Dave Gilles, Suddenlink Communications
MSO Regional Executive of the year
It’s a well-known maxim, ‘The bigger they are, the humbler they are.’ That certainly fits Dave Gilles. At Suddenlink, there are few bigger or more respected than this SVP, Operations for the Southwest Region. Yet getting Gilles to talk about himself or his management style is difficult—he’d rather tout his team, which is nearly half of all Suddenlink employees, serving the company’s largest unit, the six-state Southwest Region, with some 720,000 residential subscribers. We’ll grant his wish, giving wide berth to his Suddenlink colleagues.
After you learn about Gilles’s thinking on corporate culture, his ability to lead and motivate and his concern for customers—he’s known for his saying ‘How will this effect customers?’—it’s not surprising to discover Southwest has been Suddenlink’s top region in customer relationship growth for eight years and consistently outperforms on key metrics.
A telling moment comes when we ask Gilles what makes him most proud. It’s seeing people on his team succeed, reaching heights “they didn’t think they could attain,” he says without hesitation. Mike Nelson, Suddenlink’s VP of Fiscal Operations for the West Region, concurs: “Dave’s can-do attitude pushes everyone to achievements we wouldn’t have thought possible on our own.” Adds Tim Archer, Director of Operations for Amarillo, TX, “He has an innate calling that drives his devotion to those with whom he works.”
“Dave not only has the ability to motivate individuals, but the unique ability to inspire, helping everyone around him achieve their full potential,” says West Region VP of Operations Aimee Doane.
To understand how Gilles leads his team to excel, you need to look at his road to cable. An accountant, Gilles spent 10 years after graduating summa cum laude from Illinois State “going into thousands of companies” doing tax and audit work. That formed Gilles’s perspective on business. “I learned what all good companies have at their core: A great culture that empowers folks… it gives folks a place to go so they know how to operate if you define your culture and live your culture.”
After a decade of accounting experience Gilles joined Charter’s finance department in Michigan in 2000. It was an eye opener. “I probably got seven years experience during that first year,” he says. After finishing his “day job” in finance, “I’d move my laptop into Rodney [Lanham’s] office and listen to his conference calls… it was a great learning experience… I know much about a lot of stuff based on that year and a half.” Incidentally, today Lanham is Suddenlink’s VP of network engineering.
That first year showcased Gilles’s skills in teambuilding, execution and leadership by example as Charter was combining five acquisitions, consisting of 4K employees and more than 550K customers. That was the launch pad; we’ll dispense with more about Gilles’s rise and let others talk about him. “He took a chance on me, standing by me as I learned the ropes…he was my biggest cheerleader,” says Wendy Purnell, Director of Operations – Eureka, CA. While Gilles is known as a bold business leader, he’s fiercely concerned about his employees as people. In 2010 he urged his entire region to improve their personal lives. One challenge, to improve physically, resulted in 100 employees running a half marathon and one dozen quitting smoking. Then there’s Gilles’s sense of humor and the parties with his team, where he’s known to grill a mean pork chop.
John McNelly, VP of Sales & Marketing- West Region, sums it up well. “I’ve only worked for a couple of people that I thought were exceptional leaders of people. Dave Gilles is far and away the most extraordinary leader I have worked with.” We’ll let Suddenlink chairman/CEO Jerry Kent have the last word with an understatement: “Dave’s people love working for him so much that I truly believe they’d run through a brick wall for him.”
– Seth Arenstein
– Fast Fact
– Married for 25 years and a father of five, Gilles’s community involvement includes being president of the Lubbock-Cooper Independent School District board and a board member of the Texas Cable Association and the Lubbock United Way among others.