Newsletter Archive - Corner Office
An Interview with Charles Stubbs, President/CEO - YELLOWPAGES.COM
06/08/2006 - Most of the people we talk with in View From The Corner Office interviews are already acknowledged, well known leaders in the Yellow Pages industry, mostly due to their longevity in the industry, their senior level positions in their organizations, and their frequent appearances as speakers at industry events. But on the developing online/local search/IYP side of the business, the names and faces are less well known. As this emerging segment of the industry grows, we fully expect these will be the future executive stars of the industry. And we think one person you're going to be hearing a lot more of in the coming years is Charles Stubbs, the President and CEO of YELLOWPAGES.COM, a joint venture between AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Advertising and Publishing.
Charles has a unique challenge. First he must balance the needs of his two large funding partners (AT&T and BellSouth, soon to be just AT&T, the largest Yellow Pages company in the industry). At the same time he must build a new business which grows the revenues of the emerging online/local search/IYP products without significantly cannibalizing on his founding partners print revenues. And finally, just to make it more interesting, his team must battle the constant barrage of recognition heaped on larger industry players such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN as they try to establish a brand image for YELLOWPAGES.COM. Just a routine day's work, right?
Charles comes to this position with significant new media background. Prior to being named President and CEO of YELLOWPAGES.COM, Charles served as President of BellSouth IntelliVentures, the electronic media division of BellSouth Advertising and Publishing Group. From 1996 to 1999 he was a key leader in the launch of RealPages.com and oversaw the organizations steady increase in revenue growth from 2001 until 2004. Before leading the BellSouth RealPages.com team, he was Executive Vice President of Infospace, a Bellevue, Washington-based entity that develops and markets Internet and wireless solutions for a wide range of customers including consumers, merchants, wireless operators, content brands, and financial institutions. In this role, Charles was responsible for the company's wireline division, including advertising and licensing revenue at the time when the company was in great flux due to rapid growth and significant challenges to its founder. Despite these distractions he succeeded in leading significant increases in revenues, while reducing operating expenses.
The current YELLOWPAGES.COM venture was announced in November of 2004, and combined SBC SMARTpages.com (now AT&T Inc.), BellSouth RealPages.com and Nevada-based YellowPages.com into one intuitive brand in 2005. The YELLOWPAGES.COM distribution network currently provides more than 100 million monthly searches to advertisers.
Charles earned an M.B.A from Vanderbilt University, and an undergraduate degree from Cornell University.
We talked with him about his background, his company, and the industry in general.
YPT: How did you get started in the Yellow Pages business??
Stubbs: I was graduating from business school and was looking for a job in several industries. Bellsouth expressed an interest in my resume. They had just started their interactive services group and it seemed like a good company to work for and a great opportunity. So in 1996 I joined them as an analyst. I went to work for Mark Stephens who ran the product groups and wrote the original business case for RealPages.com.
YPT: Biggest mentor/supporters in your career??
Stubbs: Don Perozzi (former president of BellSouth's Advertising and Publishing Group) was fabulous to me, and helped developed me early on. I first met him in late 1996, and we talked a lot about the future of the Internet. He was a wonderful leader and probably one of the most charismatic people I have ever met. Clearly Elmer Smith (former president of BellSouth's Advertising and Publishing Group) helped me understand a lot about the overall Yellow Pages business. Today, Denny Payne (president AT&T Directory) and Ike Harris (current president of BellSouth's Advertising and Publishing Group) provide a great perspective on the business and have been very helpful sounding boards for new ideas.
YPT: Is there still such a thing as a Career path in Yellow Pages??
Stubbs: Absolutely. There is a lot of change and opportunity within the industry. There are any numbers of ways to get started on a career path. My path was very non-traditional one because I did not grow up in sales. Most of the senior leaders in the industry today started as sales reps and moved up into sales management and then later into other positions with more cross functional roles as the business changed and new opportunities opened up. Along the way I added a Masters degree to my education which also helped.
YPT: In a handful of words, describe Charles Stubbs?
Stubbs: Just a hard working guy, who's working to build a business, and be sure that AT&T and BellSouth have a great electronic future. We have some incredible assets and I want to increase our position for these two large organizations to further leverage the opportunity.
Perfect meal? At home with the family, relaxed and cooking on the grill.
Favorite junk food? Potato chips.
Favorite movie? No one favorite.
Best way to spend a day off? With my family. Since YELLOWPAGES.COM is a start-up, it can be taxing and yet rewarding at the same time. So any time that I can spend at home with my wife and kids is special.
What are you reading now? Mostly the business publications related to business, and of course, YP Talk.
Favorite gadget?? I have a new Blackberry which has an integrated cell phone, i-pager, and email all in one device. I like this version because the i-pager and emails are in two separate folders, and they have made other significant improvements in the email.
Golf Handicap? I've never had the time to take the game up, but it has been suggested that I do so one day.
YPT: What does a typical week look like for you?
Stubbs: We are building our own sales organization here which has required a lot of my attention recently. I spend a fair amount of time on administrative stuff, but my main focus has usually been on technology and product development. We have just brought on a great new CTO Brad Mohs, so he has taken the reigns on most of the technology leadership. That has allowed me to be more focused on product development and strategy.
YPT: Other CEO's/Presidents have noted that they also have a boss. You have two bosses from both the AT&T and BellSouth side. How do you balance each of their needs?
Stubbs: These are interesting times. Both Denny Payne and Ike Harris are very supportive of the business, very excited about the business, and each brings their own perspective. I actually have four bosses, the four Board members, to work with. On the AT&T side in addition to Denny Payne, there is Myles Migley, and on the BellSouth side in addition to Ike Harris there is Barry Boniface who runs all M&A for BellSouth. All of my discussions with the Board members are very collaborative, and we really build a consensus on decisions a lot more often than people may think. We have a clearly articulated strategy that they have agreed to and we are executing. I feel in this day and age in the electronic world you need a very tight game plan for the next 6 to 12 months that everyone in the leadership team has agreed to so we can focus on execution.
YPT: How would you describe your management style??
Stubbs: Collaborative, amicable, and somewhat laid back, but very focused on execution and bringing things to completion. Fairly hands off. I don't think micromanagement is something my people would associate with me. Clearly articulating a strategy where we are going and executing upon it are the really important things.
YPT: Has your definition of success changed over the years?? And what is it now??
Stubbs: Success to me is when I can provide our people, our employees the opportunity to grow and flourish in their careers. In a business like this with such explosive growth it really does provide them with increased responsibility and challenges which if seized, should provide them with a faster pace for growth than in a more traditional business. I get really excited when we can take a top performing sales rep or marketing person and have them rapidly move through management into even bigger jobs. If people are willing to work hard, go that extra mile, and be innovative, we should continue to provide them with more opportunities. That excites me when I can see that throughout the company. It's a big part of the definition of success. I am just one example of where people gave me a ton of opportunity to succeed.
YPT: What have been your organization's major achievements over the past year?
Stubbs: It has now been 18 months as a joint venture. Getting the joint venture approved by AT&T and BellSouth off the ground while simultaneously acquiring the YELLOWPAGES.COM brand name and getting all of the financing together, two major steps that we thought would be critical to making this a reality, have been successful. It required a tremendous amount of work even before the organization was formerly started.
The other success has been in the pulling together all of the sites the various companies had into one site, YELLOWPAGES.COM, in November, 2005. That was a huge success. We now have one site and one brand to build on from a technology and business model perspective.
YPT: What have been your organization's biggest disappointments over the past year?
Stubbs: I tend to set the bar pretty high on performance so with that in mind I think the timing on execution while we are doing a pretty good job, could always be better. I think that getting things done well, efficiently, and creatively is something that's always going to be a continual. You can't afford to be totally satisfied if you want to lead and win in this space.
YPT: At many conferences YP Talk attends, we often hear prognostications that the print Yellow Pages is dead, but they continue to thrive. When do you think the industry will reach a tipping point on print revenues moving to the online/local Search products?
Stubbs: While I shouldn't be the prognosticator to talk to about print, the call tracking stats still show that print is easy to use, it's always on, it's right there, it's accessible in any room, car, or wherever, so there continues to be phenomenal usage of the print products. I think that the biggest question has been the future growth of that usage. In any media revenue growth, positive or negative, will mirror usage.
On the electronic side while much of the discussion has been about new devices such as cell phones, PDA's, wireless, IPTV, etc. These additional points of access are exciting and should help grow the usage of the electronic products. But I still think there is a lot more growth potential in traditional web. The phenomenal number of look-ups already going on hasn't been fully monetized yet. There is a lot more usage today in electronic products than people give it credit for.
We feel great about our value proposition at YELLOWPAGES.COM. We are already pushing 100 million searches a month now. We feel that our uniques are great and things are going well.
YPT: At the YPA conference panel discussion you stated that an Internet publisher would need over 8,000 local salespeople to have a true nation wide footprint. The new AT&T currently has 4,200+. How will you achieve that number??
Stubbs: I still believe that is the correct number and will ultimately be the key differentiator. We are starting to build out our own channel in addition to the partnerships we are forming. The main point being you can't get local without content, and that requires feet on the street. The Internet has taught us that scale is also a key. The success of a Google or eBay or Yahoo is that they embraced the scale of the technology needed. We try to do this as well. For IYP/local search if you want to embrace the scale of the business model needed to be successful you need to be able to monetize all 50 states, and be truly national in scale.
YPT: What do you see as the future of the National channel in the online/local search market??
Stubbs: I see a clear division in the CMR community between those that get it, and fully embrace the new products, and do a great job. Then there are others that only want to do just print. As a result, I would expect it will have a major impact on the channel within the next few years.
For all of the CMRs, we have gone out of our way to have amicable relationships with anyone that will embrace IYP/local search on behalf of their clients. We are looking for those CMRs that will show the value of the product, demonstrate the value of the product, and sell the product as the right thing for their customer. We feel our commission plan is generous and is aligned with incentives for the better performing ones, and isn't punishing if they don't reach a certain level of sales.
YPT: Mergers are hot in the Internet space and there is a lot of speculation that more big Internet deals or alliances like the recent Yahoo-eBay partnership are coming soon. How does this activity affect YELLOWPAGES.COM outlook???
Stubbs: Right now we have the "Google affect" going on in the market place. All of the press, the discussion about their stock price, all of that momentum is being showered on them. There are number of great companies out there that aren't Google and hence, aren't getting the attention that they deserve. A great example is the Yahoo - eBay partnering, which should give both of them a larger scale to compete against Google. When a company like Google is so hot, analysts tend to focus on it. For YELLOWPAGES.COM we have great usage and great growth. We think we warrant some of that attention too.
YPT: Several of the external industry speakers at the recent YPA conference commented how clunky and inefficient most of the current online/local search products are. What was your reaction??
Stubbs:I think as an industry we still have a way to go. I thought it was a good discussion whether you agree with it or not. You have to be willing to put those issues on the table, do your homework, do your research in order to be able to do the right things. I think discussions like this are healthy. We have big plans to have a better consumer experience. The relationships with Microsoft on mapping for the birds eye view and aerial view that we have recently executed on our site are just the first steps of what we can and will do to make the product better.
YPT: How has the early success of Verizon's Superpages changed your product line?
Stubbs: Looking at all players, I'm a big fan of doing our homework. We have to learn from others mistakes and embrace the successes. We have tried to do that as often as we can and would like to be better at it. We watch all of the players in our space, the market, and adapt quickly. Being agile is essential.
We have a lot of work to do here. We have some great competitors in this space. And I always tell my people you might be able to say a lot of things about working at YELLOWPAGES.COM but I challenge all of you to tell me you're bored.
YPT: Any interesting things you are seeing from potential competitors??
Stubbs:I thought it was interesting that Google changed their link from Google Local to Google Maps, because Yellow Pages isn't just about maps. Maps are just one component. It's about finding that local businesses I wonder where that strategy is going? Yahoo has been investing a ton of money and coming up with some great products. And we're also watching MSN. The biggest challenge for us is how fragmented or consolidated the market becomes around one or two major players.
Yellow Pages.com company info:
|History||The original YELLOWPAGES.COM site was launched in 1996. In November, 2005, the current site combined three leading IYP sites SMARTpages.com, RealPages.com and YellowPages.com.|
|Usage/Key Metrics||Through the YELLOWPAGES.COM Network (including distribution on Switchboard and AOL Yellow Pages), advertisers will receive exposure to up to 100 million monthly searches.|
|Unique Visitors:||The YELLOWPAGES.COM Network receives approximately 26 million unique visitors (March 2006).|
|Key IYP Offerings and Data Providers||Business Listings Data:
More than 18 million business listings (nationwide)
|Key Site Features||Address Book:
Users can add directory listings to a personal address book for easy access at a later date.
YELLOWPAGES.COM offers Consumer Guides to reflect popular shopping and life event activities. These are organized to reflect key consumer interests and provide product information and reviews in key categories, including auto, travel and entertainment. Each consumer guide provides a pull-down search box with information related to the guide to direct consumers into the local business database. Currently the site offers more than 20 top category guides with varying levels of subcategories.
YELLOWPAGES.COM offers comprehensive information in City Guides covering major national cities. The content is a combination of content developed specifically for the guide as well as partnerships and links to various other localized content. City Guides provide an overview of the city, local weather, maps and driving directions, local traffic, points of interest, local events, sports, theater, movie information, seating charts for key venues, concert listings, local dining and hotels with restaurant guides, online reservations, links to local media and news outlets, local resources links and more.
Maps and Driving Directions:
New Mapping Functionality announced in 2006 allows for driving directions, aerial and birds-eye views.
This feature allows users to initiate a call to advertisers by clicking on a link in the advertisers business listing. This is a free service to users and advertisers.