Mark Naze first joined Nsight in 1984, working in a variety of positions, including chief financial officer, before he was named CEO last June. Naze replaced longtime leader Patrick Riordan, who continues with Nsight in his roles of board chairman, president and chief strategy officer.
As CEO of the Green Bay-based business, Naze runs a diverse business that includes everything from those original phone lines and wireless service to building towers and even operating coffeehouses. He sat down with Insight Editor MaryBeth Matzek to discuss Nsight’s diverse segments and how the company is preparing for 5G and other advances in technology.
Some people refer to your business as Nsight, others Cellcom. Can you help sort out the confusion?
Mark Naze: Most people refer to us as Cellcom, but it’s just one section of our business. When I was hired in 1984, no one had cell phones and our business was focused on providing telephone service. In 1986 as we started to look at wireless, we needed a separate name for the division, and Cellcom was born.
Our parent company is Nsight and under that we have Cellcom along with Nsight Telservices, which provides telecommunication services; our tower division, Nsight Tower, where we build towers, and not just for ourselves; and then Glas, which includes three coffeehouses — yes, we have our own coffee and it’s pretty good. We view the coffeehouses as a community gathering spot.
Technology is an ever-changing industry. How challenging is it to stay up-to-date? We need to take time to keep up with all of the changes. But, it’s also a fun part of the business since you can try out different equipment and technology. We find out about emerging technologies or what comes next from a variety of sources. We’re involved on a national level with some different industry boards and we also talk with other wireless leaders. We share a lot of information back and forth. The industry offers several seminars and educational sessions and we try to attend as many as possible. Our vendors are another resource — they share information with us about what’s coming and what we may need to do so our customers can use new applications or equipment. Our customers can also sometimes drive us to try new things.
5G is one technology that some people are talking about. How will that affect the region? Most people don’t understand 5G wireless, so let me explain it this way: 1G and 2G were mostly about communicating person to person; 3G and 4G was about people communicating with machines, such as when they are checking their emails, looking at the news and the weather; 5G is about machines communicating with machines. 5G also allows more devices to connect to a server. You could have a smart factory where the machines communicate with each other and a person only needs to get involved if something needs to get done. One thing that gets most people excited about 5G is that it will allow autonomous cars since the cars will be able to “talk” to one another. We have no idea what 5G will allow us to do. There are some smart people out there who will develop apps and services that we haven’t thought of yet, but a few years later, we won’t be able to live without them. It will definitely be transformational technology. 5G is still a ways away. The standards have not all been finalized yet, but once they are, the equipment manufacturers will get after it and it will spread from there.
How is Cellcom preparing for 5G? We’ve laid 3,000 miles of cable to our towers to handle the increased data that will come from 5G as well as improve 4G. We have added equipment and software that will help with the transmission —
we just need to turn it on.
Talk with any business leader — and especially tech leaders — and a common theme emerges: There aren’t enough workers. Does Cellcom have a problem with attracting and retaining talent? How do companies deal with that? Talent can definitely be a challenge at times, but we have a great HR staff who are always working and trying new things to attract employees. Retaining employees is just as important. I think we are at an advantage there since we have a clear vision statement the board put together back in the 1990s that workers can relate to. I read the statement to all new employees as part of their onboarding process and ask them what they like best about it. They often say it makes them feel empowered. We really encourage people to try different things and we send a lot of our frontline employees to different trainings. Training and empowerment go hand-in-hand.
Our employees thrive on change. Another factor in our favor is that we are recognized as being on the leading edge of technology and that we are locally owned.