Lessons from 20 Years of Leadership

Written by: Fargo Inc Staff
Brian Crommett (left) is taking over as CEO of 702 Communications in October. Jim Walter has been the CEO for the last 20 years and helped found the company.

For the last 20 years, Jim Walter helped launch, grow and lead 702 Communications to the forefront of connective technology. In October, the CEO torch will be passed onto 19 year veteran employee and tech-enthusiast, Brian Crommett. The two of them have worked together for a long time but that doesn’t mean that Walter doesn’t have any imparting wisdom to share.

702 Communications was built on the back of hard work 

702 Communications started in 1989 by setting up school and library networks. Six or seven schools outside of Moorhead needed interactive video to allow teachers to connect with students at a distance. That’s when a group of telephone companies got together and responded to that bid and installed the network. Once that initial network was laid down, they asked, ‘What next?’ For the next 10 years, they continued to serve schools and expand. Eventually, in 1999, 702 Communications officially launched.

 “Long story short, I took the job and spent the next five years working 12 hour days,” said Walter. “I’d go to work at 7, get home at 7, spend time with the kids from 7 to 9 and from 9 to midnight, I’d brainstorm for the next day. 

“It was five years of that. It was a heck of a challenge and a long road. We started with a staff of one on April Fools’ Day 1999, and then we went from there to another network’s facility guy. The next thing you know, we have a building with six staff. We all got our heads together and just figured it out.” 

Lesson #1: Even though 702 Communications grew to more than six employees, the early days prove small teams made of people who think differently can solve big challenges. 

Crommett is the right person to take over as CEO

Crommett started as a temp about a year after the company began. With a Bachelor’s degree in music education and looking for full-time employment, he came on because he knew ten-key data entry. Crommett impressed Walter so much he was hired on. Over the next 19 years, Crommett worked his way up from receptionist to customer service to helpdesk to sales to helpdesk supervisor to customer service supervisor, sales and service (and marketing) manager, and finally to acting CEO this October.

 “(In those early years,) everybody was still very much heads together, nose to the grind and figure it out,” said Crommett. “I remember sitting with Jim as a customer service rep talking about developing the logo. There weren’t these clearly defined boundaries on who did what. Everybody who had input, gave input. Jim was looking, at that point, to anybody with an idea to make this company succeed. That was one of the things that was most exciting to me. Here I was bringing the insights of a music educator to help formulate what the company was going to be.” 

Those conversations about the business continued over the years and, despite the telecom industry being ever-changing, Crommett has received industry certifications and proven that he’s the right man for the job. 

“I work for the board so my replacement is chosen by the board,” said Walter. “We interviewed a number of people but Brian was the man. He knows the company. He knows the area. He knows the services. He’s come up through the ranks. He knows the staff. As a matter of fact, he’s hired over a third of the employees at 702 right now. A lot of employees know, understand and respect Brian. I think he’s going to do a great job.” 

Lesson #2: Hire and retain employees who ask questions, look for ways to improve the organization and are willing to challenge established norms – even if they’re at the bottom rung of the ladder. 

702 grows by adapting to change and applying one important principal 

Jim and Brian reminisced about the advancements over the past 20 years and how it impacted the business and the community. 

Jim explained, “When I first started back in the business in 1981, (up to) 24 people could make a call on a copper wire going wherever. Now, we have cable that contains approximately 200 fibers, which are glass and about the size of a hair. Each one of those strands can handle wavelengths of 100 gigabits per second. So I’m flashing my light on and off 100 billion times a second on one side and in Minneapolis, I’m receiving that light and telling my equipment that this is what I need. It’s back and forth, both ways. 100 billion times a second.” 

702 Communications' New Data Center
702 Communications’ new data center in Fargo is ensuring that there is reliable internet for its customers. They also offer a new service where businesses can store their servers in this secure and clean facility.

Amidst the rapid change in the industry, Jim abides by a simple principle to growing a business: find complementary ways to offer new services. If offering phone service within an office complex, the next logical offering might be long distance and then internet. It’s why 702 offers managed services, IT consulting and continued support through its brand new Tier 2 data center. 

Jim continued, “We have a lot more invested in this community, like millions and millions of dollars.” 

Brian added, “702 has hundreds of miles of fiber in the ground in Fargo-Moorhead.” 

Lesson #3: Keep investing and expanding by building on top of what made you successful in the first place. 

With his CEO responsibilities quickly approaching, Brian summed up the history of 702 Communications and how it will continue to benefit residents and businesses in our region. “To the consumer, we’re still delivering communications. We’re delivering the ability for you to talk to somebody else. We’re delivering the ability for you to consume content, create, upload and share content. But, the way that we’ve done this over the 20 years has completely changed three or four times. We’ve had to completely change the way we do our business so you can continue to do yours.”

Services they offer to businesses

  • Internet
  • IT Services
  • Phone and Conferencing

702 Main Ave, Moorhead

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