John Stevens '95

Chief Executive Officer
Infinigy

John StevensIn 1996, the wireless industry was brand-new. Cell phones were shaped like bricks and used mostly in cars. As John Stevens, an engineer, considered career options, he was told, “Wireless is a fad,” and knew instantly that the evolving field was where he wanted to be.  Stevens said, “I liked it because it was new. We had no idea what would happen.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1987, Stevens took a job at Clough Harbour to meet the requirements for an engineering license, concurrently earning an MBA through the evening program at the University at Albany. He immediately connected with the working professionals studying business. Stevens took a course with doctoral students in the ITM program. He said, “It totally blew me away. After that, I wanted a Ph.D., but had no money and had to work.”

Equipped with engineering credentials and an MBA, Stevens started his career in the wireless industry – a technical job at Sprint. Within one year he was promoted into management. When Sprint launched its commercial market, Stevens played a major role as director of engineering and operations. Stevens’s excitement with Sprint came to a screeching halt when the company grew from spunky innovator to a bureaucracy. Stevens said,

“I knew that I would struggle in the corporate setting.”

Stevens jumped to Sprint vendor, SBA Communications. He said, “I moved from a slow-moving train to a fast-moving train.” He was there when the company went public in 1999 and when the Internet bubble burst in 2001. He said, “Our company originally had the discipline to not do bad deals, but I was part of the problem as I aggressively pushed for stretching our M&A portfolio.” The stock price rocketed from $9 to $57 per share during his tenure as chief technology officer. After the collapse, shares were worth 19 cents. Stevens noted that SBA survived and is now successful. He said, “It was time for me to go. I outlived my usefulness.” He called it one of his “spectacular failures,” noting that every entrepreneur has them.

In 2002, he went out on his own to create Infinigy, a wireless service that designs and builds telecommunication networks. They owe their success to a strong customer focus. As Stevens put it, “We are a service company that happens to do engineering. We design and build the ugly towers.” He started with one office in Atlanta and soon opened another in Albany, New York. The company has grown from $450,000 to $13 million in revenue and has added offices in New Jersey, Colorado and California.

Stevens regularly takes on new projects with Infinigy, having recently spent six months in Myanmar creating their first wireless network, and is always ready for something new. The entrepreneur recently sold 70 percent of Infinigy to a public company and has agreed to stay on as CEO for four years.

Along the way, Stevens discovered some things about himself. He said, “I’m not a great engineer, but I like running a company,” adding, “You have to gamble everything to be successful.” His advice to student entrepreneurs, besides being willing to take risks, is to work for someone else before starting their own businesses so that they can see how the world works.

Stevens grew up in Canajoharie. He lives with his wife Kimberly, a former teacher, and his youngest daughter, Tess, in Rexford, New York. His daughter Maggie attends the Savannah College of Art and Design for interior design and son Ethan attends the University of Colorado for biochemistry. Upon retirement, Stevens plans to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail. He raises funds for Warriors4Wireless, which trains veterans for jobs in the wireless industry