Lessons in Perseverance
Lindner MBA provided altafiber CEO Leigh R. Fox with a ‘toolkit’
By Julia Mace
Kindness and service to others are the principles that guide Leigh R. Fox, president and CEO of altafiber, formerly Cincinnati Bell.
As the leader of a near-150-year-old global technology company with 4,500 employees, Fox, MBA ’01, is quick to point out that his success is not just rooted in hard work, but also in the assistance he’s received along the way. This includes his graduate school experience at the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.
“Graduate school is a toolkit,” he said. “It gives you the ability to get better and better. What UC taught me was put your head down, be brave, take one step at a time.”
After earning his undergraduate degree in geology, Fox worked in oil exploration, traveling the globe for Schlumberger.
“As a geologist, I was like, ‘Who owns the company making duct tape? We use a lot of it!’” Fox said with a laugh. “I wanted to know where the money comes from and that made me interested in business.”
Applying for graduate school was an exercise in courage for Fox.
There is absolutely no way I’d be where I am today without the experience at UC. I learned to have the fortitude to work hard and be open to change.
Leigh R. Fox, MBA ’01
“I didn’t think I had a shot at UC since I had a geology degree and zero business background,” he said. But he was curious, especially about business.
Lindner’s one-year MBA program was attractive since he planned to leave his job and attend school full-time. Once he was accepted into the MBA program, Fox and his wife, Julia, were happy to return to his hometown.
“There were times I was scared to death,” he admitted. “I took Accounting 101 at night before starting grad school.”
Studying finance was not his first life challenge, as Fox’s childhood years were a lesson in perseverance. His mother, Judy, raised him and his two sisters as a single parent, and remained in jobs that weren’t ideal to support the family. Judy, whom Fox calls his hero, made certain her children understood that a college degree was essential.
“I probably grew up below the poverty line, though it didn’t feel like it, which is another amazing thing about my mom,” Fox said. “My sisters and I are all college graduates and two of us have graduate degrees.”
A first-generation student, Fox worked 40 hours a week while taking a full course load during his undergraduate years. Sometimes he struggled to stay awake in class. Unexpected kindness often appeared at just the right time. He recalled a professor asking him why he was falling asleep.
“I told her that I come to class between a gap at work and my body just shuts down when I sit,” Fox remembered.
Her solution? A pep talk on how school and work were two full-time jobs, along with the suggestion that she have him do jumping jacks if he was nodding off.
Fox recalled scholarship checks showing up in his mailbox right when he needed them most.
“I was barely getting by,” he said. “I recall thinking, ‘I’m going to give back someday. I’m going to do this for some kid.’”
He and Julia support UC students through scholarships at Lindner and the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). Fox said his passion for the arts and his guitar lessons at CCM is something he regularly shares with altafiber employees.
“There are three legs to your stool that you should always be working on,” he said. “There’s work life, and your family, but there’s also you. A lot of times that third leg is forgotten about. For me, it’s playing the guitar.
“If you focus on making yourself happier, you’re a better parent, spouse or significant other — and you’re better for your company.”
It only makes sense to Fox to give back to the university that changed the trajectory of his life. Since joining Cincinnati Bell in 2001, his education at UC has informed everything from completing tasks, making decisions and taking on new roles, including that of president and CEO in 2017.
“There is absolutely no way I’d be where I am today without the experience at UC,” Fox said. “I learned to have the fortitude to work hard and be open to change.”
Recently, Cincinnati Bell rebranded to altafiber, representing its expanding geographic reach and growing fiber network delivering broadband connectivity.
“If you think about it, it’s daunting to change an iconic name like Cincinnati Bell,” he said. “UC taught me that if you make the right decision, focus on the fact that it is the right thing to do. If it is the right thing to do, do it.”
Fox has a desire to help the next generation, and this includes UC students.
“There’s some kid that’s going through college struggling financially, working a bunch of jobs, who is the next CEO,” he said. “You don’t know whether it’s the words that you use that they hear or the check you write to help them. You don’t know what’s going to inspire them, but something will. There are countless things that I heard or experienced when I was younger that were inspiring.”
Kindness and servant leadership guide Fox in his decisions at altafiber and as a parent to his and Julia’s four children. In 2017, he implemented a program giving altafiber employees 40 hours a year to volunteer. To date, more than 35,000 hours have been logged and $1 million donated to nonprofits.
Fox and Julia also support many local and national charities, reinforcing his desire to return the grace bestowed upon him.
“I think when you’re as fortunate as I have been, you haven’t gotten there alone,” Fox said. “You have a moral obligation to give back, period.”