A ‘Coffee Break’ with Jennifer Fritzsche

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By WWLF Charlotte City Rep & Inside Towers Marketing Director, Megan Reed

Jennifer Fritzsche is Managing Director and Senior Equity Analyst at Wells Fargo Securities where she has focused on the Telecommunication Services, Cable, Data Center and Tower sectors since 1999.  When she’s not being ranked and recognized as a top stock picker by the likes of Forbes and Thomson Reuters, appearing as a guest on Bloomberg and CNBC, or speaking at industry conventions, she’s thriving in her leading role as Mom to three beautiful children.

I had the privilege of catching up with Jennifer last week via Zoom. While we discussed pertinent wireless industry topics and outlooks, it wasn’t her typical analyst call. Jennifer opened up about her career evolution in traditionally male-dominated fields, work-from-home-life-balance and even shared a few reading recommendations.

The Journey from Pre-Med to the Market

Spreadsheets weren’t always a part of Jennifer’s professional world. She entered college as a pre-med major but after realizing chemistry “wasn’t her forte,” she shifted her focus to history. This allowed her to hone her writing skills, an important aspect of her current job. After graduating the College of Holy Cross, she took a year off, but soon flew her Chicago coop again for business school at Northeastern, where she started to nurture her analytical roots.

With impressive academic accolades and an MBA in hand, she went on, as she says, to pay her dues. “I was an assistant on a trading floor, essentially. I had an MBA but was making restaurant and limo driver reservations.” That, Jennifer said, was an invaluable experience. She found herself in “sponge mode,” absorbing and learning everything around her as she climbed the ranks.

“My job is a fun one because it changes every day. I love that aspect of it.” The biggest challenge along the way? “Pretending I was ready for something that I maybe wasn’t ready for but had the courage to try. It’s scary sometimes but it’s baptism by fire and it usually works out,” Jennifer said.

Women in the Workforce

Jennifer is one of two female analysts that cover the telecom space — out of 35 total. “It’s a male-dominated field, no doubt.” But contrary to what some might assume, she says, “having a female voice has presented an interesting advantage.” While everyone has different skill sets, there are certain things, like body language, that women are more in tune to.

Jennifer said a woman she previously worked with often-quoted Madeleine Albright, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” That woman, her boss’ boss at the time, ‘walked the walk,’ supporting and lifting up the women around her. Mentorship, female (and male) has played a role in her career development and Jennifer’s advice is simply, “Never be afraid to ask.”

What’s Up in Wireless?

It’s been a big year. A merger, 5G, CBRS – oh, and a pandemic. Notwithstanding the unusual circumstances, there’s “A lot of investor interest in this space especially on the infrastructure side,” Jennifer said. “It’s the whole chicken-egg debate. You can’t have 5G without the infrastructure behind it.”

Jennifer says data centers and towers are particularly of interest. Towers are promising because customers like ‘New T-Mobile,’ now have three times the mid-band spectrum that Verizon does. But a lot of that is what she calls, ‘naked spectrum’ that’s worth nothing unless it’s built out. Plus, AT&T’s FirstNet initiative is driving more cell sites and Verizon, the slow but consistent ‘tortoise in the race’ is being more aggressive with their fiber build. Last but not least, Dish has ‘entered the chat.’ With FCC mandates and deployment promises, there’s work to be done. On top of all that action, there are two scheduled spectrum auctions and everyone’s favorite topic, 5G. “We have lots of catalysts. It’s a nice place to be.”

While she worries that municipalities are still struggling as tax dollars disappear, Jennifer is hopeful the 5G Upgrade Order will move the needle and commended industry leaders like FCC Commissioner Carr and WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein for their federal advocacy. “There’s a lot of inertia to make this better.”

Jennifer recently attended a 5G Forum and noted that while there is a lot of optimistic talk around 2H20, it may not come to fruition on the expected timeline. She says private towerco CEOs threw a little cold water on the theory of a back-half recovery because New T-Mobile’s workload is more challenging and time-consuming than initially anticipated. It’s not a “run for the hills commentary,” she caveated, but it might be more of a set-up for 2021 vs. a 2H20 play.

Also worth mentioning from the forum, a bullish attitude on small cells. Marc Ganzi, incoming CEO at Colony Capital was “very positive” on this matter and said that Extenet’s backlog increased two-fold in the last 90 days. Similarly, Crown Castle hasn’t lowered its small cell guidance despite the COVID-19 crisis which “speaks loudly for what they’re seeing in the hopper.”

Macro towers will play a role but it comes down to, “what type of spectrum the carriers are using,” Jennifer said, citing T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray’s wedding cake analogy:

  • “Base cake layer” – low band spectrum – can work with macro
  • “Mid-tier cake layer”– mid band spectrum (CBRS focus) – can work with macro
  • “Top cake layer” – high band mmWave spectrum – cannot work with macro

Jennifer suspects New T-Mobile is likely in conversations with public tower companies about how to best build out that middle tier. T-Mobile’s footprint is about 110k sites, which over time will be scaled to 85k, almost equal with AT&T. Verizon has 66k sites. “If math works, you can assume they’re going to drive more densification,” in the form of macro or small cells, she says.

Work-From-Home-Life-Balance and Zoombies

During our conversation, I polled the audience. 71% of group said they are more productive from home. I, along with Jennifer admitted that while we’re productive, being at home makes it more challenging to “shut it down.”

“Easier said than done,” but Jennifer suggests setting a time or even an alarm to remind yourself to take a break is key. Otherwise, you might become a “Zoombie.”

Despite the challenging times, there are silver linings. Jennifer referenced a consecutive family dinner record. She also tries to start the day with yoga and on the bright side she says, “my dog has lost four pounds!”

 

 

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