Chief financial officers often trace their trajectory through a business program and maybe an extended stay at one of the Big Four firms.
Not Vicki Villacrez.
MBA firmly in hand, she’s been at TDS Telecom for 30 years, she worked as an internal auditor, which encouraged her to learn the business more deeply. And for Villacrez, that’s made all the difference.
“Where I stand out as a CFO is the work I’ve done in financial analysis and strategic planning. Most CFOs come up through controller side of the house,” she says. In addition to her CFO title for TDS Telecom, she’s senior vice president of finance.
Analysis and planning “provides a way to study the business from an economic and strategy standpoint for governance and decision-making that’s well supported at the executive layer,” Villacrez adds.
That expertise was brought to bear in 2012 as TDS and other service providers awaited VDSL technology to deliver broadband over their largely copper networks. “We could quickly see the costs of implementing this technology were much higher than we expected, making it more difficult and expensive to deploy high-speed TV,” she says.
That’s when Villacrez and her team tapped the brakes.
“We thought if we’re making these investments, why don’t we look at fiber-to-the-home investments, which is future proof and has higher speeds,” she says, paraphrasing the recommendation she made to the company’s leadership. “They all looked at me like I was absolutely crazy,” Villacrez remembers. “I will never forget that call.”
After several discussions and more digging into the numbers, TDS Telecom lined up behind fiber and its superior economies.
“That’s the kind of strategic discussion you need to be brave enough to have,” she says.
Away from telecom and tech, Villacrez volunteers at the Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin in Madison, and serves on its board.
“Passion is the word that comes to mind immediately to describe Vicki,” says Dan Stein, president and CEO of the food bank. “We’ve gone through a long process of strategic planning. She was a real leader in that and others rolled up their sleeves because of her passion.”
Those skills will be put to work as TDS resolves the future of its copper infrastructure, not to mention how to invest for the long term in a way offsets legacy declines. She wants to reduce TDS’ exposure in markets with copper networks. “Even with 100% market share, I can’t make the economics work for fiber [in some markets],” Villacrez says. In cable, M&A activity has been driving some growth both in broadband video and voice, she adds.
“You know the strategy is working when you see it in the numbers,” Villacrez says.
– Terry Sweeney