“Give Back to the City that Made You”
During a training seminar in 1997, a young telecom services salesperson named Brett Lindsey saw the letters DWYSYWD projected on a screen. He learned later that the acronym stood for Do What You Say You Will Do. “At the time,” says Lindsey, now CEO of Cleveland-based telecom fiber company Everstream, “those words struck me as a key tenet of how you should live your life.”
How “key” of a tenet? “They became sort of my personal Golden Rule,” says Lindsey. In fact, he has turned DWYSYWD into Everstream’s core mantra. If you visit the company’s headquarters or any of its offices, which are spread across six midwestern states, you will see the letters displayed on signs that are hard to miss. Anyone seeking further evidence of Lindsey’s commitment to DWYSYWD need only look at his upper left arm. “I had it tattooed in Latin,” he says, “so I see it every morning.”
Lindsey’s distinctive approach and commitment to the city of Cleveland has led to remarkable results. For example, between 2019 and 2020, Everstream more than doubled employee count from 100 to more than 225 employees.
This enterprising CEO has always had a knack for seizing opportunities. Right out of college in Oklahoma, he started selling telephone equipment; then he moved to Ohio when the 1996 Telecom Act enabled smaller midwestern outfits to compete with giants like AT&T. He worked on building out networks and, in 2010, joined OneCommunity, a Cleveland nonprofit focused on driving the use of fiber and expanding high-speed broadband access in northeast Ohio.
With $100 million in government grants, Lindsey led OneCommunity’s build-out of fiber networks. But he also quickly recognized that to serve the larger community as a whole, there would need to be corporate investment. In 2014, OneCommunity launched Everstream, a for-profit company.
In 2015, with a $50 million commitment, Everstream made two acquisitions that gave it the Michigan market and some of Chicago. Then it was Everstream’s turn to be acquired: AMP, an Australian-based infrastructure fund, bought the company in 2018, and in came some serious capital. Keeping in mind that 5G was on its way and would require an immense amount of fiber, Lindsey says, “I asked myself, If I had $300 million of my own money, would I keep buying companies, or would I lay fiber to be in charge of my own destiny?” The answer: He’d lay fiber. And with $300 million from AMP, Everstream did, and does, just that in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri.
That kind of performance pretty much defines success. But a recitation of the facts doesn’t get across the heart behind the moves. At Everstream, heart comes in two forms: internally, in the Everstream culture, and externally, through involvement in the markets Everstream serves, particularly Cleveland.
“My main responsibility in the company,” says Lindsey, “is to be the keeper of the culture.” As he puts it, “We compete against the biggest companies in the world, like AT&T and Charter. Everybody has fiber, everybody has equipment. So, the only real differentiator for us is our people and our culture—making customers feel that they are having a different experience by being in business with us and using us as their partner.”
Which brings us to the second Everstream mantra: Happy people, happy customers. As Lindsey says, “If our people love what they do and we treat them right, the finances will take care of themselves. Because word will spread: ‘This is a different experience. You should buy from these folks.’ We get a lot of referrals.”
The third Everstream mantra is posted in big, bold letters on the walls of the company’s Cleveland headquarters and other offices. It reads: No Asshole Policy. Lindsey explains, “We want our people to feel they are in a safe place, a place where people can express opinions and have disagreements, and not worry about being ridiculed or yelled at.”
So what does this environment, carefully curated by “the keeper of the culture,” mean to the city of Cleveland? “One of the things we have really tried to focus on,” says Lindsey, “is, How are we good citizens? Cleveland is our home. We’re headquartered here, the business started here, we have evolved greatly and we want our people to be involved in the community.”
Over the years, Everstream has worked with numerous charitable organizations and encouraged its employees to get involved. “We have a lot of people in our office who are volunteering,” notes Lindsey. As the company’s contributions grew, Everstream recognized it had an opportunity to make an even more potent impact by focusing its efforts. Lindsey created a “culture committee” tasked with finding a cause that aligned with the heart of the organization and would unite the company as a whole. It settled on Ronald McDonald House in an effort to support families and children in need. The committee works across locations, ensuring that everyone can get behind the company’s focus in a day-to-day way—monetarily, by volunteering on site and with opportunities to donate time at the office through group projects.
Concern and affection for others is reflected even in simple exchanges at Everstream. When you leave an office, you’ll see posters on the door that say Love You, Bye. It’s a phrase that Lindsey himself uses regularly: After a meeting with the CEO, he will often shout out, “Love you, bye.”
Asked what he hoped the takeaway for the readers of this article would be, Lindsey answered, “That they ask themselves, How can I give back? How can I, with my ability and resources, positively impact the community that made me?’”
And then, of course, DWYSYWD.