Don Snyders (left) succeeded Ralph Schreurs (center) as general manager in 1989. Ross Petrick (right) succeeded Snyders in 2015.
Retired Alliance Communications General Manager Don Snyders will be inducted in the South Dakota Cooperative Hall of Fame on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at the Holiday Inn City Center in Sioux Falls.
If you’re interested in attending the event, tickets are $45 per person and may be ordered by emailing email@example.com by Friday Sept. 6.
Don Snyders succeeded Ralph Schreurs as general manager in 1989. His legacy to the cooperative was making the right decisions at the right time with one ultimate goal in mind: offering members the best services possible at affordable prices.
When Don started as general manager, the company served four communities and approximately 2,500 customers. Local phone service, calling features and cable TV were the company’s core services. In 2015 when Don retired, Alliance had 11,600 customers and served 19 communities. While Internet was the company’s top-selling product, most customers still subscribed to phone and cable TV services.
Through the years under Don’s leadership, board members and employees became rather accustomed to expanding into new service territories. Without these expansions, thousands of South Dakotans wouldn’t have access to the cutting-edge technology that they enjoy today.
The merger between Splitrock Telecom and Baltic Telecom in 2003 had the most profound impact on the cooperative and their members. Don had been managing each cooperative separately. By joining the companies together, the newly formed Alliance Communications was able to streamline operations, which provided new cost savings for the members and the cooperative.
More recently just prior to his retirement, officials from Rock County, Minn., approached him about expanding Alliance’s fiber-optic network into underserved areas of their county. Don saw an intriguing opportunity to broaden and diversify the customer base. However, completing the project would only be financially possible with outside funding. The project became a reality after Don and staff pursued a $5 million grant from the State of Minnesota and $1 million from Rock County. Today, Alliance and its cooperative customers benefit from a new, stable revenue stream from 1,000 additional customers in an area with relatively little competition from other wireline or wireless providers.
Technology changed significantly during his time as general manager. The current technology landscape bears little resemblance to what existed in the late 1980s. Yet one common theme regularly occurred throughout the years: Don was always analyzing new service possibilities, and the company was typically among the first to offer a new service.
In 1989, a landline telephone appeared in every home, long distance calling plans were popular, and cable TV was still a relatively new product. Then in the mid to late 1990s, the company was one of the first in the state to begin offering Internet service. While it seems hard to imagine now, offering Internet service wasn’t seen as a sure thing by some in the industry. Don decided the service was worth offering to customers, so the cooperative jumped in with both feet and began connecting customers to the world over a 56K dial-up connection. While Internet usage was still relatively low in 2001, Don saw a future in the product, and the cooperative upgraded equipment so it could offer faster speeds over DSL.
Only a few years later, Don began pursuing the option of replacing the cooperative’s entire network with fiber optics. In 2005, Alliance started a nine-year, $66 million project to bring fiber-optic connectivity to every customer in its market. Fiber dramatically transformed the services Alliance could offer then and well into the future. Back then, people wondered who would ever need an Internet speed faster than 10 Mbps. However, Don saw the need to invest in a future-proof technology so the cooperative could continue meeting customers’ needs for decades. Alliance was one of the first cooperatives in the state to have a 100 percent fiber-optic network.
Today, the cooperative and its members are still benefiting from Don’s leadership. His decisions throughout his tenure positioned Alliance to tackle a complex and ever-changing industry with confidence and security.
Following Cooperative Principles
Don never lost sight of Alliance’s true purpose: providing reliable services to customers at a fair price. Thanks to his leadership, the cooperative principles were deeply engrained throughout Alliance’s company culture. He made sure employees knew the importance of adhering to those principles.
During meetings, he regularly asked “How do we best serve the customer?” From that point, all other decisions fell into place. He led through integrity and was very well-respected by his peers. He was a no nonsense leader and a straight shooter, yet he was humble.
He made smart business partnerships that helped Alliance pay for technological advancements. This meant Alliance’s customers could enjoy the latest technology without bearing the financial burden.
Customers also enjoyed the benefits of these smart partnerships in their capital credits checks. Throughout Don’s years, the cooperative was very aggressive in paying out capital credits. He believed that any surplus revenue should be returned to customers, and he championed an effort to ensure newer customers also received capital credits, not just those who had been customers for several years.
Commitment to the community
Don worked for Alliance for 36 years. During that time, he served on the SDTA Board of Directors, the Brandon Development Foundation, and the Garretson Industrial Development Corporation. His involvement with the development organizations brought new businesses to the area, which increased employment opportunities for the cooperative’s members and generated new tax revenue.
Don was instrumental in improving statewide connectivity through his involvement on the SDN Board of Directors. He joined the board in 1993 and served until his retirement in 2015. SDN’s formation made it possible to connect the state’s telecommunications cooperatives to each other and the world. Today, the company ensures the state’s most rural customers have access to cutting-edge technology.
One of the cooperative’s seven principles is concern for community. Don effortlessly embodied this principle through his interactions with community members and employees.
Customers and employees respected Don because he was an integral part of the community as a whole. He spearheaded many causes that have made area communities a better place to live. Garretson baseball players, for example, have access to one of the best fields in the state as a result of Don’s involvement with the baseball association. He helped raise funds to add a new concession stand, score board, fencing, storage shed and below ground dugouts. He also volunteers multiple hours a week keeping the field and its surroundings in pristine condition.
Don has been on the golf board for a few years because of his love for the sport. He additionally has dedicated many hours to helping the golf course fill in its old bunkers along with making new ones.
Even in retirement, he is championed an aggressive plan to build a new daycare complex in Garretson, which was experiencing an extensive childcare shortage. Over the past few years, Don spent countless hours helping to secure funding for a new daycare facility along with searching for opportunities to trim costs from the total bill.
Additionally, Don built strong relationships within the Alliance community itself, which made him a leader that was easy to follow. Whether engaging in small talk at the office or publicly addressing employees during company gatherings, he had a genuine interest in the people he was leading. He knew his employees well, along with their spouses and children. He went above and beyond by attending funerals, graduations and weddings for employees and their family members. Employees knew they were fortunate to work for the cooperative because it felt like one large family.