Building on experience, SkyLine’s new CEO, Kim Shepherd, is ready to take charge as the company continues on its path toward growth with a range of new initiatives.
For only the sixth time in its almost 70-year history, SkyLine has a new chief executive officer. Kim Shepherd was named CEO by the board after the June 30 retirement of Jimmy Blevins, who had been with the company 33 years.
This new era of leadership for the cooperative continues the strategic planning that SkyLine’s Board of Directors and leadership and management team have been engaged in for several years. SkyLine regularly revisits and reassesses their five-year plan’s goals, objectives and action plans to verify that they pair with current and trending developments in the technology, regulatory and competitive arenas.
Shepherd brings more than 20 years of experience with SkyLine to her new role, having led such areas in the company as Support Services, Customer Service and Customer Operations, which also includes Field Services.
For the past 18 months, she has served as the company’s chief management officer, a role that has prepared her for the transition to CEO by directing the company’s day-to-day operations. She is joined by a four-member team of executive directors: Robbie Farmer, who leads Engineering Operations; Brian Tester, who leads Customer Operations; Edward Hinson, who oversees Competitive Operations; and Cindy Rothstein, who oversees Finance.
“The blueprint our strategic planning produces has helped us navigate the ever-changing landscape of our industry and potential future opportunities and challenges for our company,” Shepherd said. With the successful completion of the FTTP (Fiber to the Premise) overbuild across its five-county cooperative footprint, SkyLine is embarking on its newest initiative. “Like many rural telecommunications providers across the country, we have set a path toward growth and expansion efforts to allow us to provide advanced communications and the highest level of customer service to our cooperative members and expanding customer base while maintaining our role as a leader and innovator in rural telecommunications.”
Following the fall 2017 acquisition of Chesnee Communications in upstate South Carolina, SkyLine, through its wholly-owned subsidiary SkyBest, formed SkyBest Holding Company, LLC, for the purpose of achieving further access line growth and company acquisitions. Its second acquisition was finalized in 2018, bringing into the fold another small family-owned company, Loretto Telecom, in middle Tennessee.
Shepherd explained, “Our efforts in this arena are two-fold: to enhance services and elevate the customer service experience in those areas and to create additional revenue so we may extend our advanced technology infrastructure to neighboring communities and towns that are either unserved or underserved and in serious need of broadband connectivity.”
Locally, SkyBest’s role as a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC) is making further progress to extend fiber connections to more communities in the West Jefferson and Jefferson communities. The Rayfield Acres development and nearby communities are now able to access the company’s triple-play of services (voice, gigabit-capable broadband and digital TV), and work has commenced to extend fiber connections along Highway 88 East through the business corridor in Jefferson.
Additionally, SkyLine is aggressively seeking federal and state grant opportunities earmarked for broadband expansion to reach such communities as Triplett in Watauga County, Pyatte in Avery County and Rugby, Virginia, in Grayson County that do not have access to adequate broadband services.
No matter the customer, be it small businesses and entrepreneurs, rural healthcare providers or rural schools and families needing access to broadband services, there is a parallel between SkyLine’s current efforts and its original mission of connecting rural communities to telephone service. For the past 65-plus years, SkyLine has worked to make the ‘elusive dream’ possible for thousands of rural residents, when others couldn’t or wouldn’t provide service. Having adequate access to broadband is the modern equivalent of having access to telephone service nearly 75 years ago.
SkyLine appreciates the support of community members, businesses and elected officials in securing letters of support through this application process. “These connections are so vital to our efforts and illustrate the critical need that exists for our neighbors in these counties,” Shepherd said. The latest round of federal grant award announcements is anticipated later this year.
Looking to the future, Shepherd is committed to upholding the company’s mission of ‘providing state-of the-art communications and technology solutions enabled by a culture of excellence in customer service.’ “We have to stay ahead with technological advancements and continue to look at growth opportunities,” she said. “We will continue to be a role model company for others in our industry from a technology, network and innovation perspective but also from a cultural perspective. To us, every connection we make matters. SkyLine is a family oriented company that cares about and takes care of its employees. SkyLine also is a great community partner. We are local, and we are proud of that.”
Led by CEO Kim Shepherd, the executive management team meets regularly to discuss company priorities and the latest strategic and budgeted initiatives.
Tell us about your connections to Ashe & about your family.
I’m an Ashe County native. I grew up in the Staggs Creek community, am the daughter of Tom and Sue Miller and have a younger sister, Heather Miller Burgess.
I’ve been married to my husband Derek for 23 years, and we have a 19-year-old son Ethan, who is now out on his own working for Sumter Utilities and a 17-year-old daughter, Emma, who’s a senior at Ashe County High School.
Where do you see SkyLine in five years?
Continuing our mission, leading in rural telco innovation, expanding our CLEC territories and evaluating the right potential acquisitions. Internally, I want to keep our employees as engaged and happy as possible.
What’s your educational background?
I have a bachelor of science degree in mathematics and an MBA (Master of Business Administration) degree with a concentration in Human Resources.
How do you feel about SkyLine?
I have a love for SkyLine, for its employees, for its customers and for all it stands for. The staff at SkyLine and the Board of Directors are absolutely top notch, so it’s a high honor to have this opportunity to serve as CEO.
What do you do for fun?
I enjoy the outdoors, especially camping, fishing and kayaking the New River, and my favorite hobby is photography—I love to take pictures but not be in them!
Chesnee Communications, Inc.,
A SkyBest Company
- Based in Chesnee, South Carolina
- Service Area: Approximately 85 square miles,
including the Town of Chesnee and neighboring
- Services Offered: Voice, Long-Distance, Broadband,
Automation/Surveillance, TV, Medical Alert
- Access Lines: 2,398
- Full-time Staff: 12
A SkyBest Company
- Based in Loretto, Tennessee (Lawrence County)
- Service Area: Approximately 450 square miles,
including the Town of Loretto and neighboring
- Services Offered: Voice, Long-Distance, Broadband,
- Access Lines: 3,248
- Full-time Staff: 17