As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael C. Morey President & Chief Executive Officer of Bluebird Network.
Mr. Morey has been serving as President and CEO of Bluebird Network since 2012. With more than 38 years of telecommunications experience, Morey has served as President & CEO of Voxitas (which received INC 5000 honors in 2007, 2008 and 2009), Senior Vice President at NuVox, Regional Vice President of Electric Lightwave, Inc. and held various management positions within his 13 years at AT&T.
During his tenure at Bluebird Network, the company has more than doubled in size and tripled in annual revenue. Morey’s experience and strong management skills proved successful when Bluebird Network received INC 5000 honors in 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 as one of the fastest growing private companies nationally. Because of this success, the company was acquired in 2019, expanding Bluebird’s offerings and setting the stage for further growth.
Morey earned a BS and MBA while attending the University of Southern California.
Thank you so much for your time Michael! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I graduated undergrad with an Architecture degree in 1980 and achieved my MBA from USC (University of Southern California) in 1982. My plan was to become a land developer, but in ’82 interest rates skyrocketed to 20 percent, so clearly I wasn’t going to be jumping into land development. But I had the MBA, so I said, “Who’s looking for an MBA?” Well, AT&T came to USC and they were looking for MBAs, they had an opening and I went with them.
I couldn’t do what I wanted to do, so I looked at what the hottest thing at the time was. It was the divesture — the breaking up of the Bells. AT&T at the time was the world’s largest company. They had all the long-distance calling, all of the data, and most of the phone systems came from AT&T. The break-up of AT&T is what gave me my start and I’ve been in telecom ever since.
I spent 13 years at AT&T and then went on to various companies before landing at Bluebird in 2012.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or a ‘take away’ you learned from that?
Staying with AT&T for 13 years was a mistake (Michael says with a chuckle). There were a number of industries that took off during that time. I learned all I was going to learn from AT&T in about an eight-year period and spent probably five years too many there. The cellular world would have been a great thing to get into around that time. Instead I stuck around and jumped off into internet and fiber world. Which led me here.
The cellular boat left the dock without me, but I made sure to jump on the fiber internet boat. That was a smart thing for me to do. And I’ve built huge fiber networks since then.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Getting to Yes. It’s a book that talks about how everybody is a salesperson. How do you get people to say “yes” to you? It goes through examples around the world and offers slices of world history. It’s a short read but it made a huge impact on me early in my career.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our purpose and focus as a business is to create a super-regional fiber network in the Midwest. A “purpose-driven” ethos for myself is the fact that I love to see other people be successful. It makes me feel good about myself to see other people grow and be successful. When I come to work, I look for that and work for those opportunities and it gives me incredible drive. I’ve achieved enough in my career, now I get great pleasure out of seeing people — individuals — succeed. I like to think I’ve created a culture at Bluebird where rising tides raise all ships. It’s not about me.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I do. Nothing is more important than my honesty and integrity. If I fail, I’m going to do it with honesty and integrity. When I was in college and told a neighbor I was going to study business, he told me I’d have to learn how to lie, cheat and steal to be successful. I answered right back, “Well, I don’t think I’ll be successful then.” That hasn’t been the case in my life, I’ve accomplished a great deal. If we’re going to succeed, we’re going to do it with our honesty and integrity intact.
A Bluebird slogan is “Below ground; above standards”. What standards do you not only meet, but exceed?
As a company. The standard we expect is we need to feel wave done the very best for our customers, our employees and our shareholders. It’s a three-legged stool. (Michael has used this example for years and never loses focus on it.) I hold us to the highest possible standards to meet those three thresholds. I want the culture of the company is to maximize all three of those, not just one thing over the other.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I’ve got to tell you. I feel so fortunate. Because I’m healthy and I have a job. So many people are not healthy and so many people do not have a job. I haven’t had to make many changes I’m really fortunate in that manner. Do I not travel around the country and the world? Of course not. To not be able to travel and do those things is a very small sacrifice. I can’t imagine how those hurt by losing a job, those who are unwell and those making the necessary pieces move on the front lines have been effected. The nurses, doctors and those creating vaccines, it’s impacted their lives in ways most of us cannot imagine.
From a company perspective, it is super important for Bluebird to keep in communication with our constituents to ensure they have as much bandwidth as possible while working from home. Cell phones, fiber bandwidth requirements all of the demands have gone up 35 40 percent. So yes, we’re working from home. Yes, we’re working hard to push our bandwidth. But the nice thing is Bluebird was already on a growth trajectory. So, addressing those issues and filling those same needs has been our focus for years.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Because more people are at home, the demand for residential and cell service has gone up. We don’t’ provide those things directly but we do provide internet to many carriers who do provide residential and cell service. The demand on those companies has gone up dramatically. And we’ve put ourselves in a position by way of how we designed and built our network that it hasn’t been difficult to deliver on those needs. We can literally open a switch on a PC and turn someone’s’ circuit from 100Mb to 100Gb. That’s a huge strength of our business and why we are so proud of how strong, how resilient our network has become. Because we’ve grown things the right way, in the face of a situation such as COVID, Bluebird has really shined as a company throughout this challenge.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Keeping people and employees at home. It’s simple. They’re more important than any dollars or cents.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
The world is changing. These kinds of video conferences, remote access business needs are not going to go away. It’s a part of the future. It’s how we’re going to be comfortable doing business. The demand of connectivity inside residences will only grow. Making sure we are prepared to handle the needs of any of the cell and communications providers that support the residential market is important for us.
How is COVID affecting Bluebird’s “service area specifically”?
Technicians go out onsite. It’s not impacting them too much. We go out to repair and install connectivity. Those customers we’re in the process of installing and are uncomfortable, we’ve postponed their installations. We haven’t had many, but we’ve had some. About 10 percent of installs have gone that way. In terms of repair, we’ve implemented strict social distancing requirements for all technicians, and given our techs the ability to decline anything they don’t feel comfortable doing.
How is Bluebird responding to or planning to respond to the increased demand for services?
We’ve been doing that for years. Nothing different than we have in the past. We keep growing our network and capacity like we’ve been for years. It’s nothing new outside of the fact demand is skyrocketing and will continue. We can handle it.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
We’re just continuing to grow. We have been hiring more and more salespeople. During this time, we’ve slowed the hiring of salespeople but we’re not going to stop. Bluebird doesn’t need to rebuild. We’re uniquely built for this increased demand and expansion. We slowed during the downturn, but we’re ready to turn it back on ASAP. We’re fortunate rebuilding is not something we’ll have to do.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
So many have had to close businesses and are out of work. Keep your head up. America was founded on entrepreneurial spirit, getting knocked down and getting back up. Immigrants leaving their countries to come here to build. Don’t lose sight. Don’t despair. It’s a land of opportunity. You will find a way to get back. It seems bleak now and it is; but I think regardless of how long this happens, there will be something great at the end.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Why put off until tomorrow what you could just as easily do today?” I apply it to both business and my personal life. That’s not just a business theory. I try to tackle the hardest things first. Take it head on. Putting things off doesn’t make them better, but it can certainly make them worse.