Scott Hisey, who began his career as a cable-TV installer in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, is back after a difficult earlier run as a CEO.
His QualTek in Blue Bell, a 2,000-employee telecom infrastructure company, traded on Nasdaq on Tuesday for the first time (symbol: QTEK) when it merged with a special purpose acquisition company. So-called SPACs are an alternate route to the public markets compared with the more common initial public offering. Hisey founded QualTek in 2012.
UniTek Global Services Inc., Hisey’s former company, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2014 after Hisey and some top executives left in a dispute over UniTek’s direction. UniTek’s board wanted to continue primarily as a cable- and satellite-TV installer. Hisey and his lieutenants sought to diversify into wireless and fiber installations, Hisey said in an interview at QualTek headquarters.
Faster wireless speeds delivered over 5G and the nation’s insatiable appetite for bandwidth for internet-connected entertainment and services will fuel infrastructure projects, Hisey said. The company also provides services to energy companies and recovery logistics after hurricanes and other disasters.
“We’re heading into the largest telecom infrastructure build in history. We’re revisiting every single cell tower building out 5G. We’re building fiber everywhere,” Hisey said. He added that “we had unfinished business as a management team [at UniTek]. We wanted to build a big telecom infrastructure company. And they wanted to build a big installation company.”
Several former UniTek executives followed Hisey to QualTek. Among them are Liz Downey, the chief administrative officer, and Mike Williams, the chief business officer. “It’s almost like a country music song. I got my company back. My management came back,” Hisey said.
The public offering raised $185 million for QualTek’s business. The stock was down 20% Wednesday, dropping $1.63 to $6.47 a share. The stock debuted Tuesday at $9.16 and has been thinly traded in its first two days.
Other infrastructure competitors include MasTec Inc. and Dycom Industries Inc., both based in Florida. UniTek Global is now based in Irving, Texas, and employs 750 at 80 locations, its website says. UniTek could not be reached for immediate comment.
QualTek estimates 2021 revenue of $650 million that’s divided among four segments: wireless (62%), wireline (18%), renewables (10%) and recovery logistics (10%). Its customers include Duke Energy, Blattner Energy, Gulf Power, Crown Castle, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
QualTek services about 8,000 cell towers and installs more than 2,500 miles of high-speed fiber wires a year, the company says. In addition to 2,000 employees, the company uses 3,000 contractors.
Private equity firm Brightstar Capital Partners owns 58% of the QualTek stock, regulatory documents show. Brightstar acquired QualTek from its original investor group, which include top executives in 2018. QualTek’s current management owns slightly less than 11%, according to company CFO Adam Spittler, who also came from UniTek to QualTek.
Hisey, raised in Roxborough, served as a “radio man” in the U.S. Navy right out of high school, doing a tour on the USS Forrestal supercarrier. He learned the basics of wiring and after his five-year enlistment returned to Philadelphia to install cable-TV.
While installing cable-TV at a home in West Philadelphia, he met his wife, Jackie. “I just fell in love with the industry,” Hisey said. “And I’ve been in it for, God, it’s my 34th year.”