article

INTERVIEW : Walter G. Blackwell

Posted: 06/2002

INTERVIEW 

Walter G. Blackwell
ASCENT’s New President Sees Blue Skies Ahead for Industry

By Bruce Christian

THE ANNOUNCEMENT IN May that the Association of Communications Enterprises (ASCENT) had named a new president ended months of speculation the trade organization would merge with the Competitive Telecommunications Association
(CompTel). Once Walter G. Blackwell agreed to take the post, vacated April 30 by Ernest B. Kelly III, he knew

he had little time to get up to speed before the start May 20th of ASCENT’s 2002 Spring Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Blackwell spent 30 years working in the high-tech communications industry as a technologist, and he is no stranger to trade associations. Prior to accepting the ASCENT job, he had been president of The International
Communications Industries Association (ICIA) for six years. The ICIA is the leading voice of the audio/video and presentations industry representing manufacturers, dealers, installers and technology users. Under his leadership, ICIA launched INFOCOMM trade shows on three continents.

In 1996, Blackwell started the ICIA Academy Online, an internationally-recognized, fully-interactive, Internet-based distance-training program. Through his leadership, ICIA became the preeminent international provider of education, training and certification for the communications industry. He also was the executive director of

the Educational Communications Foundation (ECF), which supports ICIA education, training and certification programs.

Earlier in his career, Blackwell served in a number of senior management positions at IBM, where he began in the service segment and moved to product development.

As ASCENT’s new president Blackwell already is looking to build new educational opportunities for members and how to enhance the services the association already has.

Blackwell took time out from his first day on the job to share his thoughts and insights with PHONE+.

Q:
The question that probably everyone has is, ‘Considering the telecom industry’s woes during the last year or so, why would you take this job?’

A:
You are not the first one to ask that, nor is it the first time I’ve thought about it, but I honestly believe … that there are just incredible opportunities and changes that need to be happening. It is an opportunity, frankly, for some good business practices, some educational experiences to be given to both new startup people in telecom and some of the folks who have been around in the small and medium-sized businesses that will actually help them stay in this business and survive this downturn.

I believe, from the information I’ve been exposed to, that telecom, like everything else, runs in a cycle, and I think we are at the end of that downturn cycle. I think there is a great opportunity to build a new cycle, and I want ASCENT and our team to be the people who build it for those companies that are willing to stay the course to make it into tomorrow’s telecom industry.

Q:
Can you tell us how your previous experience may help you in your new role, and what you are going to bring to the table?

A:
I would tell you that my background in the commercial and federal sides of IBM really provided a great business [background] and was a grounding experience. It is that long experience with IBM that allowed me, and previous association work, to really apply business to the association world and to start looking at things that made sense, that were just ideas that could be implemented; implemented ideas that could be tracked; implemented, tracked ideas that could be replicated; implemented, tracked ideas that could be replicated that could become profit forming for the nonprofits.

And frankly, it is that little begat line … that is applied over and over and over again to different products, programs and services that I think will really be the strongest asset as we move ahead.

I’ve been blessed to have had two great business experiences and some great nonprofit experience. I think you need both in telecom today to weather not only the business storm but also all of the personal and political issues that are going to surround any of the decisions we have to make.

Q:
The media always are trying to take a look at deadlines, so what are your immediate tasks for the first 100 days?

A:
They really are very simple. My task, as I explained it to our chairman, is to do a thorough assessment of everything that is here, national, international, all the products programs and services that have been offered in the past, and then to put a critical eye to all those things, and keep the things that make sense and nominate for the board to review those things that we need to retire. Along with that summary, make some recommendations on the conferencing side as well as on the members side for regionally-based programs, educationally-based program, things that can foster overall industry growth and a knowledge within the industry that ASCENT has the capability of being there at the beginning, at the start of a company and staying with it through its success.


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