On Feb. 28, Jackson-based Tritel Inc. announced its intent to merge with TeleCorp into a new company to be called TeleCorp PCS. Both companies are traded publicly, are affiliated with AT&T and market PCS services under the SunCom brand in the Southeast.
Last week, the Mississippi Business Journal chatted with Tritel CEO and chairman William M. “Billy” Mounger II before he headed out of town on a week-long adventure and asked the former Top 40 Under 40 recipient about the latest turn of events.
Mississippi Business Journal: Is the deal between Tritel and TeleCorp a merger or was Tritel purchased?
Billy Mounger: This is not a sale of the company. It’s a stock-for-stock merger. By joining with another AT&T affiliate, we’re adding to the size and scope of what we’re doing. It’s a very positive event for Jackson, for our shareholders and for our company. The whole management team is moving forward. We’ll have an equal number of board seats with TeleCorp. We worked with them very closely before and will work closely together now. If you look at the maps, you can see how the regions fit together.
MBJ: Why now?
BM: Economies of scale. We’ll work together on marketing and blend the whole region together in a much more seamless fashion than we could by working separately.
MBJ: How would you define your role in the new structure?
BM: My title will be chairman of the board. Jerry Vento, chairman and CEO of TeleCorp, will be CEO of TeleCorp PCS. He and I will work together, divide responsibilities and share titles of both – chairman and CEO. I’ll be very involved. Of course, he will be, too.
MBJ: What about operations in Jackson? Will they remain intact? What about future growth?
BM: Our company was planning on hiring about 800 more people this year, not all of whom would necessarily have been in Jackson. Their company was planning on hiring about 800 people this year. I’m sure there will be some reorganizing that makes business sense, but there will still be a net increase of jobs in the local area. We’ll maintain offices here. We still plan on expanding our customer care center on Lakeland Drive and our operations center on Highland Colony Parkway in Madison. We’ll be expanding our footprint in Mississippi. So, we’ll hire more people and continue to grow.
MBJ: Will you remain in Jackson?
BM: My wife’s already told me she’s not moving, so I guess I won’t either. (He laughs.) I’ll be traveling often to Arlington, Va., where the headquarters are located.
MBJ: How will the stock transition work?
BM: Under this merger of equals, our stock, which is currently being traded under TTEL, will be traded under TLCP once the merger is complete. They have a few more POPs (points of presence) than we did. They had 16.5 million; we had 14 million. They’ve been out longer than we have and we thought it made sense to retain their name.
MBJ: When we talked a few months ago, you mentioned the idea of going public was being considered but you didn’t think it would happen so soon. Did the merger happen the same way?
BM: Exactly the same. We did not anticipate this deal. We think we may have set a Wall Street record for time from start-up to raising capital to getting into markets to IPO to merging.
MBJ: Even though the casual observer would say events happened at a rapid pace, hadn’t this been in the works for several years?
BM: In 1995, at the same time I was one of MBJ’s Top 40 Under 40 honorees, we had the idea of this concept with a company like AT&T. We worked on it for several years to get to a point we were able to get it started. We had many trials and tribulations leading up to our start date of Jan. 7, 1999. It was touch-and-go with AT&T because they had several strategy changes within their company while trying to decide what to do. I think they were open to buy a Bell company, like BellSouth, Western Bell, or both. They held off on doing anything with us until they saw that wasn’t going to happen.
Then, we had to raise $1 billion in capital. It took a long time to get something going with AT&T, but when it did, it’s obviously moved quickly. I often relate the story with an analogy of a big jet airplane. You can buy the jet, but it doesn’t do much good sitting on the runway. Until the fuel (the capital) is in place to make it run, it just sits there. Once it flies, it flies. That’s where we are now. It’s flying pretty fast.
MBJ: It sounds like you’ve made a concerted effort to keep the business base in Jackson and to support local businesses. Will that practice continue?
BM: There’s no reason to do it anywhere but Jackson, which is a telecom center. I hope we’ll be a catalyst for creating opportunities and wealth and inspire people to do great things. We’ve used a lot of Jackson companies to support us — Moonlight Media, Godwin Group, Offisource and more — which creates a ripple effect in the economy. That’s not including the people who have moved here, built houses, put their children in our schools.
We also utilize other businesses in our region. We’re not just a Mississippi company. For example, we have a big presence in Tennessee. We try to keep it in the region as best we can.
We’ll continue to be good stewards. We’ll sponsor Jubilee Jam in Jackson this summer. We did a Habitat for Humanity House in Jackson last fall. I’ll chair the Juvenile Diabetes Walk in November. We’re trying to stay very involved and continue to increase our involvement in the community in the right causes that can make a positive impact. That’s my motivation.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 364-1018.