Capuano prefers hands-on and on-the-job learning. When the time came to decide to go to college or join the military, he chose the military.

Horizon, a regional fiber‐optic bandwidth infrastructure services provider based in Columbus, recently tapped James Capuano as its new CEO.

With 300-plus years’ experience in the telecommunications industry, Capuano previously served as chief operating officer at FirstLight Fiber, in Albany, New York. While there, his accomplishments included multiple major network expansion initiatives and the integration of more than nine separate acquisitions resulting in the largest fiber optic network in northern New England and New York state.

Capuano’s new position at Horizon started in July. Columbus CEO conducted an email interview with him about a variety of topics. Here’s what he had to say. 

What’s the toughest job interview question you’ve ever had, and did you nail it?
This is not an easy question because it’s been so long since I’ve gone through an actual job interview, but there is one question that sticks with me, and I reference it regularly. It’s something like, “We’ve all had to work with someone we do not like, please provide an example of a situation where you’ve had to and how you handled it.” I’m pretty sure there isn’t an option for “nailing” that one. I mean, it’s difficult to openly admit that we’ve worked with people we do not like because of what it says about yourself. In a job interview, you obviously try to paint yourself in the most positive light, but any response to this question does anything but.

Maybe something I can also share is during my career, I’ve seldomly gone through job interviews. I’ve typically moved from company to company to work with people that I worked with previously. At every level of my career, the next opportunity presented itself through a relationship from the past. Sometimes they were former co-workers, and sometimes they were past customers.

Has it been your experience that having a college degree helped you in your career?
Not in my case. Career advice for someone who wants to be a CEO in the future would definitely include a degree, and likely an MBA. Education is critical to success, and college is the right path depending on the desired career path.

In my case, however, it wasn’t. I’ve always preferred hands-on or on-the-job learning so when the time came to decide which path to take, college or military service, I chose the military. I really wanted to work on electronics, and the Air Force/Air National Guard had a great program. In the 1980s it seemed like working in electronics meant electrical engineering. I was more interested in fixing things, so being a technician made more sense. I immediately went into the U.S. Air Force after high school for training, and then went to work for the Massachusetts Air National Guard as a full-time technician. It was a great job and offered me so much more than just the electronics training. I also received extensive leadership training that I use every day.

I believe it is safe to say that I have been very fortunate in my career to have had the opportunities to hold C-level roles in multiple companies without following the more traditional path. I also believe that often the opportunities that I had along the way before I got to the C-level positions were not always obvious. Reflecting on my past, I realized that I had a willingness to take on responsibilities that others did not. I’d say the best way to describe it is I was a problem solver for my managers throughout my career, which resulted in them offering me more responsibility.

What’s one thing people at work would be surprised to know about you?
I think many will be surprised to find out that I did not finish a degree program. Obviously, I took my share of courses, but never with the intention of getting a degree. It might be because I did not do a lot of career planning along the way. My formal education looked like a bunch of specific classes that I needed for the different opportunities that came along.

If you weren’t in a leadership position with your current company, what would else would you like to do? I really enjoy working with my hands a lot, but I found that I was most happy when I had some leadership role. So, I guess I’d be managing something. Maybe an electrical or plumbing business.

Describe a point in your career where you felt stifled, bored, angry or frustrated, and what did you do about it?When I’ve found that opportunities were limited or nonexistent, I’ve moved to another company. Companies don’t always grow at the same rate that you do professionally. Some folks like the certainty they have staying in one company, or one job for that matter, which is great if that makes them happy. I’ve just never been comfortable doing that. 

Who or what inspires you in life, and why?
The thing that drives me is, like every other dad, my family. I know it sounds a cliche, but it is true. I try to live my life to ensure they are as proud of me as I am of them. 

What was your first job, and how old were you?
I had a paper route with a friend when we were 12. My real first job was bagging groceries when I was 16.

Rebecca Walters is a freelance writer.