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New NTCA Directors come on board.

When the NTCA Board of Directors convened at the 2002 annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., they welcomed two new faces--Richard Smith, as the Region 9 director, and Harry Thomas, as the Region 6 director. With almost 50 years of industry experience between the two of them, both look forward to serving on the board and providing leadership for the small rural telephone companies in their regions. So, who are these men?

Introducing Richard Smith

If you ask Richard Smith what changes he has noticed in the industry during his 26-year tenure as the board president of the Stayton Cooperative Telephone Co. (Stayton, Ore.), he might respond with the question, "What hasn't changed?"

From crank and dial phones to wireless, digital and new regulations, Smith has seen "a tremendous amount of change." And with this change, Smith believes that rural carriers are now faced with new challenges.

"The Telecommunications Act of 1996 created a lot of competition for rural carriers," he said. "We didn't have to worry about competition when I first came on board."

Although he has no particular agenda in mind for his new leadership role, his main concern is making sure that telcos are given fair consideration by the FCC. "It has been, and will continue to be, an uphill battle for telcos," he said. "Without independent phone companies, the phone system would not be what it is today I want to do my part to make sure we don't lose any ground."

An active NTCA member, Smith's commitment to the industry caught the eyes of several telco managers. In fact, it was the nudging of a few managers, friends and his family that finally made Smith decide to run for the board. For Smith, the issue wasn't whether he wanted to serve on the NTCA board, but how he would find enough time.

Smith operates his own company, GT Mortgage Loan, which is a private money mortgage loan business. For the past 12 years, he has managed this "one person operation" that offers residential real estate loans to individuals rather than commercial lenders.

"Being self-employed takes up a lot of time. I had to think about the time-commitment [for serving on the board], but I decided there was nothing ventured-nothing gained," he said. "I've always been interested in telephony and NTCA. I'm honored to have been elected."

Meet Harry Thomas

For almost 20 years, Harry Thomas has been actively involved with rural telephone cooperatives. In fact, he has served as the director for the Sully Buttes Telephone Cooperative (Highmore, S.D.) since 1982 and as president of the Sully Buttes Board of Trustees for the past nine years. When asked what changes he has noticed in the industry, one word sticks out: competition.

"When we went through the Bell companies and moved into the unregulated field, we entered the competitive industry," Thomas said. "We're not just selling phones anymore. There's Internet, TV and a lot of other things."

Although he realizes that there is a limit to what he can accomplish as the Region 6 director, Thomas has one thing in mind. "I hope to be the spokesman for Region 6," he said. "I want to keep members up-to-date with new NTCA policies.

"A lot of people can't attend the regional and annual meetings, so they have a hard time staying abreast of issues that affect them on a national level. I want to provide a voice for both Region 6 and NTCA," he said.

Through the years, Thomas has been active with the South Dakota Association of Telephone Cooperatives, serving as its president from 1990 to 1992. He has been an active member of the NTCA Marketing Committee. In addition, Thomas has completed enough continuing education courses to receive two NTCA Excellence in Leadership Awards.

"Region 6 has had excellent board leadership in the past," he said, "and I hope to carry on that tradition."

Aside from his interest in telecommunications, Thomas is a full-time rancher and farmer. He also owns a pheasant hunting operation and breeds cattle and horses.
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Article Details
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Author:Jenkins, Tennille
Publication:The Exchange
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2002
Previous Article:Rural telephone: the quiet company makes national noise.
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