In his own words: CIS Inc. President Phil Holland
Northern Nevada Business Weekly: Tell us about your business and the duties of your position.
Phil Holland: CIS Inc. is a communications cabling contractor. Every commercial building that you drive by has some form of communications cabling that connects your telephone, computer, the cash register at your favorite restaurant, the sound system at the airport, along with any other signals that are low voltage in a network.
NNBW: How did you enter this profession?
Holland: In 1979, the telephone industry was changing from regulated to unregulated, and I worked for a startup in Silicon Valley that was installing major telephone systems for the high-tech industry. When the telephone system was being installed, our customers would frequently request that we install their computer cabling. The telephone company management would reject the request and the customers would be frustrated. I decided there was a new industry where a non-telephone and non-computer company could install cabling for both applications. With $15,000 I took the leap and became one of the first companies of its type.
NNBW: What’s the most important thing you have learned in your career?
Holland: Success comes from involving the entire set of employees in any organization. Every employee will contribute if they understand the role they play and how their efforts will allow the organization to meet its goals.
NNBW: How did the recession change the way you do business?
Holland: It tested our resolve to stay in business. Our financial successes that was achieved prior to 2009 built a large organization. When it became clear that the economy was going to overpower historical profits, CIS made the tough decisions to cut virtually every aspect of our overhead and our benefits. Every employee was told what we were facing and given the opportunity to state what aspects of their employment was important for themselves and their families. The employees that wanted to keep the organization healthy and viable agreed to take pay and benefit cuts. The overhead was pared down to match the decreased volume of work and the intense competition. This last year, profits returned and CIS believes it has adjusted to the new economy.
NNBW: What was your first job?
Holland: I was 12, and I had a paper route delivering the Sacramento Bee. I invested in a bicycle and a watch that was paid in installments back to my folks. I don’t think I ever thanked them for that introduction to responsibility.
NNBW: Tell us about your dream job. Why aren’t you working it?
Holland: I am past dreaming, and the real question is, “Why are you working?” The answer is I can’t count on the economic health of our nation. Until I can, I’ll keep dreaming of retiring.
NNBW: Have any advice for someone who wants to enter your profession?
Holland: The dynamics of owning a trade business is too complex to sum up in one succinct advice statement. I did take on a project about 18 months ago to mentor a younger gentleman that has a startup contracting firm. Our discussions have been a free forum to address his concerns at any one point in time. The reward of watching him succeed has been more valuable to me than any advice I have given him.
NNBW: Tell us about the most fun you have had on the job.
Holland: In the construction trades, the banter that goes on becomes an art form. Understanding when to use it, when you are on the edge or going too far, when it is appropriate, and how to enjoy it can be great fun.
NNBW: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Holland: The most memorable fatherly advice my dad gave me was, “Never worry about a problem you cannot solve.”
NNBW: If you could live your life over again, what one thing would you change?
Holland: I would like to have had a music background. When I listen to good musicians, I feel like I missed something that I would have enjoyed.
NNBW: What are your favorite hobbies or pastimes? How do you spend your time away from work?
Holland: Sailing has been a significant part of my life. I was fortunate to live 10 years on a 40-foot sailboat in San Francisco, to have sailed the entire West Coast of the U.S. along with most of British Columbia and Baja, and to have sailed in the British Virgin Islands several times. Every chance I get I sail with friends that have boats in Washington state, California and up at Lake Tahoe.
NNBW: What has been your biggest professional accomplishment?
Holland: The development of employees to achieve above levels they did not realize they could achieve has been a goal of mine, and it has proven valuable to CIS and to myself.
NNBW: What can you do that someone else can’t?
Holland: Not everyone can successfully run a business. Avoid micro-managing and balance spending during a tough economy. I feel my life and business experiences have provided me the knowledge to keep CIS afloat during good times and bad.
NNBW: If you had enough money to retire right now, would you? Why or why not?
Holland: This is a timely question, and one that I have debated over the past three years. I can retire. I do have a serious concern regarding our economy. If the national debt continues to grow, the funds I have today could not keep up with the potential high inflation. I am waiting for a more favorable financial window.
NNBW: What’s the last concert or sporting event you attended?
Holland: My wife and I always enjoy listening to the music of the “Schall Adams Band.” We recently saw them at a blues concert event this last May.
NNBW: What’s your perfect vacation spot?
Holland: Anywhere there is warm weather, a favorable sea and a good sailboat.
NNBW: Why did you choose a career in northern Nevada? What do you like most about working and living here?
Holland: CIS at one time was a national firm. I could have lived anywhere and operated the firm. I chose Reno for family reasons. I quickly realized that the business environment was better than what I expected. I was fortunate to join NNEC early in its development. The people were more open than where I had previously lived. It was easier to participate in community activities, and the cost of living was less. The icing on the cake was that the ski slopes were only 20 minutes from our home. It was the best professional decision that I have ever made.
Name: Phil Holland, president, CIS Inc.
How long have you been in this job? I acquired a 50 percent interest in CIS in 1988 and became the sole owner and president in 1990. It has been a great ride for 24 years
How long in the profession? 31 years
Education: Associate of Arts degree from Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, Calif., and two years of course work at USF related to human relations and organizational behavior
Last book read? “Scorpion Down” by Ed Offley. Scorpion is one of the two U.S. submarines that has sunk during peacetime. I went aboard Scorpion to visit a crew member just prior to its fatal deployment, and the mystery behind its sinking has been personal
Favorite movie? “Waking Ed Devine.” It is a little bit of a cult movie, and it is hilarious
What’s on your iPod? I don’t own an “I” anything. I think it is a function of my age
Spouse/kids/pets? My wife is Donna Marie. We have four daughters, Julie, Laura, Erina and Jessica. All have college degrees, and the best part is they are all employed. My wife has a cat
Know someone whose perspective you want to share with NNBW readers? Send contact information to: firstname.lastname@example.org or call (775) 850-2146.
Russo spent the last several years working with The Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce, where he built up a vast network of builders, developers and real estate companies in Northern Nevada.