Taking care of employees is job one for Hawaiian Telcom

In the ultra-competitive world of telecommunications, one couldn’t blame Michael S. “Mike” Ruley, chief executive officer of Hawaiian Telcom, for wanting to focus on products and service.

Those are important, too, but he knows he needs current employees to have the tools, expertise, and attitude to totally know those products and totally satisfy the customers.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” Ruley said of Hawaiian Telcom employees.

“We need to take care of one another. I care a lot about every one of our employees,” offering both employees and customers an open-door and open-line policy, he added.

The employees’ knowledge, “legacy,” is most important, said Ruley, adding with some measure of pride that he has been happy to have found most of Hawaiian Telcom’s employees in Hawai’i, and not had to import many.

The key, he said, is to train them, develop them, give them knowledge of and experience on new computer systems, so that they can totally satisfy customers.

At a time when many people are canceling their landline services in favor of wireless, changing companies as often as some people change their clothes, and the landscape is chock full of competitors large and small, Ruley is on a mission to acquire new customers, and win back former customers.

The future of the company depends on it.

“We have to solve this problem together. We have to move or die,” like a shark must, he said.

In addition to the purchase of the former Verizon operation in Hawai’i for $1.6 billion and the multi-million-dollar equipment and computer upgrades going on now, Ruley and company are also spending lots of money to equip employees to be able to fully service customers, he explained.

Employees will have better times at work because customers will have better service, he said. The focus on employees is important for a number of reasons, including the fact that many of them want to retire from Hawaiian Telcom, he said.

Retention is important, Ruley indicated.

Ruley, on the island to host a Homecoming 2006 luncheon for Kaua’i retirees from GTE Hawaiian Tel and Verizon Hawaii, has a place in his heart for retirees. “Pensioners are important to us.”

In order for the company to survive, employees and the company must evolve with the industry, he said. Also in order to survive, he knows they must grow and create new sources of revenue.

So, in the middle of essentially building from scratch a state-wide network, an undertaking unprecedented in the industry, leaders of one of the oldest telecommunications companies in the world must also work to lure new customers, and entice existing customers, with new products and services, he explained.

Ruley calls the products “the four legs to the stool:” landline, mobile, broadband and content. Services like “metered Internet,” or pay-as-you-use technology, will be rolled out, along with desktop navigation capabilities, and a new service, the first in the nation and already available, called “call choice,” that allows consumers to switch back and forth between landline and cellular phones, and much more.

DSL (digital subscriber line) service is available to Hawaiian Telcom customers in Waimea now for the first time ever, and the idea is no longer just to bring a telephone line to a home, but to bring a connection to the house, he explained.

The intelligence will be in the network, not in a box on top of a TV, he explained.

“A year from now, the marketplace will see us as a totally different company,” he said. Until their new system is built out statewide, they will continue to use Verizon’s system.

And continue to take aim at their largest competitor, Oceanic Time Warner Cable, whose officials recently announced availability of their own digital telephone service.

Hawaiian Telcom’s IT (information technology) investment is unprecedented in the industry, and enhanced features will include one, easy-to-read bill for all services, and other enhancements designed to differentiate them from the competition, he said.

Many of the new features will be unveiled on O’ahu in the third quarter of this year, with Neighbor-Island roll out shortly thereafter.

“It’s a unique time in our industry,” said Ruley.

“Our goal is to make technology simple,” said Ruley, utilizing a rather simple rule: if he can’t figure it out, he won’t roll it out.

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