Alumni Spotlight: Laurie Tines Peregrine, '06

Thursday, August 15, 2013 7:00:00 PM

When Frank Peregrine worked alongside his wife, Laurie Tines Peregrine, ’06, in 1993 to establish CustomCall Data Systems, a billing service for North American telecommunications companies, he expected to help get things up and running before moving on to a “real job.”

“I’m still threatening to get a ‘real job’ some day,” said Frank, now in his 20th year at CustomCall, which the Peregrines sold last year to Enghouse Systems Limited, a publicly traded Canadian company. Previously the chairman and CEO, Frank now serves as vice president of business development for the company’s networks division and Laurie, former president of CustomCall, recently left after working as director of billing operations under Enghouse.

Laurie Peregrine

At an Oct. 28 Stritch alumni reception in Madison, the couple will serve as panelists and share the business insights that helped their company flourish and that continue to guide them as they pursue new opportunities. A 2006 graduate of Stritch’s bachelor’s in business management program, Laurie will offer the added perspective of how her degree helped her better understand the management practices she used every day on the job.

A quick look at Laurie’s and Frank’s résumés reveals a shared work history spanning three decades, dating back to the early 1980s. They met while working together in Pittsburgh, got married, and immersed themselves in the telecommunications industry, working in Florida and, later, Atlanta before they decided to move north to set down roots for starting a family.

“Frank said, ‘Minneapolis or Madison?’ Well, I had never been to Madison, so I said, ‘Let’s go there.’ And we’ve been there ever since,” Laurie said.

After starting long-distance phone company Lake States Communications in 1990, Laurie and Frank suffered the hard luck of a bad economy and eventually sold their customer base to another company, which provided the revenue for their next endeavor – CustomCall Data Systems.

“I had written the billing package for Lake States based on my previous experiences, and Frank said, ‘Can you make the same billing package work for a lot of companies, not just one?’” said Laurie, whose associate’s degree in data processing serves as the foundation of her technical expertise. “And I said, ‘Well, I can try!’ And this was his way of making lemonade out of lemons. We’ve been doing that for 20 years now.”

“We both kind of knew there was a market for the billing services because we had both been involved in managing billing services for other telecom companies,” Frank said.

Frank Peregrine

Laurie’s role as CustomCall president involved overseeing technical developments and managing employees, while Frank, as chairman and CEO, handled the company’s marketing and customer relations areas, drawing not only on his experience, but on his education which includes a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College and an M.B.A. from Northwestern University. At its peak, CustomCall served 75 telecommunications clients and employed more than 40 people. In a competitive industry, they worked hard to establish credibility and set themselves apart from competitors.

“When we first started out, I went by my maiden name because we didn’t want it to look like a mom and pop shop,” Laurie said. “But our company was like a big family. …Over time, clients would find out we were married. At first, we didn’t want it to be that way, but as time went on, we found that the clients had a connection to that, that it was family run.”

The company truly became a family business as Laurie and Frank’s sons brought their unique talents to work for CustomCall. John Peregrine made his first contributions to the company at age 14 when he built servers for them. A couple years later he created the first ebill for the company, which broke new ground in the industry. He accomplished this as his summer project between his junior and senior years of high school. After attending college, John rejoined CustomCall as a systems analyst, working on IT infrastructure, coding, and writing applications. Peregrines’ younger son, Billy, started working for CustomCall two years ago, and continues today as a technical writer for Enghouse.

In a competitive field, the company’s sincere care for their customers helped set CustomCall apart. 

“It was that kind of reputation, of getting it right and doing a good job, that was as important as caring but they kind of go hand in hand,” Frank said. “If you don’t care, then of course, it’s not going to go right.”

Clients often praised their attention to detail and willingness to adapt the current systems to meet their changing needs. Laurie said feedback from clients proved crucial in the ongoing development and improvement of systems. She also credited Frank with staying on top of trends.

“Frank always had his ear to the ground and his nose in the air,” Laurie said. “He had the foresight to know where the industry was heading to make sure that we were ahead of the game.”

Enjoying their success, but ready for new challenges and a new stage of life, the Peregrines decided to sell CustomCall in a deal they finalized on March 1, 2012. Both continued working for Enghouse initially, but Laurie wrapped up her work there in June and now is looking ahead to the couple’s newest entrepreneurial venture: Amante Winery.

Incorporated in February, Amante is the Peregrine’s next joint project. With their sights set on potential Madison-area locations, Laurie and Frank intend to produce French Bordeaux wine, brandy and bourbon, while offering small plates and wood-fired pizza, which will draw from Laurie’s culinary training at Madison Area Technical College. She earned her associate’s degree in culinary arts in 2010 and does catering through her three-year-old business Good Tines Catering.

“We want it to be a destination winery, where you could have a wedding, small corporate functions, gatherings, reunions, winetastings or just a fun place to spend a Saturday afternoon,” said Laurie, who catered a party at her house in 2011 to introduce new Stritch president Dr. James P. Loftus to Madison-area alumni.

Frank noted a few other enterprises that he’s investigating in addition to the winery, although he admits he is unsure if any will amount to solid leads for new business ventures. As a self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Frank’s first taste of business ownership began in high school with Frank’s Lawn Service, a successful summer service. While his attempt at running a farm stand with homegrown produce wasn’t as profitable, he said he valued the experience.

“I didn’t do so well financially, but I learned a lot about how to do it and not do it,” Frank said.

His entrepreneurial spirit, which “is kind of in my blood,” now inspires Laurie as well. She said she cannot imagine working for anyone else. While being partners in marriage and in business may have its challenges, Frank and Laurie agreed that working together is natural for them, as they originally met on the job. They fulfill separate functions and complement each other well.

“Frank’s the thinker; I’m the doer,” Laurie said. “So he comes up with a lot of ideas, and I run around and I pick up the hatchet. He starts a lot of things and I’m kind of the finisher.”

Outside of work, they commit their time to church and community efforts. Frank is in his fifth year on the St. Maria Goretti parish council, and Laurie leads an effort to serve an annual chicken dinner at the church’s festival. The two also sat on the original planning committee that connected their parish to a local meal program. For the 20 years since then, they have helped provide monthly meals through that program. Their devotion to the community extended to their business and CustomCall earned a 2005 Dane County Small Business Award from the Small Business Development Center.

At the Oct. 28 panel, the Peregrines are prepared to answer questions related to their extensive entrepreneurial endeavors – past, present and future – and the business principles that led to their success. And perhaps, if asked, they may even be willing to share more personal details, such as how to grow a 560-pound giant pumpkin or how to tame a new Vizsla puppy. In business and in life, their partnership leads to many interesting adventures.