Robyn Gruner, director of external affairs at AT&T for Northeast Wisconsin since 2007, is a self-described “technology geek” who is also very community-minded. She was recently named the Fox Cities Pulse Young Professional of the Year. She sat down with Insight Executive Editor Margaret LeBrun to talk about her role with AT&T and her volunteer work, including her position as co-founder and chair of CASA Fox Cities.
AT&T is one of the most innovative companies in history. If you think about where we were 10 years ago, it’s so interesting to see where we are today, connected not just to our neighbors but to the entire globe.
We have a lot of fiber build-out to businesses, investment with AT&T U-verse, our LTE wireless network, our video voice and Internet service. We recently announced AT&T has invested more than $900 million in the state of Wisconsin over the last two years, primarily focused on what we call project VIP (velocity IP). We see that people want to be connected wherever they are, anytime they want to get access. For us it is about making sure we build out the highest capacity network, the fastest network and also have a significant focus on customer service.
My role takes a three-pronged approach. One is government relations, to be a connection between local and state policy makers so they are educated about issues that impact our industry, our employees and our customers. I make sure that if any policy decisions are made at a state or local level they have the information they need to make an educated decision. The second prong is community relationships, managing relationships. The third part is the liaison between the AT&T Foundation and the nonprofit community in our part of the state.
There’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes in order to make your phone work. You pick up your cellphone multiple times a day and you just expect you will be able to make a call, send a text, check Facebook, check stocks or look at the Internet. It works because of the investments that companies like AT&T and others have made to provide that network for consumers and businesses. One of the things my team has been tasked with over the last couple years is getting into communities and trying to help share that message of what is all that magic that happens behind the curtain.
As it relates to community relations, AT&T has a lot of corporate initiatives we bring to the local level. One of them is “It Can Wait,” and this is our initiative to educate all drivers, especially teens, about the dangers of texting while driving.
We also partner with Wisconsin Emergency Management to promote the STEP program — Student Tools for Emergency Planning. We go to grade schools across the state and give kids backpacks and help them learn how to prepare for disasters and react to emergencies. About four years ago, AT&T was the first telecommunications company to earn a certification from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for our disaster preparedness.
AT&T has also been very engaged with New North since its inception. We’re very engaged in economic development on a statewide, regional and local level as well.
The AT&T Pioneers is part of the world’s largest industry-led volunteer organization. All the things we are doing are in partnership with the pioneers, who are AT&T employees and retirees. The AT&T pioneers have lent hundreds of thousands of hours every single year to the communities we work in and live and play in.
The one I have the most passion for is CASA of the Fox Cities. It’s a new nonprofit in Outagamie County. Court Appointed Special Advocates works with foster care partners and other critical care partners to advocate on behalf of foster childen in order to get them into a permanent home.
I just received the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Award, and to qualify I had to log at least 100 annual volunteer hours. But I probably volunteer a good 40 hours a month. They are not only things I want to do personally but they are things that are critical in building relationships, especially in this very giving and philanthropic community.