When Amber Reineke interviewed for chief financial officer at USA Communications 13 years ago after years a CPA in myriad industries, she worried she might get bored working for just one company. She doesn’t worry anymore.
That’s partly because her boss, USA Communications CEO Chris Hilliard, has created a culture of change, Reineke says.
“A big part of our company is acquisitions and divestitures,” she adds, noting that USA is always looking at other systems or letting someone peruse one of its. “We affectionately call ourselves the flippers of cable systems.” She’s learned not to get too attached to any given system, because the company might sell it off after upgrading it.
As part of her job, Reineke has learned to negotiate with attorneys and other cable operators as they handle the transactions.
Hilliard credits Reineke’s financial discipline with helping position the company to take advantage of new business opportunities. For example, he says, it has allowed USA Communications “to pursue a couple of fiber-to-the-home and fiber-to-the-business projects in Colorado that we’re going after in a couple of communities.”
Meanwhile, a cash disbursement process that Reineke implemented with its bank helped USA Communications save money on interest so it could fund other things, she says.
Reineke saved the operator about $16,000 a month in float when she first started in her job, Hilliard notes, definitely “significant for a small company.”
Reineke credits her background in public accounting with a desire to look a little deeper into the business. “I started digging into the numbers and creating more of a structure,” she says. She studied the cash flow system by system to determine whether the company was hanging onto smaller systems that were no longer generating enough money to be profitable.
“Some of the small systems in Nebraska weren’t worth keeping,” she says. “We shut them down. If they only had 10 or 20 customers, they might not cover the cost of maintaining the system.” Other systems were kept on if they were cash-flow positive or tied by fiber to larger systems or showed potential if they could be upgraded.
“The biggest chunk of our money goes back into our systems through cap ex projects, improvements and building out fiber,” Reineke says, adding that the pay-off doesn’t necessarily come in the first year but will be there in the future.
According to Hilliard, “Last year we had our best year in two decades.”
Reineke introduced USA Communications to an annual budget format to help keep everyone focused. “The annual budget helps everybody have something to aim for,” she says, as a way to determine where best to allocate funds, what projects to do this year, and what to put off until next year. “It’s more forward looking.”
In addition to her role as CFO, Reineke works as integrator, meeting regularly with chief operating officer Jeremy Bals and sales and marketing director Mark Liljehorn, as well as Hilliard, who says Reineke wears the hat of about six people at a large MSO. Like we said, she no longer worries about getting bored.
– Monica Hogan
- USA Communications was founded in 1995 in San Diego County, California.
- Now based in Kearney, Nebraska, the operator has systems in Southern California, Colorado, Nebraska and Alabama.
- It counts revenue-generating units between 18,500 and 20,000, depending on the season.