From 'corporate gypsy' to telecommunications entrepreneur

Erny Bonistall.

With cellular wars, messy deregulation and bankruptcy debacles, one might be hard pressed these days to find a white hat among telecommunications companies. The company that Erny Bonistall, MBA ’66, has made a success, however, just might qualify.

Bonistall’s story begins during his career as “corporate gypsy.” For more than two decades, he rose through the ranks of the telecom world with companies like New York Telephone, Verizon, AT&T, Southern Bell, BellSouth and Lucent Technologies. During those years, he and his family moved frequently, living in Albany, Jacksonville, Mountain Lakes, New Jersey and Atlanta (twice!). Finally, when one of those firms undertook its seemingly 100th reorganization and proposed yet another move, Bonistall and his family decided they’d had enough. With two kids in college in the family’s current city, Atlanta, the Bonistalls decided to put down permanent roots there.

For Erny, those roots included striking out on his own to start his own company in 1993. His firm provided call center consulting services to companies such as MCI, Sears, Lands’ End, Bell Atlantic and BellSouth. The most significant event of his entrepreneurship came the next year when he began a sister company to help organizations navigate the shadowy netherworld known as the telephone bill.

If you’ve ever scratched your head in confusion over your home phone bill, you’ll have a good idea of the labyrinthine documents that serve as invoices for organizations that can have 2,000 or more phone lines. Then imagine the plight of the poor telecom manager or accounts payable clerk who’s expected to review a bill that can sometimes weigh pounds. Based on his telecom billing expertise, management and consulting experience, Bonistall was able to offer his customers the means to review and manage the bills for their telecommunications services.

Says Bonistall, “Eighty-nine percent of the bills for companies with 10 or more phone lines are wrong.” Consumer watchdogs estimate that phone companies overcharge business clients by 20% on average. That’s a lot of dough.

This state of affairs led to the company’s success, and led Bonistall to form another company in 1999 that offered software to help companies manage their telecom functions. Today, his company is called Global Solutions, Inc., and has 22 resources in Atlanta and another 45 around the country. The privately held firm doubled its revenues in each of the past two years; Bonistall expects to triple them in 2003. Indeed, the difficult economic climate of the past few years has helped GSI.

“It’s a lot easier for companies to find savings than have to lay off people,” says Bonistall.

Take the case of a children’s cancer center that became a GSI client. When Bonistall’s firm came on the scene, the center was under a financial cloud that had forced its recent layoff of 12 nurses. Once GSI started to review the center’s past bills, they discovered its telecom provider had been assessing taxes on the bills when the center had been a nonprofit entity since its inception – thus, it did not need to pay taxes. In addition to other overcharges and just plain errors, GSI recovered nearly $3 million for the center. As a result, the facility could rehire its nurses, plus three more.

And Bonistall’s family, who needed a break from the corporate grindstone? They’re part of the business. Bonistall’s wife is vice president of finance and administration; his son has joined GSI as vice president of business development; and his daughter contributes as both a board member and an expert cellular auditor.

Does he connect his experience at UB in the ’60s to the high-tech world in which he makes his living in 2004? “I’m a dinosaur in terms of when I was at UB,” he says. “I can only imagine how exciting it must be today with computer models and the like.”

With GSI flying high, the “dinosaur” seems to be doing just fine.

Written by Grace Lazzara