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Insights from our leaders – Michael Stephens, BAI Communications Canada

by Michael Stephens

21 April 2021

We recently spoke with GM, Business Development, Municipalities & Government Relations Michael Stephens, from our office in Canada.

Michael is a senior executive who has led product management, marketing, sales support and engineering teams in driving profitable revenue growth in multiple technology organizations. Through the course of Michael’s career he has been responsible for large complex enterprise customer bids that resulted in over $250 Million in contracted revenue; product introductions that resulted in over 500% revenue growth within a year; and developing targeted marketing campaigns that accounted for more than 20% revenue growth. He has also been the product leader in implementing several telecom and internet ‘firsts’ in Canada, including the first national: dial-up VPN internet services launched for Microsoft; ATM network; metro ethernet network; DWDM network; as well as VoIP, M2M / IoT, data centre, cloud, and other major product launches.

What’s the most important development happening in our industry and what does that mean for BAI?

I have been reminded in recent years that ‘wireless’ requires a lot of ‘wires’. Wireless and wireline infrastructures have typically been deployed independently with different processes. With the advent of small cells and their deployment requirements, carriers are waking up to the need of co-ordinating their wireline and wireless deployment efforts, which typically requires working closely with the ‘right of way’ owners: municipalities (councils) and utilities. At the same time, the municipalities, especially during the pandemic, are recognizing how the ‘Digital Divide’ is impacting their constituents. They are looking for solutions that ensure that all their constituents have access to competitive broadband infrastructure, and are realizing they can no longer take a ‘hands off’ attitude to telecom infrastructure deployment. BAI’s carrier neutral ‘open access’ approach to telecom infrastructure deployment is a message that resonates with municipalities and is gaining traction with carriers as they recognize the cost of small cell and fibre deployment.

What inspires you most in the work that you do?

Nothing inspires me more than finding ‘profitable’ solutions to customer problems. I emphasize ‘profitable’ because a solution that is unprofitable is unsustainable. Profitable solutions are also typically scalable to other customers. When you find a profitable scalable solution to customer issues, the world lines up at your doorstep.

What is a technique you use to be more effective in your work?

I do a lot of root cause analysis. It is easy to jump to a ‘solution’, but until the root cause of a problem is understood any pre-determined solution will typically be, at best, a stop-gap measure and, at worst, a failure. The ‘5-Whys’ method of root cause analysis is a simple and effective means to help guide your thinking.

What’s one of the ongoing challenges you face at work and how do you manage it?

How to draft a simple, effective story is always the biggest challenge. The only time I am genuinely ‘fearful’ is when I present to people who I don’t know or whose needs I don’t understand. Effective storytelling requires far more work and effort than most people realize. It requires a) being able to distill often complex issues to simple messages, b) knowing who your audience is, and understanding what their ‘needs’ are so they are effectively addressed, and c) ensuring your ‘ask’ is clear and concise so decisions can be made. Working closely with cross-functional and customer stakeholders to ensure everyone’s issues are addressed is critical here. The most important item is to listen carefully to everyone. Often short, off the cuff remarks provide more meaningful insight into customers’ or decision-makers’ needs than any detailed analysis.

What is your advice for proactively managing your career?

Take the time to determine your strengths and weaknesses, and then work hard to leverage your strengths! So often we focus on our weaknesses that we fail in how to leverage our strengths to their maximum extent. When you focus on your strengths, you can then focus on the career path that plays to those strengths. Also, never be scared of change, but embrace it! The phrase I have hated the most in my career is, “We have always done it this way.” Constantly challenge fixed assumptions and make sure that, if you are challenging something, you have a better solution to present. If you keep an open mind and constantly work to find better solutions for entrenched problems, you will find your career will progress in ways that may even surprise you!

Who has been the greatest influence on your career?

Early in my career I was fortunate to work for an ex-U.S. marine who taught me and my colleagues what real leadership consisted of: a) publicly praise and privately critique; b) support those who are carrying the ball, but step in quickly to take the lead if others are challenged; and c) build solutions that are not just good enough, but are superior. I still think of him and what he would do when I not sure of how to proceed.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?

I am a farm boy. I grew up on a small dairy farm in Southern Ontario. Childhood was a combination of milking cows, bailing hay, showing our Percheron draft horses at the fairs in the fall, and making maple syrup in the spring.

Michael Stephens - Vice President, Business Development at BAI Communications

Michael Stephens

Vice President, Business Development, BAI Communications

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