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Diary of a merger—how telecom groups bridged gap


July 13, 2018
By William Ehart

It was a major accomplishment that benefited her industry when a lot was at stake.

But association leader Shirley Bloomfield doesn’t look forward to doing it again.

As CEO of the $15 million-revenue NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, Bloomfield led the process of its 2013 merger with the Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies.

The combination came at a critical time, unifying the industry’s voice as the federal government was setting a new rural broadband strategy.

It made perfect sense, and John Rose, CEO of OPASTCO was retiring, but that didn’t make it easy. The merger took two years to consummate, and had been “bantered around” for years prior to that, she said.

“So much of it boils down to personalities and egos, and how you make everything a win-win for both parties,” she said.

Among the steps that made the merger successful:

  • Hiring a facilitator: Consultant David Kushner of The Kushner Cos. worked with both organizations. “He was an independent third party who sat both sides around the table and said, ‘What’s important to you? Why are you hanging on to this piece?’ He was able to hold up a mirror in a way that an internal person couldn’t do.”
  • A (slight) name change: the former National Telecommunications Cooperative Association became NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. “There was a lot of discussion about the name but we already had made such critical inroads with policymakers with the name NTCA that the OPASTCO folks didn’t feel like they were losing.”
  • Gradual board transition: “We let all the members live out their terms, so I went from a 10-person board to a 25-person board, and after a three-year glide path I have a 12-person board.
  • Generous severance: The laid-off OPASTCO staff received what Bloomfield calls “very generous” severance packages, paid out of their association’s reserves. “We let the OPASTCO board determine what they wanted to do. I did not interfere in that. It just meant they were bringing less money into the fold after the merger, but that was their call.”

“It’s emotionally draining, you are dealing with people’s lives,” Bloomfield said. “I don’t know how many mergers CEOs should have to do in their careers.”