Louisiana author and television personality Leo Honeycutt unveiled his new biography of CenturyLink's founder, “The Clarke Williams Story,” last week as part of a local book tour.
Carolyn Williams Perry, the daughter of Clarke Williams who founded the Century Telephone company now CenturyLink Inc., accompanied Honeycutt on the tour. Perry commissioned Honeycutt to complete the 576-page biography, published by The Lisburn Press. The book sells for $24.95.
“Leo captured my father in a way that I never thought possible,” Perry said. “I wanted this book written because the company was growing by leaps and bounds and people didn't know who Clarke Williams was. I hope that everyone who reads it will receive a little blessing from it because he was a great man even though he was my father.”
Honeycutt and Perry delivered remarks about the book and Williams' life while also signing books during a Monroe Rotary Club gathering last week. The pair visited the company's headquarters as well as a book signing event at the University of Louisiana-Monroe to promote the new publication.
According to Honeycutt, “The Clarke Williams Story” delves into the pitfalls of working with friends and family, of misunderstandings and betrayals, of feuds and fights, and the calm way CenturyLink’s founder addressed obstacles.
“It never occurred to him that this was a zero sum game,” Honeycutt said. “Clarke believed the only way to really win is for everybody to win. Every time they made an acquisition, Clarke would tell J.J. Dixon, a company attorney, 'I want you to protect the other side as much as us.”
Today, CenturyLink is an $18 billion communications giant, is the third largest telecom in the United States, is Louisiana’s only Fortune 200 Company, is the state’s largest private employer, and is still based in Monroe. The company boasts a workforce of over 47,000 employees worldwide.
Founder Clarke McRae Williams was born in Monroe, Louisiana, in 1922 to parents in the telephone industry. As the Great Depression started, the Williamses bought Oak Ridge Telephone Company in rural Morehouse Parish for $500, sending 8-year-old Clarke on his bicycle to collect monthly bills.
When Clarke returned from three years in World War II, his parents “gave” him and his new bride the unprofitable phone company, a haphazard jumble of wires tacked to trees, barns and fence posts. Mary Kathryn Williams worked the switchboard in their living room while raising three children. Clarke climbed poles and strung wire in summer heat and icy winters, working three other jobs to feed his family. Managers from Bell Telephone as well as bankers told Clarke Williams his business model would never work. But it did.
Honeycutt pointed to Williams' rare business acumen and knowledge of the Bible as some of the reasons for the company's success today.
“There were a number of things about Clarke that astounded me,” Honeycutt continued. “He studied the Bible right up to his dying day. He learned from that every human emotion and relationship there is. If all that stuff is covered and you study it your whole life, you know what human nature is and you can pretty much predict the future.
“What he found is that most people said they read the Bible, but they really didn't. He had a competitive knowledge before everybody else did. He was an astounding man because he did things other people didn't do and he never compromised his integrity.”