Business Profile | Ross Manire
Lisle-based ExteNet Systems has grown into one of the top technology companies in the Chicago-area. President and CEO Ross Manire founded the wireless-infrastructure company in 2002, in part, to fill the increasing demand for video and data by smartphones and tablet users. Today, the company continues to deploy solutions to enhance wireless service and network performance across indoor and outdoor environments.
What inspired you to come up with the idea for starting ExteNet Systems?
We were in the very early stages of wireless data in 2002. However, the business case for Distributed Networks was tangible even then, as the potential growth in wireless data was being recognized by industry experts, and one could see that people wanted to be untethered when it came to their electronic interface to the Internet. Our notion was that the macro tower infrastructure had technical and aesthetic limitations to adequately serve cell phone users in both outdoor and indoor environments. The timing of our business concept was somewhat problematic in that we were just coming off the dot com bubble and the implosion of the telecom space. As a result, the financial investment markets for our concept were extremely cautious and it took much longer to raise funding for the company than originally anticipated.
Our initial business plan was conservative and we underestimated the explosive growth brought on by the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, other versions of the smartphone, tablets, Internet of Things (IoT) and other forms of wireless communication. The functionality of these devices became significantly more useful with the launch of nationwide 4G LTE networks by the wireless carriers. These two factors combined to dramatically change the market in which we were operating.
The capacity requirements on the wireless networks became enormous and the macro tower networks were just not capable of satisfying the demands placed upon them. Concurrently, user habits changed drastically—we were no longer operating in a voice-centric environment but one in which personalized data content and the need for anytime-anywhere access had become predominant.
What do you attribute to ExteNet Systems’ success?
Our people and the company-wide belief in our value proposition for our customers. Understanding and serving our customers has been a critical contributor to our success. Companies that take their eye off the ball of their customer’s needs and are unwilling to adapt to ever-changing technology and market conditions, risk becoming irrelevant in their markets. Success has hinged on ensuring the team rows in the same direction at all times. Innovation has also been a key part of our success as the entire communications infrastructure evolution has been a by-product of pragmatic innovations through the years. Beyond that, our ability to raise affordable capital at key junctures over the years via our investors and financial institutions has been instrumental in our success.
You have said that innovation is more than just a mantra at ExteNet. How is innovation ingrained in your company culture?
Innovation is one of our corporate values. We are not a product company. We are a services company. We design, build, own and operate our Distributed Networks that enable mobile connectivity for the wireless carriers to serve their customers. Companies need a productive workforce and efficiencies built in at every level. Bring your own device (BYOD) is no longer a trend—it’s life. People want to instantly share their personal experience with family and friends. Emergency first responders need a reliable and high bandwidth network that’s available at any and all times.
Looking ahead, the wireless network landscape is rapidly evolving as the Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming a tangible reality and 5G technology will be introduced in the next couple of years. Wireless infrastructure will always need to be a step ahead of this evolution. Innovation around the network architectures, deployment models, and network operations is critical to advance and create a sustainable mobile and wireless infrastructure.
ExteNet is addressing a multi-billion dollar market today in North America, a market that is also growing at over 25 percent compounded annual growth rates. The growth rate is driven by the exponentially growing mobile data usage and the ever-evolving communications habits of today’s users, who have grown significantly “youthful” in their communication habits. We are as likely to see an elderly person use video calling to communicate with family and friends as we are to see a teenager using Snapchat to share their latest selfie. Our offerings stem from pragmatic innovation—such that it can offer instant benefits with a low cost of ownership.
How do you balance all of your professional and personal obligations?
This is probably one of the biggest challenges I, and I am sure many others, face. It’s easy to become subsumed by one’s responsibilities for a company, its mission and, most importantly, its employees. I have had the good fortune of having a very understanding family. We try to set aside family time throughout the year, sometimes more successfully than others.
When you are not busy as CEwO, how do you enjoy spending your free time?
My wife and I have been taking an international trip each year to see and learn about other cultures and societies. I am also an avid reader of history and historical biographies as they help provide some context of what we are experiencing in the world today. We also enjoy heading to the mountains for skiing, hiking and other mountain focused activities.Photo by Mike Hudson