Reaching out Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2010

In 1997, Rick Stern was an independent sales agent in Chicago selling telecommunications products. Sure, it was lucrative and he had the freedom of being his own boss. But the contracts often changed without notice. And he had bigger dreams anyway.

So he ventured out on his own to start Nitel, working 14-hour days as the CEO in a one-man office to endure through the telecom bust of the early 2000s. He teamed up with Ron Grason, who’s now his chief operating officer, and together they changed their business model from agent to reseller so they could own the customer relationship from beginning to end instead of leaving after the sale was complete.

In the role of providing wholesale Internet and connectivity services, Stern isn’t burdened with the immense capital expenditure of building networks or creating new technology. Though he does depend on the technology and service aspects of his carriers, he doesn’t see that as a limitation. He focuses on customers who crave service and attention. By zeroing in on the underserved rural market, he sees unlimited opportunities for growth.

With a competitive tenacity that began as a gutsy kid on the football field, Stern pushes his team to constantly improve. Though Nitel is growing fast, he’s not finished. He has also started a company focused on government staffing in underserved economic business areas and has plans for another that will lease telecom equipment to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Still, Stern will show you pictures of his wife and kids before he’ll hand you a business card. As a father, he has a soft spot in his heart for children in need. He supports Mercy Home for Boys and Girls and the company holds an annual holiday toy drive for kids at Children’s Memorial Hospital.

How to reach: Nitel, (888) 450-2100 or