“Bob The Phone Man” Looks Back
Bob Nicoli knows a great deal about the phone business which is good – he’s the main reason there’s a Teltek! Today he celebrates his 47th year in the industry and we sat him down (no easy feat) and asked him to take a trip down memory lane.
Bob started with C&P Telephone and was based in Rockville, MD – where he gained the moniker “Bob the Phone Man”. In Bob’s days, there were three different jobs available for those who worked outside: Construction – setting poles and hanging cable, Splicing – putting everything together, and Installation and Repair, which was what Bob did.
Working with the phone company kept Bob busy. He often worked 12-hour days, including most Saturdays, while only being paid $69 per week! “The phone company was huge in those days, before the divestiture of AT&T in 1984 and each town (Rockville, Bethesda, Wheaton, etc.) had its own crews,” Bob remarks.
During the first few months working in Rockville, touch tone phones were coming out on a trial basis. “I can remember opening the box and thinking ‘What is this and how is it going to work?’” He and the rest of his crew attended a class to learn about this new breed of phones and they got a glimpse of the future.
“There were only 10 buttons on the original phones, and they told us that one day we would have a star key and a pound key and would be able to do banking over the phone. We all said, ‘No way, that will never work!’”
As time progressed, Bob saw the breakup of the phone company. However, as more people entered the market, technology really began to explode. “I remember when fax machines came out and replaced the overnight packages from the business office. It was mind boggling.”
A down side of the breakup was the constant layoffs. “They didn’t care who you were or what you did, it all came down to how much time you had in the field and what area you worked in. I was lucky, I had a few years over most everyone else. But it was a tough thing to live with.”
After 20 years of working with C&P, the phone part of the business was transferred to AT&T, and then to Lucent, where Bob stayed until his retirement in 1996. Soon afterwards, Teltek was formed and was a small business until more family members joined, along with other employees.
“My favorite memory so far has been watching Teltek take off, it was just the family and now we have 10 employees and two locations,” he says. Keeping with the tradition of a family business, Bob took his son, Chris, on technical calls and gave him a first-class education at a young age.
“He knows both sides of the telephone business, sales and technology.” Bob says, “When one of our field guys comes in with a complaint, Chris is able to find an educated solution. His extensive knowledge led Bob to hand over leadership of the business to Chris in 2004. Later, Chris became business partners with his mother, Debi which resulted in Teltek becoming a Woman Owned Business.
Besides giving his son hands on field experience, Bob has passed along his advice and knowledge. “My first rule is to never, ever sell anybody something they don’t need. I taught my children to be honest and up front with everybody. Sure, we may lose sales because of it, but lying never helps you. It always comes back to bite you.”
As the technology continues to grow, Teltek has grown with it, naming Voice over IP (VoIP) as one of the most innovative developments. “It’s an excellent service, and I think that it’s going to be a major change in how businesses communicate.”
He also stressed the fundamentals of customer service. “If you tell someone you’re going to call them on Tuesday, then that’s when you call them. Even if you don’t have the information they need just yet, you still call.
“We take this approach with our customers: We think about how we like to be treated when we’re doing business, and we do that to others,” Bob continues. “Plus, we do it right the first time, rather than have to come back again.” Customers have signed on with Teltek because of the family feeling they receive. Many clients have said that they are pleased to be dealing with a business that has 40 plus years of experience behind it.
While he’s still known as Bob the Phone Man, Bob has worked to make sure that his retirement is filled with the activities he likes – which oddly enough starts with phones.
“I come down to the office about two or three days a week and work on the older equipment our customers might have,” he says. “I even attend a few meetings, if Chris lets me. You know, he might need to have an older guy at the table with gray hair, it helps make him look legitimate,” he says laughing.
“Working on the old systems, the Merlins and Spirits, is enjoyable for me,” he says, “no one else provides that kind of service. We’ll keep servicing them as long as they work – when they stop working, we can replace them.”
There’s still time to unwind and get away from the phones – he and his wife travel to West Virginia where they’re building a home in the mountains. Also Bob enjoys working on his old Corvette, playing his fiddle and relaxing with his cat, Harley.
Bob has seen the evolution, and deconstruction of the phone business, along with more than his fair share of work. But, when he considers his favorite memory, it’s simple: “I’m just happy how everything worked out. I couldn’t be prouder of my family and our business.”