Brian F. Addy

Brian AddyGraduation Year: 1986

Degree at Duke:
Bachelor of Science

Major/Program:
Electrical Engineering

Career Highlights:

  • Focal Communications Corporations

The profile of an entrepreneur would include several common characteristics: a desire for responsibility, willingness for moderate risk, confidence in their ability to succeed, a high energy level, and superb organizational skills. Because they are constructing businesses and industries in environments flooded by uncertainty and molded by rapid change, entrepreneurs recognize that failure is likely to be a part of their lives; yet, they are never paralyzed by that fear. One man undoubtedly befitting of this description is Brian Addy, E’86, who has achieved a remarkable amount of success having left Duke only 14 years ago.

In 1982, Brian Addy enrolled at Duke University to pursue a degree in electrical engineering, attracted by the personal feel of education offered by the School of Engineering. While a Duke undergraduate, Addy was a member of ATO fraternity, a participant on the club football team, and vice president of his senior class. Further, Addy found time to sing in the Raleigh-based band “Felix Cadillac” as well as to host his own television show on Cable 13. Entitled “The Feud,” the game show asked Duke living groups University-related trivia questions.

Upon graduation in 1986, Addy left Durham for Chicago and immediately entered the work force at Centel Corporation, where he had interned the previous summer. Initially, he served as a salesman offering telephone systems to corporations. Addy promptly rose through the ranks to obtain a variety of managerial positions in telecommunications and was charged with the task of acquiring cellular services in New Mexico.

Sprint Communications Company acquired Centel Corporation in 1993. Following the merger with Centel, Sprint became the only major telecommunications company providing long distance, local, and wireless service in the nation as well as service to more than 6.1 million local customers in nineteen states. Addy departed from Centel Corporation during that year, as he became malcontented by the large-scale operations motivated by this union.

Yet, Addy was eager to join a real estate investment trust as the seventh employee of the start-up Security Capital Industrial. During his three-year stay, Addy was responsible for the development and leasing of real estate, especially in the sector of warehouses. At the time he left the company in 1996, Security Capital Industrial Trust entered trade on the New York Stock Exchange as the largest publicly held, U.S.-based global owner and operator of distribution facilities with over 70 million square feet.

In February of that year, what was once the last bastion of the monopoly built and preserved by telephone companies fell under attack with the signing of the Telecommunications Reform Act, whose goals were to stimulate private investment, offer a competitive choice for the consumer, and strengthen universal service. The primary impact of this Act was to open the door for competition at the local loop, allowing virtually every opportunity to enter the “dial tone” business by a new cast of providers. Addy seized this occasion and decided to return to the telecommunications game. Together with three colleagues—two electrical engineers from the University of illinois at Urbana-Champaign and one mechanical engineer from the University of Colorado at Denver—Addy wrote business plans for Focal Communications Corporations. A company whose operations initially occurred in his attic and with correspondence transpiring via e-mail, Focal Communications hired their first employee in January 1997.

Now headquartered in Chicago, Focal is currently a rapidly growing national communications provider who offers data, voice and Internet service across the United States. Having seen out the success of Focal, a corporation with over one thousand employees and $250 million in annual revenue, Addy retired in January 2000.

And even though he retired earlier this year, Addy does not anticipate remaining on the bench for long. In fact, he is already working on another web-based start-up, eBondUSA.com, as a board member with friend Paul Constantino, Trinity ‘86. Started in 1999, the company offers an online municipal bond trading platform from the unique position of neither being owned nor affiliated with any party having principal stake in their transactions.

The majority of his remaining time is spent with his wife. Jean, and their three children—Elizabeth, 9; Jack, 8; and Katherine, 2—going to soccer games and Indian Guides and Princesses’ functions. Additionally, Addy devotes considerable efforts toward the funding and planning of such charitable organizations as a board member of both the Buoniconfi Fund to Cure Paralysis and the Junior Achieve of Chicago, which seeks to educate youths to value free enterprise, business, and economics. As a self-proclaimed “100 percent entrepreneur,” Addy currently investigates how entrepreneurship may be used as a springboard to reduce and eventually eliminate individual dependence upon financial aid. Addy firmly believes that finances should not be a limiting factor in a student’s decision to pursue higher education. To this end, Addy hopes to create personalized work-study programs in the area of telecommunications with groups of three to four students.

Amongst all of his other commitments, Addy’s philanthropy has also extended to Duke, where he serves as a member of the Board of Visitors of the Pratt School of Engineering working with Dean Johnson on the photonics initiative. He helped kickoff the campaign for directorships by funding the Addy Directorship of Photonics and Communications aimed at attracting the premier faculty leaders to the University. Addy senses that Duke is well positioned to evolve into the top engineering education institution in the country, having the best students, premium faculty, and the proper leadership. He further comments that “the well-rounded curriculum afforded to Duke students is unique and makes them more successful in whatever they’ll chose to pursue, whether research and teaching, industrial engineering positions, or business.” Addy’s optimism is surely matched by his reverence for the school to which he credits much of his success, as having provided him the tools to accept challenges and create solutions.

Michael A. Holub serves as a senior editor of the DukEngineer and is double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Economics.

Originally published in DukEngineer, Spring 2001.