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GTE leader poised for competition

His name is Peter Daks, and he wants to hook you up.

To local and long-distance telephones.

To cable and interactive video.

To call forwarding, call blocking, cellular, mobile and a bunch of other services that haven't even been thought up yet.

Daks is president of GTE Florida. He happens to be running the Tampa Bay area's local telephone company at a time when its stodgy role as a monopoly is coming to an abrupt end.

Come Jan. 1, changes in Florida law will end local phone monopolies in the state and allow a host of new competitors to offer local telephone services to consumers.

For Daks, 1996 promises to serve up some tough challenges. He must keep GTE atop new technology and developing new services. He must defend his local phone turf against the arrival of powerful new players, like Time Warner and MCI, who'll be vying for GTE's residential customers.

And Daks must breathe competitive fire into the culture of a company _ 8,000 employees strong _ that for years has enjoyed a near-monopoly. (There is already limited competition for business customers.)

It brings to mind the old joke about the local phone monopoly: "You don't like our service? Go somewhere else." Well, soon some customers will.

"It's hard to change a culture overnight," Daks said in an interview. GTE Florida, anticipating deregulation, has been working at it for more than two years.

Daks apparently has some skills adjusting corporate cultures. Three years ago, he was acknowledged for "excellence in communications leadership" by the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators. He was cited for helping make GTE more competitive and training employees to be more sensitive to customers.

In Florida, telecommunications deregulation is taking place in two steps. State law changes at the start of next year. And in Washington, the Senate this month passed a nationwide deregulation bill, while a similar bill is under review in the House.

For GTE, the more significant federal legislation _ if it becomes law, as expected _ will allow the company to expand into cable TV and long-distance services.

"We're on the brink of major change in our industry," Daks said. "It will accelerate radically now," he added with bravado, "and we welcome the competition."

Florida should benefit, too, he said, citing studies that suggest deregulation will add 130,000 industry jobs in the state. Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina also have approved laws allowing more competitive telecommunications markets. More states will follow.

Without Florida's new law, businesses would not be able to get the same level of telecommunications services that is becoming available in neighboring states, Daks said. "And that would have left Florida in a bad position to compete for economic development or to attract new businesses," he said.

Daks, who has a master's degree in business administration from Wake Forest University, has worked for GTE in various states since 1979. In 1990, he was named vice president-general manager for the Florida region of GTE Telephone Operations.

When GTE reorganized, creating a separate GTE company in Florida in the fall of 1993, Daks became president. His office is in the Tampa City Center building.

Ever since, the profile of Daks as one of Tampa Bay's major executives has been on the rise.

Daks sits on the board of the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and last month was named vice chairman of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional development group. He also presided recently over GTE's investment of $700,000 in an electronic information system at the University of South Florida.

In February, Daks (playing to a 15 handicap) teamed up with fellow area executives to play golf with Jack Nicklaus in a pro-am tournament. Through a GTE foundation that same month, Daks presented a $20,000 check to the Pinellas County Education Foundation to benefit schools. And last year, he joined the board of directors of Barnett Bank of Tampa.

Ahead, Daks hopes GTE Florida will be perceived as a company that's responsive to customers, eager to please _ a "Wal-Mart," he says, of shopping pleasure among the telecommunications giants.

If GTE can't deliver, Daks acknowledged, this time there is a difference. "Call us up," he said. "And if you do not want to do business with us, now you can go somewhere else."

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