Leadership in telecom: Crown Castle’s CEO on how to make the decision to acquire assets

Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown (Crown Castle)
Crown Castle CEO Jay Brown talks about how he evaluates his buying options. (Crown Castle)

This is part of an occasional series from Fierce looking at leadership and management strategies in the telecom market.

Jay Brown was named president and CEO of tower company Crown Castle in June 2016. Now in his second of leadership at the company, he’s continuing to oversee the company’s growing strategic investments into small cells and fiber. Indeed, he’s currently working to expand on Crown Castle’s purchase in July of Lightower for a whopping $7.1 billion by looking for possible additional fiber purchases in smaller markets.

But how does Brown, as a chief executive, evaluate his buying options? How does he decide what to purchase and what to pass on?

On making decisions:

"I think first of all it comes from a grounding of 'what is our responsibility as managers.' At Crown Castle, we're stewarding other people’s capital. Today, between equity and debt, there's some $60 billion of enterprise value. And, in essence, there's $60 billion of capital that's been invested with Crown Castle for which people expect an appropriate return from our business.

So, the first grounding in decision-making is ensuring that all of our folks in the organization think like owners. We have a responsibility to our stakeholders to deliver an appropriate return on the capital that they've invested with us. That grounding in my opinion is probably one of the most important things we can do as we start down the process of making decisions.

The second component of it is the open environment and the culture where we collaboratively make decisions. I believe we benefit from a diversity of thought among a number of different groups inside the organization who have different perspectives. Some of them bring the benefit of customer perspective. Some of them bring a technology perspective. Some of them bring a finance perspective. Some of them bring an equipment manufacturing background perspective.

We work hard to collaboratively make decisions, solicit that diversity of thought and encourage diverse views that are aired and articulated in ways that really challenge the thinking. I believe that's an important component of even the decision-making process itself, of ensuring that culturally, people are comfortable with articulating differences of opinion and having robust discussion and debate about what the right answer is.

The best decision sort of rises to the top. And it happens more organically than forced. So, if I were to look at the last several decisions that we've made of size, and particularly with Lightower, we did exactly that. We start with a perspective around our responsibility to make good return for shareholders, and when the decision is on the table, we study hard to figure out whether or not we believe there's going to be appropriate return.

And the process of evaluating that is a collaborative process that considers as many viewpoints as we can possibly gain, both inside the company and outside the company to really wrestle with and decide what the best outcome is.

Certainly, as a leader, I don't believe I have all the ideas or even the best ideas. So my goal as CEO is to create an environment where the best ideas are aired, and to ultimately focus on the collective goal of the company and let the best decisions rise to the top."