Today, we’re pleased to publish an interview with Chris Palermo, GCN’s President, Founder, and CEO. Here, he helps to shed light on how GCN got started, what makes our company unique, and how we’ve kept innovation, service, and objectivity at the center of our business since GCN’s inception 19 years ago.
How did you first get involved in the telecom industry? How did those initial experiences inform and shape your vision for GCN?
I worked for three providers prior to starting Global Communication Networks (GCN): Allnet, AT&T, and Cable and Wireless, respectively.
I learned a few things working for these three companies. The first thing was that the carrier was only as good as the representative selling their product. As a hunter, my job was to sell the account and transition it to a “farmer,” or a retention rep. Often, the farmer was not as good as the hunter, or they changed and the customers would seek out a different provider that would take care of them. The next thing I learned was: Not all providers can do all solutions for all customers. As a successful hunter, I could sell my company’s product, but in the back of my mind I knew that there were carriers with better solutions. It was kind of like fitting a square peg in a round hole. It was not the right fit, but I would have to make it work. That just didn’t sit right with me. I knew that I could give people something different: something better.
GCN is 19 years old this year. We represent over 200 providers around the world, and we only hire world class, successful individuals with at least 10 years of experience in telecom. Our customers trust that we have their best interests in mind and prefer to call us over their provider. In addition, there is no more fitting the square peg in the round hole. Our passion is to find the right solution(s) for all of our customers’ needs.
You label GCN as a Connectivity Integrator. What is a Connectivity Integrator?
Connectivity Integrators (CIs) help customers design, obtain, and implement integrated cloud, data center, networking, and telecom solutions. First and foremost, CIs are vendor-neutral. We don’t work directly for the providers but instead act as value-added resellers (VARs). As such, our primary goal is to offer our clients the best-in-class, most cost-effective technology solutions—solutions that fit their specific business needs. In addition to offering clients diverse and consolidated technology solutions, we offer continuing project management services and technical support with GCN’s in-house Project Management Office with the assistance of our expert staff. Simply put, CIs streamline and enhance each customer’s search for the perfect technology solutions.
What has been the largest contributing factor in GCN’s growth?
GCN has been forward thinking in an ever-changing industry. The first main contributor to our success was teaching ourselves how to source, sell, and project manage colocation projects all over the world. We first started selling colocation space to our largest customers over 10 years ago. At that time, these large enterprise companies had already finished building out their domestic data center footprints and needed a company that was familiar with the international data center landscape. Our first completed data center projects were in Tokyo, Singapore, Hong Kong, London, Amsterdam, Paris, Spain, and Frankfurt. More and more of the world’s largest companies started learning about our unique proficiency and started working with us. Today, colocation is responsible for over 55% of GCN’s growth. We did the same when the Cloud became a buzz word; we started building in-fiber providers to locations that they were not in, and now I am adding IoT to our list of products that will contribute to our growth.
How does a company like GCN come to represent 200+ Carriers?
In 1997, GCN started off with three providers: BellSouth, Sprint, and Primus. Since then, our provider growth has been purely customer-driven. We are always looking for the best providers for all IT related opportunities that our customers need. When we find these providers, we add them to our fabric.
When GCN landed on the Inc. 5000 list for the second year in a row, you credited both your customers and your team with the company’s success. Specifically, you said, “People buy from people. It’s all about trust.” How does this idea reflect what GCN does best? Moreover, how have you cultivated this idea as you’ve built your team, vendors, and customer base?
We have been on the Inc. 5000 list three times and are waiting for our fourth invitation in August. Today, customers buy from knowledgeable and trustworthy people in any field. It is our passion to be given an opportunity and then strategically architect the perfect solution. I tell our largest prospect to give us one difficult opportunity and then let us earn that piece of business. Our goal is for our customers to fully embrace GCN’s message and mission so we are at the top of their mind for any future project. Our customers learn to look at GCN as a part of their team, and that is how we like it.
What does GCN deliver to its customers that individual networking, cloud, and data center companies can’t or don’t?
I could give pages of reasons of what we do that providers can’t. Here’s one of the most important reasons: GCN is strictly carrier-neutral. We choose the right provider based on two strategies: 1) Are they the right fit? 2) Can we trust them? If they fail either of these two criteria, we pass on them. GCN also has an in-house PMO with full-time Project Managers assigned to every project that we implement. Again, GCN only hires world class individuals with at least 10 years of successful telecom experience.
What separates GCN from Telecom Agents?
There are thousands of telecom agents and only one Connectivity Integrator that does what GCN does. Over the past 19 years, GCN has evolved into a full service CI.
You and GCN have been very involved with various charitable events and volunteering opportunities. Why are these activities so important to you, not just personally but also professionally?
From the time we are little, we are told that “it is better to give than receive.” Life is much more fulfilling when you are giving or volunteering in programs that help others. In any given year, GCN will support at least 50 charitable events. There are a few organizations that we choose to support more, such as the George Snow Scholarship Fund. This organization raises money so less fortunate but deserving students can go to college. Last year we sent 80 students to college on scholarship.
We also choose to give to charities that are especially meaningful to our GCN team. For instance, a good friend of our family has Battens Disease, a neurological disease that is almost always fatal and has no cure today. We support Catherine’s Hope for a Cure, whose goal is to find a cure for this debilitating disease. Finally, GCN, along with Publix Supermarkets and UPS, team up to feed over 600 families on a Thanksgiving Food Drive sponsored by the 100 Black Men of South Florida foundation. Each year, several GCN employees show up with their families to help fill the dinner boxes. It is a great way to show our children the power of giving back.
In what ways do you see GCN changing and growing in the future?
In order for a company like GCN to remain relevant, we must be nimble and adopt changes that impact our customers. We pride ourselves in bringing new solutions to our customers before they realize they need the service. The funny thing is that while I was writing this answer, one of our largest customers just called me and told me that they liked my idea of breaking up their few very large data centers into several smaller data centers that follow both Amazon and Microsoft. In doing so, they can control the cost of moving pieces of their business into the cloud. If we were not planting these seeds, our customers might be calling someone else. But they keep calling us because of our objectivity, expertise, and innovative thinking.