, voice is still critical, but also cloud applications are, or video connections or other things like that. So it’s really giving them various tools, whether that’s, you know, things like SD WAN security. Cloud connections, some unified communication platforms.

I think those are, I would say, the key areas that we layer on top of the internet to make sure the customer has a strong, robust, environment in their office or in their home that allow them to, take advantage of things like where we’re headed with the metaverse. The video solutions, the applications, all these immersive technologies.

Laura Johns: That’s awesome. So you just mentioned Pocket Eye net, so now’s a great time to talk about that and all the other things you guys are doing so. You acquired a residential, service provider, so now that’s added to your plate, you also, have, I guess the full acquisition was with come Structure Consulting. So you now have more engineering resources to, deliver your services. You have announced expansion plans for, some communities in the Pacific Northwest so, what type of expansion is next? What are you, what are you guys looking forward to in terms of more expansion? I feel like there’s a new, a new announcement every month or so. I’m anxious to hear what’s next, but what’s the plan for expansion or and delivering and connecting more of these raw communities?

Randy Brogle: Yeah, well I think geographic expansion is a key piece to our growth and, a key piece to our mission cuz we wanna bring better internet to more communities. It often is about expanding and building into those communities, so, on the flip side this is still a very tough business.

It’s costly to build fiber into new community. There’s a lot of things that it takes make, that connection a reality for people. So, I think there’s a few dynamics. So one, the overall grants and other funding sources that have finally kind of been coming through as part of the infrastructure programs and various initiatives, I think are finally gonna make it a reality to economically deliver fiber to many areas of this country that have been, overlooked from a socioeconomic perspective for a long time. So I think that’s great and very exciting.

And, but for us specifically, I think there’s a couple elements. So one is, you know, where are the, I’ll call ’em adjacent towns and communities that we can most efficiently bring better internet connections there to help support them. And so we’ll continue to look and evaluate those and find opportunities to branch into that. And part of that I think is with the Pocket inet acquisition and moving in the residential space, we have both, I’ll call it the Pocket Inet core footprint, and we are basically going to invest heavily in expanding the fiber footprint in those towns communities.

Pocket inet, you know, was moving along at a good pace, but had limited funding. And so we’ll bring in some additional funding to accelerate the pace of them getting fiber to more communities and more areas that don’t have access to that today. And then I think the other piece is bringing that residential offering into the communities that LS network serves today when we talk about bridging the digital divide.

You know, when we are only focused on, I mean, yes, the cell towers, the schools, the hospitals, those are all important things to those communities. But bringing it to every, you know, to the residential component, I think is where that really helps fulfill the whole mission and making sure people can take advantage of that in their homes and on a daily basis to improve their lives.

Laura Johns: That’s great. So, if we shift the LS Networks hat off for a second and put on the Randy hat. I wanna hear from Randy about, maybe what leadership, you’re in a new role, you’re in a new position, you’ve been in leadership roles in the past, maybe not at the CEO level, but we’re all leaders, in one way or another. So what’s a, a good leadership lesson if you could leave a nugget for maybe a CEO of another similar company or this CEO o right here, what are, what’s a good lesson that you’ve learned in leadership in general?

Randy Brogle: Yeah. There’s, honestly, there’s so many I’ve learned. I mean, I’ve been really blessed to, have worked with and around some really great coaches and leaders and people that I’ve taken a lot from. So, let me pause for a second and think about the biggest one. I think it probably comes back to, what we talked about earlier, which is, we’re all human beings and we’re all part of a team.

So I think leaders have to lead through the good and the challenging. And as they do that, remember these are people involved it’s good to run numbers and spreadsheets and do all that analysis, but there’s still the human element that you really have to take into account. So, getting the entire team engaged and aligned on the team’s objectives and goals, I think it’s probably the most important piece for success.

I’ve been a part of what, just a handful of what I call high performing, high functioning teams, where they, we collectively achieved amazing things, probably beyond more than what we had expected. And as I’ve spent time looking back and thinking about those teams and what made, what were all these ingredients that came together at the right time just to make that really happen.

Laura Johns: What’s the secret, What’s the secrets?

Randy Brogle: It’s around getting everyone focused on the team’s goals. Everyone fully focused anding on the same goals. No ones. And so anyway, as a part of that, I think that, it’s just remembering that it’s the team dynamic. That successes are created by the broader team, share the credit across that team and just keep trying to build that, you know, right ecosystem, that right collaboration environment and the right, open communications across that whole team to make sure you’re able to, to get the most out of every person.

Laura Johns: I was about to ask you your most memorable career moment and your hardest moment. It might be the same. Do you have, it could be the most memorable in a positive way, and then hardest moment in your career, like your highest high and your lowest low. Do you have an example that you will be willing to share with us?

Randy Brogle: When we talk about the highest high, I struggle finding just one. I mean, I, there’s been, like I mentioned earlier, various projects I’ve been involved with. Where there’s a specific network milestone. That everyone celebrates and talks about, but there’s also those times after the fact where you see where the network you’ve built is, the impact it had because of an unfortunate situation or dynamic.

So, I think overall, I just think about all the people and the experience. All the people I’ve met, my have passed through my life and the experiences I’ve had. So I’ve met and worked with some amazing people, literally from around the globe. So many stories I can tell that, have become a part of me.

So I think really that’s, I think about just the opportunity to engage and interact with so many amazing people who I’ve learned from and understood their culture, but also for technical business leadership, you name it.

Laura Johns: That’s awesome. And you work with some great ones where you are now. I know

Randy Brogle: absolutely.

Laura Johns: I know that for a fact.

Randy Brogle: Absolutely.

Laura Johns: So that’s awesome. What about hardest moment in your career? Do you feel like there’s a tough moment that you are willing to do?

Randy Brogle: I was hoping you’d forget about that part.

Laura Johns: If you don’t wanna share it, it’s okay, but I feel like, we’re all human, so I think it’s good to share that.

Randy Brogle: Yeah. Again, I think there’s plenty of stumbles and missteps I’ve taken along the way. But I think the thing if that just kind of comes back to me more than anything is, I mentioned earlier I’ve, been through the ups and downs of the telecom industry and, through two very rough economic cycles in the past.

And I think as a part of that, I saw many good people get laid off and, I was asked to lay off some really good people. And so I think that was always the hardest thing. It’s something that I you remember, obviously I recognize that. I was on the, whatever you wanna call it, I’m on the opposite side of the table from the other people.

So obviously the impact it had on their lives was much more significant. So I’m not discounting that, but it’s just something that’s always stuck with me. And, wanting to run your business in a way where you don’t wind up in that situation. Although sometimes, Circumstances overcome things.

Laura Johns: So we’ll end on a high note. I won’t make you say anything, hard again. What about since, so you’ve been, August, so that would be, five months in, is that right?

Randy Brogle: Yeah.

Laura Johns: What is your best memory so far? I kind of thought about this. I wondered if I could guess what it is, but I don’t know if I could. What do you feel like is the highlight of having been there so far?

Randy Brogle: Yeah, there was the, the fun day or 24 hours that we had meetings planned, out on the coast of Oregon. So we were out and had some specific appointments and meetings set up, but at the same time, things came together for the pocket eye net close.

So literally, probably spent almost eight hours in the car going to some meetings in the morning and seeing the coast of Oregon and then driving through the Columbia River Gorge, back up through the Willamette Valley, through the Columbia River gorge up into the kind of the, I’ll call ’em the Foothills.

Mountains, depending on your perspective of Walla Walla, Washington. So, to me that was just a great memory of like seeing the full, broad footprint and geography, but a specific event, I would say, we’re a distributed team across our fiber network we’ve got nearly 7,000 miles of fiber of network across the Pacific Northwest.

And we got a lot, a broad range of people then skills, different people, different backgrounds that help build our network to engineer and maintain our network to the finance and accounting and HR team, so very call it diverse workforce.

And so, it’s really hard to get everyone together at the same time, in the same place. So they had a tradition of doing that kind of they called their all hands meeting. And so we were able to, to do that. I mean, they did it in 2021, but we were able to do it in 2022 again. Well, we brought in an all hands meeting, which included the com structure team that we literally had just acquired the day before, getting a collection of people from Pocket inet who were able to make the long trip down from Walla Walla to join us, as well as virtually almost all of our colleagues spread across our footprint. So, really getting everyone together there, you know, in one room, seeing all these people with different backgrounds, different living in different locations to interact, engage with each other, bond connect and share a story. So to me, that is for, at this stage, I would say the most memorable moment, just really powerful, energizing for me and hopefully for everyone else about our path and our journey. And we talked about our theme for 2023 and focusing on our goals and setting us up for success. So that was phenomenal day for me.

Laura Johns: That’s awesome. Well, I know you’ve made quite an impact so far. I feel like there’s been a lot going on since you started. I don’t know if that’s because of you or the momentum had started and you came and then all these other things started happening. But you’ve, you’re off to a great start. I know if anyone’s looking to learn more about LS Networks, I won’t make you tell ’em. I can tell ’em they can go to LS They can find you on all social media channels. And you personally are pretty active on LinkedIn. So, if there’s anybody that’s in the industry or that’s a business leader that wants to connect with Randy, I know he’s active on LinkedIn. And he won’t ignore you.

So, any other memories or moments or anything you wanna leave with? Any insight that you wanna leave as we close?

Randy Brogle: I think you’ve covered all the bases very thoroughly, so I don’t have anything else to add.

Laura Johns: Okay. Well, I appreciate you, as just an industry friend and what you guys are doing at LS Networks is really incredible. I’ve been witness to seeing a lot of growth in the last year since I’ve gotten to know the whole team. And really excited to see what happens in 2023. So thank you for being on the podcast.

Randy Brogle: Thank you.

Laura Johns: Thank you for listening to the Know, Grow, and Scale podcast. Be sure to like and subscribe on your favorite podcast player so you’ll be notified of future episodes.

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