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A rejected idea goes the distance // BARBARA SAMSON: COMMUNICATIONS

There's one big advantage to being young and inexperienced, Barbara Samson has found.

"Sometimes what you don't know you don't know can be a blessing," she said.

Nine years ago, fresh out of college, Samson got an idea. The 24-year-old was selling long-distance phone service for Orlando-based Phone One and was constantly hearing complaints. Her business customers went on and on about the expense of connecting long-distance carriers through local phone companies.

Samson's idea: Bypass the local telephone companies by building your own fiber-optic network. That would give customers an alternative on-ramp to MCI, Sprint or whatever long-distance carrier they chose.

Samson took the idea to her boss. He turned her down flat.

"I am not sure how much of it was attributable to being a woman," she said. "I was 24 when I had this idea. I think it was a combination of being a young female and inexperienced."

Instead of forgetting about her idea, Samson quit her job shortly afterward to pursue her dream. She had help from a Phone One colleague who was an engineer.

The agreement was that he would design and build the system. "And I would fund it and sell it," said Samson, now 33.

The partnership was Samson's first, and it would mark the beginning of a series of partnerships that helped make Tampa-based Intermedia Communications of Florida Inc. an up-and-coming telecommunications company with 210 employees and a 1995 estimated revenue of $40-million to $42-million.

Samson used a $50,000 inheritance from her father and $450,000 borrowed from her mother to get the company off the ground. For two years, she took no salary in order to hire a CEO with telecommunications experience.

With experienced people at the helm, the company went public, and for the past few years it has been installing fiber-optic networks in 10 cities throughout the Southeast.

As the company grew, Samson's share diminished. She doesn't mind that.

"You have to be able to put your ego aside and see what's best for this idea," she said. ". . . It's never been just about me. It's always been about a team of people from the beginning."

Samson, now Intermedia's senior vice president, concentrates these days on investor, media and public relations.

The 6-foot Samson learned a long time ago, with the help of a posture-harping mother, to use her height to her advantage.

"I knew I would walk in a room and be noticed, so I had better have something good to say," she said.

Samson got a touch of personal satisfaction last year when Intermedia bought out Phone One, the company that nixed her idea. But she's doing little resting on her laurels. She's positioning the company to capitalize on further telephone deregulation.