It was 1912 when a young carpenter from Denmark named Pete Christensen won a fledgling telephone company during a round of pinochle.
Of course, Christensen had no idea of the technology transformation that lie ahead and the vital role the company known today as Rainier Connect, the switchboard of which once was operated by his daughter, Annie, would play in serving residents of the burgeoning South Puget Sound.
Advancements in technology and the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which paved the way for any communications business to compete in any market against any other, have brought about significant changes and challenges. Through it all, this fifth-generation company has found a way to come into its own.
Initially focused on serving rural Eatonville customers with reliable telephone service, the company today has offices in both Eatonville and Tacoma and provides phone, cable TV, and high-speed internet access to roughly 20,000 commercial and residential customers in such areas as Chehalis, Graham, South Hill, Spanaway, Tacoma, and beyond.
President and CEO Brian Haynes, who took the helm in 2007 to continue his family’s legacy, credits much of the company’s long-standing success to its ability to be nimble, dedicated associates, and community involvement.
“I kind of grew up with a sales background, and you just have to be nimble and quick and make sure you can make a good deal with the customer right then and there. When I first came in, that was a very slow process and there were a lot of silos within the company,” said Haynes. “What we’ve done, to make a long story short, is we have a very flat management. There is generally one person between myself and any employee in the company. We push the decision-making as close to the consumer as possible.”
Empowering its associates with the knowledge and resources needed to excel and provide exceptional service has not only helped the company win the hearts of its customers, but also has helped foster a sense of family among its 60-plus employees.
“We have an incredible culture where we all try to get to know each other without corporate retreats, or ice breakers and nonsense. I think we’ve done a fantastic job trying to figure out what makes each of us tick, and then figuring out ways we can make them tick more,” Haynes said.
Community involvement and support also are paramount to Rainier Connect’s success, and were likely factors in the company emerging as the optimal choice for a potential soon-to-be partnership with Tacoma’s Click! Network.
“That will give us access to all of Tacoma. And the incredible things that we can do there is now we’ll have the ability to work with the school district to provide some of their services to all students of Tacoma, but with an emphasis on the low-income folks that need broadband,” Haynes said. “To be able to go out to low-income housing projects and provide high-quality broadband at affordable prices, if not free. … There’s just tremendous opportunity for us to take this municipally owned asset and create a return for the community. We are unbelievably excited about that.”
Added Haynes, “I hope people think we’re a great corporate citizen. You don’t want people to pick you just because you’re local, although you don’t dissuade that, but you want to make sure there’s a return for everybody. … We hope that we’re also just a very good member of the communities that we serve.”