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AUSWR
The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

For 80 years, Qwest buyer CenturyTel has grown through acquisition into national giant

Denver Business Journal

by Mark Harden

April 22, 2010

 

CenturyTel — the company that announced Thursday plans to buy Denver’s Qwest — has its roots as a Depression-era Louisiana phone company with 75 customers.

In 1930, a couple — William Clarke Williams and Marie Williams — bought the Oak Ridge Telephone Co. from F.E. Hogan for $500.

 

“The switchboard was relocated to the Williams’ front parlor so the family could man the board 24 hours a day,” a company history says. “The exception was between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays, when the office closed for church and dinner. Marie wrote out the bills by hand, and 8-year-old son Clarke McRae Williams delivered them on his bicycle.”

 

Sixteen years later, the Williams gave the company to Clarke and his wife, the former Mary Kathryn Lee, as a wedding present.

 

Today, that company — Monroe, La.-based CenturyTel Inc., which identifies itself to the public as CenturyLink — is the nation’s fifth-largest local phone company, with more than 7 million phone lines in 33 states and some 20,000 employees.

 

It has 7.5 million access lines, 2.1 million broadband customers, 450,000 video subscribers and a nearly 17,000-mile core fiber network. In 2009, it reported profit of $647.2 million, or $3.23 per share, and revenue of $4.97 billion.

 

CenturyTel operates from coast to coast, but most of its local-phone territory is in the southeast, areas where Qwest Communications International Inc. has less of a presence, as well as in the Great Lakes states.

 

For 80 years, CenturyTel has expanded mostly through acquisition of other phone-service providers.

 

In 1968, the company incorporated as Central Telephone and Electronics, later renamed Century Telephone Enterprises Inc., with Clarke Williams as president and chairman (later succeeded by his son, Clarke Jr.). Williams soon expanded the company into three states with 10,000 phone lines. The company went public in 1978.

Acquisitions began in 1972 when Century Telephone bought the La Crosse (Wis.) Telephone Corp. Several more phone-company buys followed, including the 1997 acquisition of Pacific Telecom Inc., which brought Century 660,000 telephone access lines in 12 states and doubled its size. In 2002 it bought 654,000 phone lines in Missouri and Alabama from Verizon.

 

Glen Post III was named CEO in 1992 after Clarke Jr.’s retirement following a stroke, and remains chief executive today. The company’s name was changed to CenturyTel in 1999.

 

In 2001, CenturyTel fended off a hostile takeover bid by Alltel Inc. And in 2008, CenturyTel agreed to acquire Embarq Corp., a landline phone service that was spun off by Sprint, for $5.8 billion in stock and a similar amount of Embarq debt. Embarq served parts of 18 states.


mharden@bizjournals.com