Building a business from the ground up
by Martin Willoughby
Published: February 21,2010
Great entrepreneurs are usually great builders.
Like a real estate developer who turns an open lot into a beautiful building, an entrepreneur takes an idea and turns it into reality. In this sense, entrepreneurs are truly creative people. The business world is where they do their art. In this process, entrepreneurs create value. They create value for their investors, employees,and communities. Think of the extreme value creation from ventures like Dell, Google and Microsoft. Numerous employees of these companies have become millionaires along the way. This has a ripple effect as these employees invest back in their local communities.
Mississippi entrepreneur Billy Mounger is this kind of builder. He received a masters degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, and started out life strongly considering a career in the ministry. However, his insatiable technological curiosity drew him towards the emerging cellular industry. In 1986 and in his mid-20s, he was awarded the wireless spectrum rights for the Jackson metro area from the FCC in a lottery. Mounger and his partners were encouraged and with the help of some local capital, they acquired additional FCC licenses. This first company was called Mercury Communications, which went on to own and operate numerous businesses to develop these early cellular licenses. In today’s world of 3G networks and ultralight smartphones, it is important to remember the early days of cellular service. Airtime was expensive, coverage was scarce and phones were bulky and mainly in cars. Mounger and his partners were truly pioneers and created significant value for their investors when the company ultimately sold out.
Mounger and his team later went on to develop another cellular business, Tritel Communications Inc., which operated as SunCom. They forged an innovative relationship with AT&T and co-marketed the brand. Tritel would later go public and reach a market capitalization peak of over $8 billion before merging with Telecorp PCS and later being acquired in 2002 by AT&T Wireless for $5.5 billion. At the time of the sale, the company had one million customers, $1 billion in annual revenue and over 2,400 employees. Mounger acknowledged that the path was not always smooth and that “several times the company was on its death bed” before ultimately pulling through. In addition to the wealth created for many local investors, there are several hundred local jobs that continue to exist today as a remnant of Tritel.
As a builder and creative person, Mounger has continued to be engaged as an entrepreneur and encourager of other people developing businesses. Today, Mounger is once again in building mode with SafeMeds Solutions, LLC, an innovative home delivery pharmacy. He is also delving back into the wireless communication arena with Continuum, LLC, that will be focusing on the continued emergence of broadband wireless data services. In these and other ventures that Mounger supports and encourages, he is able to share his core business philosophies of servant leadership, transparent communication and high ethical standards.
Mounger truly has a “pay it forward” mindset and desires to utilize his creative energy to help continue to create value for Mississippians. His success story is instructive on many levels for emerging entrepreneurs. Perhaps most importantly, it is a reminder to think big. We often can drift into a “poverty mentality” in our state. The success of Mounger and his partners’ ventures serve to remind us of our true potential. We can and should have the confidence to know that we can build national companies that have the potential to go public. Further, Mounger’s focus on creating value for his investors, employees and his customers is a simple but profound truth that all entrepreneurs need to keep in mind. My hope is that through the efforts of builders like Mounger and other emerging Mississippi entrepreneurs we can effectuate positive change for Mississippi.
Martin Willoughby is a business lawyer in Jackson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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