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New leadership at South Slope Co-op

Chuck Deisbeck makes move from Western Iowa to become CEO
Chuck Deisbeck sits in his new office at South Slope Cooperative Communications on Thursday, Jan. 19. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

By Shianne Fisher
Solon Economist
NORTH LIBERTY– Chuck Deisbeck was called to the telecommunications industry at a young age– when he was just 8 years old to be exact.
Beginning in third grade, he spent many an afternoon rebuilding phones and installing jacks alongside his older brother for a business his father managed.
“We were kind of his hired hands but didn’t get paid,” said Deisbeck, with a laugh. “By eighth grade, I was climbing poles, and running boring machines and backhoes.”
After college at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, he moved back to his hometown and took over the small, Central-Illinois company.
“It just kind of snowballed from there,” he added.
Deisbeck has worked for a company with two employees to a national, multi-million-dollar corporation in his 20-plus years of experience– relocating him and his family to New Hampshire, Wisconsin, North Dakota and Western Iowa.
And now, to North Liberty.
This month, Deisbeck became the new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for South Slope Cooperative Communications. He replaced Justyn Miller, who accepted a position as president of Des Moines-based Aureon Technology in September.
“South Slope has a rich tradition of serving customers and has just been a very progressive, successful company,” said Deisbeck. “I think I bring a lot of things that can help enhance that and just continue to move this company forward.”
Deisbeck comes to South Slope from Western Iowa Networks (WIN) in Breda. During his seven years there as CEO, he led an $18-million fiber optic overbuild in the area, as well as the launch of super-fast, gigabit service to local businesses and rural residences, and a mobile hotspot pilot program in Carroll Community School District school buses.
At the time of his departure, WIN had 31 employees and a net worth of $58 million. The company serves 3,300 voice customers, 2,200 broadband customers, and 600 TV customers.
Jane Morlok said working with Deisbeck, whom she called a “people-gatherer,” at WIN was one of the highlights of her career.
“The team hated to see him leave,” she said. “He was a forward thinking leader and very active in the industry.”
Morlok, who served as Chief Financial Officer under Deisbeck, has since assumed the role of interim CEO as the company searches for a replacement.
“We’re just continuing along the path that’s been set, making sure we stay the course,” she added.

Making the transfer
Deisbeck said the transition from Western to Eastern Iowa has been a smooth one, although not without its challenges.
“We thought we’d retire in Carroll but this opportunity came up, and they don’t come up that often for a company of the quality and talent they have here at South Slope,” he said.
He and his wife Ellen were well engrained in the Carroll community, where they’ve lived for the past 10 years. From joining the Carroll Chamber of Commerce to volunteering for RAGBRAI, the Deisbecks made a point to be involved.
They even helped start the New Hope Foundation, a non-profit in Carroll for people with special needs.
“This affords us an opportunity as well to continue that community service,” Deisbeck said of the move to North Liberty. “I’m very passionate about it. A company as successful as South Slope here, it’s our duty to give back to the community in any way we can.”
For now, he’s getting settled, living in Cedar Rapids while he waits for his family to join him after his two youngest daughters finish the school year at Carroll. Megan will graduate and dive into a nursing career, while Kaylee, a sophomore, will complete her remaining three years at the brand new Liberty High School.
“It’s tough to move away from them because they rely on their dad so much,” said Deisbeck. “Before I even considered taking this, if they were against it, Dad wasn’t going to pursue it.”
An upside to the move was placing them closer to immediate family in Illinois­­, as well as their older daughters: Jordan, who lives in Coralville, and Alex, in Bloomington, Ill.
“Every time he has a new opportunity, it’s never just about him. It’s about the family,” said Jordan. “He always puts our family first.”
Deisbeck said Ellen has always been extremely supportive of his career and is excited to live in the bustling Corridor.
He said living in Carroll required a trip to Omaha or Des Moines for entertainment. For a family who enjoys big city amenities, having Cedar Rapids and Iowa City a stone’s throw away was a huge pull.
“When you add all those things up, it wasn’t an easy move, but a much easier decision to come this way,” he noted.

Expanding South Slope’s network
Deisbeck said he is looking forward to helping South Slope grow and better serve its customers.
“As a co-op, the mission is to serve our members. We do a really good job of that as rural providers in Iowa,” he said. “That’s what I think is really important. Working for a very large company, you just lose that customer interaction.”
Currently, South Slope has around 13,000 broadband customers, 4,000 digital TV customers, and 9,000 voice customers. The company serves 15 communities in Eastern Iowa.
Growth is the mission.
“That is still the plan,” Deisbeck said. “Continually looking at expanding services to people in Eastern Iowa is always the goal.”
Mark Ditch, plant superintendent at South Slope, said his first impression of Deisbeck is that he strives to make a personal connection with employees.
“That’s very important to our employees, being interactive,” said Ditch. “He’ll joke around a little bit with you but when business is business, it’s business.”
He said during their first conversation, Deisbeck already had new ideas to help generate revenue, which is important, he added, as the company still has some debt from a multi-community fiber optic overbuild between 2010-2015.
“I really believe he’s going to bring some ideas to help us increase our penetration rate,” said Ditch, referring to the number of homes South Slope serves versus the competitor.
One of the main things Deisbeck would like to implement is gigabit service, which would up South Slope’s current max download speed of 220 megabits per second (mbps) to one or more gigabits per second (gbps)– about a 400 percent increase.
While he never saw a residential customer take more than a 500 mbps connection, Deisbeck said businesses benefit tremendously from the faster speeds.
“They’re afforded the opportunity as their business grows, we can grow with them,” he added. “It is so important that it shows our growth; as we’re moving along, customers can do the same thing.”

The original carrier
Although his father passed away in 2005, Deisbeck thinks of him often and even has a retro telephone booth set up in his basement back in Carroll– complete with a photo of the man he owes his career to.
“I learned so much from him about life and being a good dad,” said Deisbeck. “He never missed anything. He worked two jobs and never missed a baseball game or school event. I don’t know how he did it as busy as people are.”
A characteristic, apparently, Deisbeck carried on in his own life.
“I don’t remember a time ever growing up, at any kind of event that my parents weren’t there,” said Jordan. “Especially growing up with three others sisters, that can be a lot to handle. “They did it as a team.”
Like her own father, she said her dad is her biggest role model in life.
“That’s what led me into this business, following in your father’s footsteps,” Deisbeck shared. “It’s kind of cliché, but it was great.”