DirectLink Heads, Past and Current, Offer Lessons on Leadership, Teamwork

This is the second in a two-part series in which The Canby Current spent time interviewing current DirectLink President Paul Hauer, along with his predecessors Keith Galitz and Rich Ares, all of whom remain active members of the Canby community. Part 1 is available here.

Coming into his new role as president of Canby Telephone Association (CTA), better known today as DirectLink, in 2013 — a time when the phone, television and broadband internet industries were all in a state of unprecedented flux — Paul Hauer knew his tenure would be one of change.

But even he could have never predicted the unique challenges that lay ahead, from the coronavirus pandemic to historic wildfires and other extreme weather events that would test DirectLink and its infrastructure like never before.

Looking back in a recent interview in which Hauer as well as his two immediate predecessors, Keith Galitz and Rich Ares, reflected on the company’s history and their own unique leadership approaches and styles, he said he believes DirectLink was sustained by a strong corporate identity and cohesive culture he has strived to help foster.

For Hauer, it starts with his leadership style — which may be different than what you expect.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with the word ‘leader,'” Hauer admitted. “Not that it has a negative connotation, but my whole philosophy is I’m here to support the employees, try to give them the environment, the tools, everything they need to be successful.

“It’s lead by example and not by dictation. And so it’s more of a servant-leadership style, and it’s a way of really rolling up your sleeves and getting down and doing the work with everybody, and creating an environment that is conducive to positive interactions. And happy people work harder.”

People also tend to work harder if they know their hard work is appreciated, and Hauer has always strived to ensure his employees know he believes they are DirectLink’s greatest asset.

Paul Hauer. Photos courtesy DirectLink.

“It’s really the employees that keep me coming to work every day,” he said. “We have such a tremendous wealth of resources and knowledge and experience and openness to do whatever the job requires.”

Hauer said it’s important to balance the professional with taking an appropriate interest in colleagues, hobbies and the things that make them tick.

Hauer endeared himself to employees and customers alike with this get-up at the Canby Dahlia Run one year. Photos courtesy DirectLink.
“When I first started and I was trying to learn who everybody was, I also asked every single employee to stand up and tell me who their favorite band was,” he recalled. “And anytime we would have a similar all-employee meeting, I’d ask something else, like ‘What was the first car that you drove?’ So, it was just kind of an icebreaker to try to get to know them.”

He laughed as he recalled how some would throw out something obscure or outlandish to try to faze him — but it didn’t work. Instead, he Googled the band and, the next time he saw the employee, mentioned a couple of songs that he had liked from their repertoire.

“I think it surprised them that I actually went out and listened to their songs,” he said. “They were like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe you really did that.'”

Hauer turned the tables one year at the Canby Dahlia Run, an event DirectLink helps sponsor, wearing shorts, cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat — just to get a laugh.

“I think humor is important,” he said. “It lightens the atmosphere, the environment. I have a strong belief that if you enjoy working, things will go much better for you. Not even necessarily just in business, but in life. You’ve got to keep things light, and I think we’ve that done that well over the last several years.”

Hauer is quick to give much credit to his predecessor, Keith Galitz, and the many people that helped build DirectLink into the institution it has been in Canby for more than a century.

Galitz, who served as president from 2005 to 2015, was always impressed by the company’s focus on customer service, having come from the world of huge conglomerates like Qwest and U.S. West.

“They were very focused on the member, the customer,” Galitz recalled. “Superior customer service. This group really understood the customer and wanted to provide superior service. And that was so nice because I came from a big company that was struggling with customer service and was not doing a very good job.

“Then I walked in here and every employee had this same focus: ‘We want to satisfy the customer and meet the customer needs.’ It was amazing.”

Galitz said he always strived to embody a collaborative approach to leadership, one in which divergent views and opinions were welcomed and encouraged.

“I wanted to make sure I surrounded myself with people that came from differing views,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that we got a full perspective. I didn’t want to just have people around me saying, ‘Well, yeah, let’s just do whatever you want to do.'”

Keith Galitz. Photos courtesy DirectLink.

Galitz said he and his wife were so impressed with not only CTA’s culture and workforce but the entire community of Canby that they decided to relocate here from their hometown of Lake Oswego — and never left.

“While I played golf at Willamette Valley [Country Club], I didn’t really get to know the people of Canby until I started working here,” he remembered. “But the people in this community are amazing. They are so supportive of one another and the community and the businesses.”

Like Hauer, he attributed much of his success to those who came before him, especially a decision made by his predecessor, Rich Ares, and the CTA Board of Directors to set aside a certain percentage of the company’s revenues to give back to the community.

“I have to tell you: I was so proud of what we did in this community with those gifts,” he said. “Not just to nonprofits, but also helping fund projects like the Vietnam Memorial. I think that probably is one of the things I’m most proud of is that I can say, ‘Hey, we continued that philosophy.'”

Galitz said that Ares, as well as company Chairman Don Peterson and then-attorney Roger Reif, helped him make a smooth transition from corporate America to the more rural and community-minded DirectLink. Galitz said his predecessor was always available to him if he needed help.

“Rich was always available to me for questions,” he said. “And that was a nice thing. Rich was available for months and years, really. I’d call him from time to time, just say, ‘Hey, Rich, let me run this by you. I want to get your perspective on it.'”

Though Ares remained in the area and available if needed, he said he very deliberately told staff that he would be “hands-off” after retirement.

“I made a vow to my successor and the staff that when I retired, I’m not going to come back and haunt you,” Ares said. “‘I am retired. I’m a customer now.’ And I didn’t. I mean, I really tried to stay back. And if someone called with a question or something, obviously, it’d help, but it was their company.”

Galitz assists during an employee volunteerism event. Photos courtesy DirectLink.

Ares mentored under his predecessor, the legendary Eugene “Larry” Cole, for two years before taking the reins of the Canby Telephone Association, and he undertook a similarly deliberative process in passing the torch to Galitz.

“Being a part of the community, I really wanted to make sure that it was a solid company that would continue to serve the customers,” Ares said.

Like Galitz and Hauer, Ares felt it was important to live in and truly become invested in the community as part of his leadership role.

“For years, I traveled a lot in my role here at the company,” Ares recalled. “And I would go to these places in the Carolinas or the South or wherever and say, ‘Could I live here when I retire?’ And I kept coming back and saying, ‘No, I really love Canby, and I’m here for the long haul.'”

Ares, too, believed it was important to build a foundation on strong, capable and well-trained personnel, and he also subscribed to the principle of not spreading one’s resources too thin.

“At times in the past, I felt we had been trying to do too many things at one time,” he explained. “So, we came up with a philosophy that if we’re going to have a major project or a major change, we wanted to limit that to two or three a year, and not 12 or nine, but do those two or three really well before we move on to the next project.

“And to do that, we had to have people that could make the plans and then implement the plans, train and develop the people, and hopefully retain the people. I always tried to develop or hire really capable people that weren’t needing a lot of hand-holding and day-to-day supervision.”

Rich Ares, left, appears with then-CTA Chair Don Peterson and Marketing Director Monica Santee at a 2004 event in which he was awarded the National Management Achievement Award by the NTCA-Rural Broadband Association.

Ares is characteristically humble in reflecting on his time and accomplishments at DirectLink.

“I think the biggest thing is I didn’t want to mess it up,” he said with a laugh. “I think President Obama or one of our presidents said that when he was inaugurated, that he didn’t want to mess it up. But that was always on your mind, that the company had been here 90 years at that point, and yeah, you didn’t want to mess it up. You wanted to see it get to a 100. Now it’s almost 120.”

But he is proud of the company and the good work it has done in serving Canby and the surrounding areas over the decades.

“The company has always been blessed by having a stable board of very capable people,” Ares said. “And that board was stable right through the leadership transitions. And from everything I can see — I read the annual reports, I’m a customer — it seems like it’s a thriving company and on a solid foundation.

“I’m proud that I had a piece of that, but I know the later management and teams have done, obviously, some really great things to keep it as strong as it is. I’m proud of being a past president, and I hope it continues to thrive for some time. DirectLink is such an asset to the community, and I hope it continues.”

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