Now that Tony Turner no longer works for MCI Telecommunications Corp., he's selling more telephone services than ever.
Mr. Turner, who sold $6 million in services during his best year with MCI, is now president and chief executive officer of Annapolis-based Integrated Communications Corp. This month he cemented his company's status as the largest agent for MCI with a landmark contract under which Integrated has committed itself to selling $250 million in MCI communications services over the next two years.
The commission will be at least 30 percent, Mr. Turner said -- meaning the deal will be worth no less than $75 million to Integrated if it sells only the minimum called for in the contract.
Put another way, that represents $5 million in revenues for each of the company's 15 employees -- only five of whom work at its bare-bones Annapolis headquarters. The other 10 handle back shop operations out of an office in South Carolina.
The money Integrated takes in will spread throughout its network of 250 subcontractors, which employ an estimated 1,000 agents, Mr. Turner said. He added that the new contract could add jobs on the administrative side of the business.
Mr. Turner, 32, said he and a partner launched the "alternate marketing arm" for MCI 2 1/2 years ago. He said that in the last 15 months, Integrated has managed to bring more than 1,700 hotels and motels into the MCI system.
Integrated also sells MCI services to other institutional and large business customers, but the focus on hotels meshes naturally with the experience of Mr. Turner's original partner, Carroll Gray, who formerly served as director of a hotel trade association in Maryland. Mr. Turner and Mr. Gray were later joined by a third co-owner, David Ellerstein, 31, another MCI veteran.
Mr. Turner said he launched the business after spending eight years in the telephone industry, during which he never left a job but wound up going through four mergers -- the last of which brought him to MCI as an account representative.
Don Gienger, MCI's Southeast region manager for agent sales, said Mr. Turner was "one of the top major account reps" for the company when he broached the idea of setting up his own agency.
"We were in favor of that." he said.
At the time he left the company, Mr. Turner was living on the Eastern Shore and working for MCI in Baltimore. When he set up the new company in Annapolis, he made a considerable cut in his commuting time.
Mr. Turner said the independent agent approach works well for MCI because "you can have people out on the street selling your services and you don't have to take all the time figuring out who's going to be successful and who's not." Integrated, rather than MCI, takes on the task of finding people with marketing experience in the industry and converting them over to MCI.
Unlike MCI marketing employees, Integrated's agents are necessarily confined to a certain assigned territory or market niche, Mr. Turner said.
"As an independent agent, basically it's unlimited," he said. "You can bring a lot more business in."
Mr. Gienger said MCI is moving in the direction of greater use of independent agents because it's a more cost-effective way to reach certain customers, especially smaller businesses and niche markets such as the hotel industry.
The MCI executive compared his company's strategy with the insurance industry's long-standing practice of using independent agents.
"It's the same thing that's been going on for 50 years," he said. "It's just taking hold in the long-distance industry."
For now, Mr. Turner said, Integrated represents only MCI, though he said the contract does not promise exclusivity. He said he'd like to diversify his customer base by adding clients whose products and services would be compatible with MCI's long-distance and other services, but he disclaimed any interest in representing MCI's competitors.
"It would be counterproductive, to say the least," he said.
Rather, he hopes to expand the range of MCI services and products he can represent. He said he's held discussions with the company about representing MCI Metro, the company's planned challenge to local telephone monopolies. "We would like to be involved in it," he said.
Mr. Turner said independent ventures such as Integrated are not common in the telephone industry, though MCI does have some other affiliated agencies. "We're not sure everyone could be successful leaving MCI and working from home or wherever," he said. "It takes loving the competitive environment."