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United Spotlight: Gene Johnson

For the past ten years, Gene Johnson has been the Chairman of United Communications. Now, his time with us has come to a close, as he celebrates what is actually his second retirement. We’re thrilled that Gene will have the opportunity to travel, hike, and bike with his family to his heart’s content. But, of course, we’re sad to see him go. To reflect on his time with us, we sat down with Gene to talk about his exceptional life, what he loves about United, and what he hopes for the future.

Where Gene’s Journey with United Began

After retiring once as the CEO of a large company, Gene thought he was leaving his corporate lifestyle for good. Little did he know, his friend and former colleague William Bradford had something else in mind. William had learned about a company for sale in Tennessee called United Telephone that was in financial disarray. He knew that the duo, along with a third financial partner, could use their decades of experience to bring the company to life.

“We slowly began to turn the company around. We did it with an absolute focus on the customer,” Gene recounted. “I had been passionate about customer service before I retired. William felt the same way. He also believed that we had to figure out a way to serve these customers with higher-quality broadband.”

The company’s previous owners had already built a fiber backbone that was going unused, so Gene and William’s first step was obvious—to light it up. With the technical tools in place, the team began building a company culture that everyone could be proud of. “I’m a finance guy at heart, but any time I’d come to the office, William was focused on the day-to-day business. He gave them hope and showed them how we could build a bigger, better business that was customer-centric. At the time, we had about 45 employees, and now we’re well over double that,” Gene explained.

What He Loves About the Company He Helped Build

Gene is undeniably proud of what United Communications has become over the past decade. “What we accomplished is really neat when you think about it. We took a dying company and built it into something great,” said Gene. He went on to share warm, heartfelt stories about the people he loved working with and how much he respects William Bradford for giving United’s employees the hope and motivation they needed to believe in the good they could do for the community.

The company’s foundation is built on quality, and that just may be the secret to its success, if you ask Gene. “We care about high-quality service. The first thing we always did in management meetings was go over our scorecard,” he explained. By keeping an eye on our customer service scores, we’ve created so much value for our employees, owners, and customers.”

Another feather in United’s cap, according to Gene, is the consistent acquisition of talented partners and employees, particularly Middle Tennessee Electric (MTE). “We had tried to do deals in our previous lives with co-ops and it was an exercise in futility. It wasn’t going to happen. But with MTE, as soon as we got into the meeting and started talking, they were about the same things we are—forward thinking and making sure customers have high-quality broadband. They had this audacious idea that every member of the co-op have fiber to the home, and so we entered into a merger with them. William really nailed it when he picked those guys.”

What He Hopes for the Future of the Company

Looking back on what they’ve accomplished and dreaming about what’s to come, Gene remarked, “It will be 10 years in August. We acquired a company that was dying and now we have a vibrant company with an unbelievable future.”

He continued, “I don’t have any doubt about United’s future. We have half a billion dollars worth of capital projects ahead of us. We’re local, customer-oriented, and, frankly, the customers own the company, because MTE is owned by the customer. We’re going to do really well in the years to come. It’s an amazing place for people to grow and learn. We’re getting more talented people all the time.”

What’s Next for Gene?

When asked what was next, Gene had plenty on his retirement schedule: “Well today, I hiked seven miles, yesterday I rode my bike 20 miles, the day before I rode 43 miles. So, that’s what’s next for me: having fun. I’m really active in Charlotte, North Carolina, where I live. I’m on the board of the YMCA, and I’m really active with the university I went to. I’m on the Board of Trustees, and have a lot of things going on locally. I’ll have plenty to do, but it’s time to slow down, I think. I’ve had a phenomenal life and a phenomenal retirement. It’s been spectacular.”

United Communications Wishes Gene a Wonderful Retirement

We’re incredibly thankful for everything Gene has contributed to the company’s success. He’s helped cultivate such an amazing culture, and we’re excited to continue to watch it grow. We wish him the absolute best in his retirement.