Boland T. Jones | Executive Profile | ATLANTA TREND

Meeting the Need for Connections
By Karen Rosen

Boland Jones never settles for the status quo when he sees areas for innovation.

Even while growing up, Jones didn’t just follow the rules if he thought a process could be improved. “I wasn’t very good at accepting, ‘Well that’s just the way we do it,’ or ‘That’s how it’s been done for years.’

“Some of us are lucky in that we can act on that and come out with a good result.”

Jones has brought sweeping changes to communications technology by helping people simply connect. As founder, chairman and CEO of PGi, a leading global provider of cutting-edge audio, video and web meeting solutions, Jones developed his own niche. Getting people together in easier, less expensive and more convenient ways paves the way for collaboration, which drives business today.

Known as “the Meetings Experts,” PGi facilitates millions of get-togethers a month, connecting people around the world from small companies to large corporations including 75 percent of the Fortune 500. Gatherings include conference calls, web conferences, sales meetings, interviews, training sessions and video conferences.

“I happened into the collaboration business when I personally witnessed how hard it was to get people together in groups and how much people were trying to get together in groups,” Jones says.

Replacing the clunky system of calling an 800 number and using a passcode, PGi’s collaboration tool, called iMeet, allows participants to gather at a moment’s notice. “With iMeet, we can meet from anywhere at any time from any device -- no matter what,” Jones says.

He once called a meeting from a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, using a satellite connection to the Internet. “I suddenly needed to bring people together,” Jones says. “It was an emergency, and we had a great meeting from there.”

Participants can use iMeet on smartphones, tablets, computers or regular telephones. They can see each other by turning on a webcam and also have the ability to chat, take notes and use social networks during the meetings.

“The overall biggest delight of the product is it’s so easy and fun to use,” Jones says. “That has never really been introduced in that environment. Virtual meetings have always been very serious, stiff and boring.”

Founded by Jones in 1991, Premiere Global Services, Inc. (NYSE: PGI), the company now has a presence in 25 countries on five continents, with its global headquarters in Atlanta.

PGi provides an established customer base of 35,000 customers with award-winning virtual meeting products to improve collaboration and drive business productivity.

Awards and Recognition

PGi won the silver as “Most Innovative Tech Company of the Year” at the 2012 American Business Awards in September. In addition, Forbes has named PGi one of America’s 200 best small companies and it received the Growth Excellence of the Year Award from Frost & Sullivan in 2008. Jones has twice led PGi to top 30 rankings on the Deloitte & Touche Fast 100 list.

Born in Louisville, Ky., Jones was a daydreamer and an entrepreneur at a young age. “In my teenage years I was always trying to figure out what businesses to start, how to make money,” says Jones, who counts a driveway paving business as one of his first efforts.

Although a finance and accounting major at Miami University in Ohio, he was still an entrepreneur at heart.

Jones first began helping people connect in better ways in 1984 by starting his first company, American Network Exchange (AMNEX), to provide an alternative to the AT&T operator service.

He sold the company in 1991 and founded PGi, which he took public in 1996.
One of PGi’s first ventures was helping military personnel connect with loved ones.

“I’ve always found the largely unserved areas are fun to be in,” says Jones, who was named Georgia’s #5 Top Performing CEO in 2008 by the Atlanta Business Journal, and identified as Entrepreneur of the Year of the Southwest Region by Ernst & Young.

Prior to the popularization of cellular phones, PGi was founded on the idea of a smart calling card designed to include conference call, message retrieving and fax technology capabilities for mobile users.

Still today, PGi’s technology platform does not require any software downloads or hardware purchases and is accessible to anyone at any time for a monthly fee.

“In 1991, when I started this company, I just fell in love with communications technology,” says Jones, who didn’t draw a salary for the first three years with PGi. “And my passion became communications technology to empower people to collaborate.

“One thing led to another. In the beginning, it was collaborating through phone lines with operators helping you host a conference call. It went from there to how do we help people collaborate without an operator on the telephone?

“And it just kept growing and growing and growing. Now we’re at a point where we’re hosting over 50 million meetings a year around the world on the various technologies that we’ve produced.”

Changing Business Practices

Jones says connecting people is increasingly important because businesses have moved away from the top/down hierarchies of 30-40 years ago to more collaborative environments.

“More people are involved in the way the business is run,” he says, “thus the most important process to drive businesses today is how people get together -- how they exchange ideas and share with one another their thoughts and their imaginations about how they can achieve their business goals.”

PGi has its own worldwide cloud network to facilitate meetings, and users can pluck files from the cloud to share with co-workers. Users also have an option to record meetings or obtain a transcript.

“Anything you can dream of about how to have better collaboration, better meetings, better ideation sessions, that’s what we work on and think about every day,” Jones says.

Whenever any of PGI’s 1,700 employees meet with Jones, no one talks about what can’t be done. Instead, they say, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could…” and challenge each other to figure out how to make it happen.

That’s why PGi has 87 patents, 14 product and vision awards in the last calendar year and continues to grab market share while also expanding the market by creating new technologies.

“It’s usually around how can we make the meeting or the collaboration moment more useful, how can we include more tools without making it more difficult and keeping it easy and enjoyable to use” Jones says.

At this point, iMeet will accommodate 15 people at a time -- so every participant can see each other -- but that number will be expanded in the future.

PGI has more than 150 staff members working on research and development for iMeet, with Jones constantly dreaming of more and better ways to bring people together.

“My style of leadership is very entrepreneurial,” he says. “I want to empower other entrepreneurs. So that brings me to a style at PGi where I try to create small businesses throughout PGi and I find leaders to run each of these small businesses.”

Jones then gives the leaders the resources so they can have their own dreams.

“But if you add up those dreams,” he says, “it equals the mission and the vision and the strategy of PGi as a whole.”

Secrets to Success

  1. I’m a very passionate and persuasive person. I think I’m good at translating the energy of that passion into encouraging other peoples’ passion and enthusiasm about what they’re trying to do. I try to create the image that whatever they’re doing is the most important thing that they could possibly be doing at this time, and it’s going to matter to our company more than anything in the whole world.
  2. There are no apologies for how I lead strategy for our company -- which is some market research and feedback, but mostly my gut feel and experience in where collaboration technology is pointed in the industry around the world.
  3. We don’t look at a lot of things as challenges; we look at them as opportunities. We try to be very entrepreneurial in that approach. And that entrepreneurial approach may be, ‘You can’t think too big. The idea has got to be huge,’ and then we go after that idea.

Boland Jones is founder, chairman and CEO of PGi. Atlanta Trend expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Boland Jones for sharing his thoughts with us.

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