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At Nautel, a Change in Leadership

Charismatic CEO steps down 

Paul McLane is editor in chief.

I look forward to learning what kind of a business leader Kevin Rodgers will be at Nautel. For the moment I am pausing to think about the executive he replaces.

As RW was first to report on Monday, the transmitter manufacturer announced that its president and CEO, Peter Conlon, shown at right, is leaving after eight years at the company helm. He becomes head of a company called LED Roadway Lighting.

At Radio World we follow leadership changes of broadcast equipment companies with interest; and we tend to give transmitter companies particular attention, because buying that box is one of the biggest, most expensive and sometimes emotional purchases that a radio technical manager will make.

Microphones and audio processors might be sexier and generate a lot of personal loyalty; but you can replace one of them pretty easily if you’ve chosen poorly. Not usually so with a transmitter; your station’s business rides on its back. Changes at the manufacturer can have real impact on the customer service and support level. Further, corporate shifts in the sector generally can be a good way to measure the temperature of the marketplace; transmitter makers can serve as industry bellwethers. That’s one reason Radio World reported on the recent change of ownership at Harris Broadcast, now GatesAir, so closely.

Anyone who has shopped for big iron in the past eight years knows that Nautel has done a good job of enhancing its reputation and expanding its market footprint during that time. No transmitter company has had an easy go of it in these years, given general economic trends and specific challenges for OTA radio; Nautel has had its shares of ups and downs. As Conlon told me in 2011, “All broadcasters are facing tight budgets; both capital and expense. So it looks as if fewer people, with less money, are going to have to do more difficult jobs. Quite a picture.”

But I have heard from users and competitors that Nautel’s product growth and business resilience during this period were impressive. Product development and engineering were certainly part of that; but much of the credit goes to Conlon, an effusive man and natural leader whose ebullience we saw again on display at the recent spring NAB Show. Having started with Mitel Corp., he later worked in other high-tech firms like Newbridge Networks, Positron Fiber Systems and his own company Consistllc, according to his LinkedIn page, before coming to Nautel.

I have a mental image of him vacuuming the rug of the company booth just before the show floor opened; many company presidents wouldn’t get their hands dirty. More importantly, when I sat down with him to talk, as I do with many manufacturing executives, Conlon’s optimism about radio’s overall future, its reach and its investment backing was infectious. He was an ardent advocate not just for his products but for the outlook for the over-the-air industry. I pushed him to put those thoughts into writing in fact, because my mantra as editor is that we all benefit from a healthy, vibrant broadcast equipment marketplace. Without endorsing any given company, I feel that we could use more optimism like that among vendor industry leadership. I try to learn something from every successful person I meet. I took away from Conlon the business and personal value in showing a consistently calm, upbeat face to the world.

I know Conlon will be missed at Nautel, where internally he is seen as a superstar. But management seems confident that its transition will be smooth. Thus the industry will look to get to know Kevin Rodgers, P.E., better. He joined the company in 1985 as a field service engineer, according to the Nautel website. He is longtime director on its board, and most recently held the title director of customer service. I’m told he’ll be at the fall Radio Show, where visitors will no doubt seek him out, as they should the leaders of all their mission-critical manufacturers.

They will watch with interest, as will I, to see what direction the company takes next.