For 80 years, Qwest buyer CenturyLink
has been growing into national giant
Denver Business Journal
by Mark Harden
March 27, 2011
CenturyLink — the company buying Denver’s Qwest — has its roots as a Depression-era Louisiana phone company
with 75 customers.
In 1930, a couple —
William Clarke Williams
and Marie Williams — bought the Oak Ridge Telephone Co. from
“The switchboard was relocated to the Williams’ front parlor so
the family could man the board 24 hours a day,” a company
history says. “The exception was between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Sundays, when the office closed for church and dinner. Marie
wrote out the bills by hand, and 8-year-old son Clarke McRae
Williams delivered them on his bicycle.”
Sixteen years later, the Williams gave the company to Clarke and
his wife, the former
Mary Kathryn Lee,
as a wedding present.
Today, that company — Monroe, La.-based
— is the nation’s fifth-largest local phone company, with more
than 7 million phone lines in 33 states and some 20,000
It has 7.5 million access lines, 2.1 million broadband
customers, 450,000 video subscribers and a nearly 17,000-mile
core fiber network. In 2009, it reported profit of $647.2
million, or $3.23 per share, and revenue of $4.97 billion.
CenturyLink operates from coast to coast, but most of its
local-phone territory is in the southeast, areas where
International Inc. has less of a presence, as
well as in the Great Lakes states.
For 80 years, CenturyLink has expanded mostly through
acquisition of other phone-service providers.
In 1968, the company incorporated as Central Telephone and
Electronics, later renamed Century Telephone Enterprises Inc.,
with Clarke Williams as president and chairman (later succeeded
by his son, Clarke Jr.). Williams soon expanded the company into
three states with 10,000 phone lines. The company went public in
Acquisitions began in 1972 when Century Telephone bought the
La Crosse (Wis.) Telephone Corp.
Several more phone-company buys followed, including the 1997
acquisition of Pacific Telecom Inc., which brought Century
660,000 telephone access lines in 12 states and doubled its
size. In 2002 it bought 654,000 phone lines in Missouri and
Glen Post III
was named CEO in 1992 after Clarke Jr.’s retirement following a
stroke, and remains chief executive today. The company’s name
was changed to CenturyTel in 1999, and recently was changed to
In 2001, the company fended off a hostile takeover bid by Alltel
Inc. And in 2008, it agreed to acquire Embarq Corp., a landline
phone service that was spun off by Sprint, for $5.8 billion in
stock and a similar amount of Embarq debt. Embarq served parts
of 18 states.