Confidence Survey ResultsInc. 500|5000 2010

INC. 5000

What Politics Taught Me About Business

Why running for mayor inspired Glen Lang to start a business.
Cable Guy Glen Lang brings Internet and cable to such places as Laguna Woods Village, a California retirement community with 18,000 seniors.
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Having launched two tech companies and a consulting business in Cary, North Carolina, Glen Lang decided to take on a different kind of challenge: politics. After Lang was elected mayor of Cary, he got to work easing the city's growing pains and tackling its infrastructure problems. But he never stopped thinking like an entrepreneur. Lang's political career, which ended in 2003, inspired him to start Connexion Technologies, which installs private fiber-optic networks that deliver Internet, phone, and television services to housing developments and apartment complexes nationwide.

I've been in the tech industry since college. I worked for Sun Microsystems before starting a software development company in 1992. It had about 78 employees when I sold it for $11 million. I started two more companies: a cable modem business and a consulting firm.

When I turned 40, my wife thought it would be best if I quit starting companies and stayed home with the family. So I cut back and just did consulting.

I was home and partially retired when city workers came by to dig up our neighborhood to replace the sewer line. That was a waste of funds; only part of the line needed repair. I led my neighbors in opposing the project at city hall. That's what got me thinking about public office.

In 1997, I was elected to town council. I became mayor of Cary in 1999. I ran on a platform of slow growth. Cary's population, which is now close to 137,000, had been growing about 9 percent a year, but infrastructure wasn't keeping up. As mayor, I got the city to slow approval of new home permits while we built new roads, schools, and water plants.

I also commissioned a study to see what it would cost to wire the city for broadband Internet. I used the findings to nudge Time Warner and Bell South to speed up their deployment of high-speed Internet access in Cary.

I kept thinking about this problem of how to get Internet service without having to rely on big companies. There seemed to be an opportunity for a private company.

I founded my current company in 2002, when I was still mayor. We build private fiber-optic networks and lease them to telephone and cable companies. I pitched my business plan to Jim Goodnight, the founder of SAS, which is based in Cary. He liked my idea. He said I worked hard as mayor and that anyone with my persistence would be successful. He invested a couple million dollars.

Being mayor taught me about the utilities business. With a new development, the city grants rights of way, which allow cable and telephone companies to lay new lines. We go directly to the landowner and get an easement, which lets us install our fiber networks on the property first.

We're outfitting apartment complexes across the country. In many areas, there didn't used to be a choice of service providers. Now, consumers get more choices and lower costs, and providers don't have to invest $1,000 to $2,000 per unit in infrastructure to service that community.

I definitely enjoy private enterprise more than I did public service. But no matter what you do, as long as you keep learning, you evolve as an entrepreneur.

IMAGE: Mike McGregor
Last updated: Sep 1, 2010




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