Chamber’s Outstanding Entrepreneur Credits Strong Company Culture for Southern Light’s Staying Power

The Business View – March 2017 / Small Business


Southern Light LLC’s extraordinary growth did not happen by chance but rather by adhering to a simple management principle that President and CEO Andy Newton said has served him well.


“Hire self-driven, intelligent people. If you hire the right people, you spend a lot more time working on executing your business plan and not on managing people,” said Newton, who will receive the Mobile Area Chamber’s Outstanding Entrepreneur on March 30. (See pg. 11 for event details.)


And considering the Mobile based provider of broadband infrastructure solutions now employs about 270, compared with the three who launched the start-up from a business plan scribbled on a steak house napkin, it’s difficult to argue with Newton’s approach. In fact, the company ranked 52nd nationally among “medium sized” businesses in 2016 on Fortune magazine’s annual “Great Places to Work” listing, which Newton said he considers the company’s most outstanding accomplishment for the past year.


“I think spending some time every day working on your company culture is absolutely critical, and our company culture has been a huge part of our success,” he said. “You want your people to know they make a difference in what’s happening at the company, and then you need to make sure you show appreciation for their efforts. If you do that, they’ll be excited to come to work.”


Founded in 1998, Southern Light designs, constructs and operates 6,100 route miles of fiber optic networks in the Southeast. The company currently serves 1,591 cell towers and has 4,790 on-net locations in five states.


Liz Freeman, president of Long’s Human Resource Services and chair of the Chamber, said Newton’s selection as Outstanding Entrepreneur selection was unanimous because he “truly embodies that entrepreneurial spirit that we hope our young people will embrace in order to grow and prosper and then be in a position to give back to the community.”


“Andy really has come full circle, and we couldn’t be more proud,” Freeman added. “He’s homegrown. He and his partners kick-started this tech company with nothing more than an idea, and now they’re growing by leaps and bounds. But even beyond that, he’s so giving of his time with other young entrepreneurs who are standing where he was not that long ago. It really says a lot about him as a person and as a businessperson.”


Newton said Southern Light’s steady growth continues with a “low double-digit” percentage growth increase recorded in 2016. He is encouraged by the steps being taken to nurture a true entrepreneurial ecosystem.


“We’ve got a city and a Chamber who support startups. We have great co-working spaces, and there are so many resources available to help aspiring entrepreneurs build the businesses they want. Soon, we’ll have the Innovation PortAL, which I think will be great for Mobile, so everywhere you look, we’re investing in new businesses, and I’m certain those investments will pay off,” he said.


Newton said he anticipates Southern Light becoming heavily involved with Innovation PortAL because “it’s going to take all of Mobile to support it,” and he welcomes the opportunity to do his part.


“Of course we want to provide the connectivity that allows (Innovation PortAL) to not have any bandwidth issues for companies starting up, but Southern Light also hopes to be involved on both a mentoring and a funding level,” he said.


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