When Evansville Business profiled MetroNet in December 2021, the Evansville-based telecommunications company had quietly grown into the largest independently owned fiber-to-home company in the nation, having installed fiber-optic networks in more than 120 communities in a dozen-plus states. Nearly two years later, that footprint now reaches 250 communities in 16 states, and the internet, phone, and television provider envisions more growth on the horizon.
While expanding his father Al’s business, Chief Executive Officer John Cinelli also set in motion the next phase of MetroNet: its executive leadership succession plan. Announced in September, Dave Heimbach took the reins as CEO effective Oct. 1, with former Executive Vice President Sarah Overbaugh moving into the role of Chief Financial Officer, and prior CFO Lohn Weber becoming Executive Vice President-Capital Markets — a new position — while retaining his seat on the Board of Managers. Cinelli will serve as the company’s Executive Chairman.
Heimbach, a Cincinnati, Ohio, native met Cinelli in 2018 through advisory work for Oak Hill Capital, a MetroNet primary investor since 2014. Oak Hill introduced Heimbach to the MetroNet team, and he spent time in Evansville. A telecommunications veteran of 25 years, he’d heard of the company.
“John and I formed a quick relationship, and we got comfortable with the idea that someday it might make sense to come together and join forces,” Heimbach says.
That time came in 2021 when Heimbach — then with Chantelle Communications, which was divesting its wireless assets to T-Mobile — elected to join MetroNet.
“The time was right. It was an opportunity to get aboard a rocket ship, which doesn’t come along every day. It plays to my strengths and is a good fit all around,” he says.”
“(Dave is) a super nice guy, down to earth,” Cinelli says. “Our plan was he would eventually become CEO, but he had to earn it. He did, faster than my expectations.”
Heimbach, who lives in Virginia with his wife and five children, will remain based on the East Coast but anticipates traveling often in his new role.
“Our footprint is so widely distributed” that being CEO doesn’t require him to relocate to MetroNet’s Evansville headquarters, he says. But he’s no stranger to the River City. He has visited numerous times and, at the 2021 Fall Festival, even was gifted an honorary West Side Nut Club medallion.
“Evansville is the operation’s headquarters. Linzee (Smiley-McIntosh), Keith (Leonhardt), and Runswitch PR have been really thoughtful that, outside of Evansville, our folks understand what our culture is,” Cinelli says. “The folks we have are hardworking, smart, family-oriented, want to do a good job and be recognized, and treated with dignity and respect. We attract high-caliber people.”
That has translated into measurable internal success.
“We already have industry-leading performance in installation, repair, on-time arrival, average speed of answer, low abandonment rates in the call center, and we improved across every one of those metrics. They were already strong, and we made them even better. We measure things out 3-4 decimal places. That’s how committed we are to improving service,” Heimbach says. “I give John all the credit for making that part of the company culture.”
Evansville Business readers will recall that culture plays a significant role in MetroNet’s from-the-inside success. The company’s mission — to take care of the customer, each other, and the company — was a big draw for Heimbach and a priority he plans to continue.
“The three pillars are the company’s secret sauce. Any organization is made up of people, (and) it’s the people and decisions they make that make that company or organization sink or swim,” Heimbach says. “What’s so cool about what the culture is and what it means, and the work it took to make those pillars, is that it came from the associates, not the top. It’s emblematic of Midwestern roots — that work ethic, humility, and ‘take care of the customer sensibility’ is real and palpable. When you travel to different markets, you see it and feel it.”
Meanwhile, Cinelli plans to “be involved and help with the direction and vision and guidance, and nurturing the culture, and philanthropic things,” he says. “So, it’ll be the best of both worlds.”
He and his wife also have their eye on global travel.
“Our hope is to go to places like Ireland, South America, Argentina, Paraguay, the Baltic countries, maybe travel to Africa on safari,” he says. “Our bucket list is pretty long.”
Back at MetroNet’s East Side headquarters, the company on Sept. 30 celebrated “the best finish we’ve ever had” to its fiscal year, Heimbach says.
“We measure the growth of the franchise in several different ways. One is in how many new fiber passes we’ve constructed in one year. This year, we doubled the pace of the preceding three years. Our target was to build half a million passes, and we did just that. Half a million homes and businesses now have MetroNet across our footprint.”
Also doubling is the company’s number of markets, currently concentrated in states such as Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, and Texas.
“We launched 17 new markets last year, and we’re planning 34 markets this year. We’re keen to continue expanding at an even faster clip than last year,” Heimbach continues. “We foresee a time we’ll be in 20 states in the not-too-distant future. Our growth platform is as long as we can go.”
Adds Cinelli, “We like to say we’re moving at the speed of MetroNet.”