Buddy Bayer Talks New Windstream Role, Partner Growth, Products, More

“We’re starting to build long-haul infrastructure,” he said.

Claudia Adrien

April 6, 2022

7 Min Read

Buddy Bayer has spent almost eight years in leadership at Windstream. For part of that time, he served as chief network officer and president of Windstream Wholesale. Now he’s been promoted and will lead a newly combined enterprise and wholesale organization at the company.

In his new role as president of the Enterprise and Wholesale Business Unit, Bayer will be responsible for sales and marketing, service delivery, customer care, service assurance, and access — as well as the channel program for the enterprise business unit.

Tony Thomas, president and CEO of Windstream, said Bayer has achieved record sales and driven significant improvements in technology and operations. It’s that kind of work ethic that Bayer said he holds for his new position as president of the recently formed business unit. In this interview with Channel Futures, Bayer outlines his goals for partners, his views on leadership and the future of products for the company.

Channel Futures: Why did you want to take on this role at Windstream? And how will your experience at CenturyLink come into play in this new role? I know you’ve been at Windstream for a while but I’m trying to get a feel for your experience and how that really relates to this role.


Windstream’s Buddy Bayer

Buddy Bayer: I think my history has given me pretty good exposure to all areas and realms within the industry. Whether it’s standing up network operations, engineering teams, sales teams, I’ve had a chance to participate in all fronts. And I think the breadth of being in startups to large companies, like Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) gave me some really good opportunities to kind of see what the scale and scope could be with partners and customers. I’ve built networks, I’ve built teams and sat in front of customers. At the end of the day, it’s about creating solutions for our customers and hearing out what they mean. That’s exactly the experience I bring to the table. I know how to create a culture of empowerment to allow our people, our leaders to be available to those customers.

CF: Windstream has combined its enterprise and wholesale divisions. Can you talk a little more about that?

BB: I think there’s an opportunity. We’ve had a really strong foundation on the enterprise side. We’ve really kind of adjusted ourselves toward future product sets. And we’re having achievement in the SD-WAN world and UCaaS world. We’re also launching a SASE product that’s going to have great success. So, we just have some things that are working really well in the edge world and edge play and the transformation to the cloud. I think we play that wheelhouse very, very well. And from a wholesale perspective, we’ve done a really good job at building out infrastructure. We’ve built out core IT capabilities that have propelled us into a leader spot within the space. I have an opportunity to be holistic in the approach and really provide a variety of solutions to the customer.

CF: What prompted the need to combine the enterprise and wholesale organizations? Are there advantages to both the company as well as partners and customers?

BB: I think the choice words here are “strong foundational movement on every front.” We’re starting to build some momentum. We’re starting to build long-haul infrastructure. We’re starting to see advancement and products such as SASE.

Behind the scenes, I have an engineering organization that was already supporting both wholesale and enterprise units. The same applies to my field ops organizations. So there was already some level of collaboration and some opportunity to work together behind the scenes. This formation unites us even stronger. Maybe we have enterprise customers that would like for us to do some custom builds for them. Now we have a little bit more unity, a little bit more collaboration.

CF: I know you have outlined your experience. But what are specific skills you’ve developed from your previous positions that you can apply to your current role?

BB: My engineering background definitely helps me think logically in my approach. However, what I think the board sees is the value that I bring to the table by building teams and developing leaders. I have a leadership summit in two weeks where I’ll spend time with teams. I have a curriculum where I focus on …

… maximizing their skills, their talents. The key words I said earlier were the culture of empowerment. I’ll give you one example. We had one engineer with some previous history working with hardware component manufacturers. The engineer had some ideas regarding research and development. We gave him an opportunity to work in that arena, which ultimately led to great success with a partnership. We gave the engineer the ability to kind of push the envelope of what was possible.

CF: Were you previously working with Windstream partners before you took on this new role?

BB:  From a channel partner perspective, no. On the wholesale side, we didn’t have as much of that established. I’m working strongly with Rob Westervelt. He’s head of our channel partners. I’ve spent some time with Rob recently. This is an investment that we’re very interested in — growing those partnerships. So, while I may not have had a big history of working with channel partners, I lean on the leadership and their ideas. Rob has been with us a little over two months now, so we’ve got some energy and excitement still brewing there. All I want to do is supercharge that energy and take it to the next level.

CF: What is your take on the current enterprise unit program? Do you see the need to make changes?

BB: I’m probably a little early into this to make a call about changes. The board asked me, “What are you going to do day one?” And I said I want to listen. I’m going to take in from my leadership team what is working, what is not working, and maybe some obstacles that they’re trying to overcome. I want to be able to take some of their ideas and input as a collective opportunity for us to grow. Just like I told everybody else, I love to maximize individuals and to maximize our opportunities as a team. I do that with what I call 360 degrees of perspective, because everybody’s got a view and I may see things a little differently than you.

CF: You did talk about leadership earlier. How do you foster good leaders?

BB: Leadership has a lot to do with coaching. So we set the vision and tone, of course. But to maximize a leader, you have to be a coach. Everybody has a capability of making a positive impact, but sometimes they can’t see it. They’re so caught up in whatever they’re doing, or maybe they’re just frustrated with a problem that they’re solving at the time. Coaches will ask the right questions to pull out those good, sound ideas, those leadership skills. We also establish mentorship programs and assessments so that ultimately individuals can lead without so much help.

CF: When it comes to listening to partners, how are you going to reach out?

BB: I spend about 50% of my time talking to my people in the field, my team in the trenches doing the work. I spend the other 50% talking to customers and partners between phone calls and events. To grow you have to have communication and dialogue, and I think that’s pretty key to our success with partners.

CF: Do you have a target? That is, are you planning to grow the number of partners by 20-30% for example?

BB: I don’t think it’s about quantity but rather quality. I care more about quality regarding our partnerships, although that’s not to say we’re not looking to grow. It’s about balance. You want to make sure it’s the quality at the forefront because that can help you solve problems.

CF: Do you have any last points you’d like to make?

BB: Windstream doesn’t want to disrupt the goodness that we’ve already created. What we want to do is challenge ourselves to get to the next level. How do we collaborate and be a greater impact in the industry creating solutions? I love this saying: The future belongs to those who see the possibilities before they become obvious. What we have right now is a bright future with a great vision. And that involves winning. We like our partners to win with us. And we love to be there for our customers to help them achieve their goals and to win as well. So that’s the attitude.

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email Claudia Adrien or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About the Author(s)

Claudia Adrien

Claudia Adrien is a reporter for Channel Futures where she covers breaking news. Prior to Informa, she wrote about biosecurity and infectious disease for a national publication. She holds a degree in journalism from the University of Florida and resides in Tampa.

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