BY MOLLY BRUSH
When John Patten was named the first non-family president of Ellettsville-based Smithville Communications in 2016, it was the culmination of a journey that began in south-central Indiana and came full circle more than four decades later.
A native of Indianapolis, Patten, 66, graduated in 1972 from Indiana University, where he studied radio and TV production. He began his career in advertising sales for Indianapolis radio stations WIFE-AM (now WTLC-AM) and WIRE-AM (now WXNT-AM).
After nearly a decade in sales, Patten teamed up with several WIRE co-workers to form Composite Communications, and applied to the FCC for a license on an available radio frequency in southeast Ohio. Patten served as president and CEO of the company, which launched a new FM station in Belpre, Ohio, and later went on to acquire several other stations in Ohio and Indiana.
Several years later, Patten spearheaded the merger of Composite Communications and Somerset Broadcasting. Following a five-year stint as president and CEO, he left the radio business altogether and began working at a construction company, where he started and ran a division selling construction management services. After 14 years in that role, he pivoted again, this time transitioning into marketing. Over the course of a decade, he served as president of two face-to-face marketing companies specializing in designing trade show programs for businesses.
In 2014, Patten joined Smithville—the family business begun in 1922 and now Indiana’s largest privately held telecommunications company—in the role of chief operating officer. A year and a half later, he was promoted to president.
Patten and his wife, Christine, reside in Brownsburg, Indiana. They have one daughter, Kirsten, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and their 4-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Patten credits his diverse career experiences with preparing him to lead Smithville. He says that no matter the industry, it’s crucial to provide a good customer experience and to engage customers in a way that makes them feel important.
“Those things have been a part of every business I’ve been involved in,” he says.
He also emphasizes how important it is for leaders to surround themselves with employees who understand aspects of the business in which the leaders themselves are not experts—and to empower employees so they can do their best work.
“I rely on them and support them and encourage them in whatever way I can so that we at Smithville provide the best customer experience we possibly can,” says Patten.