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Staying the course

Howard Manly | 6/1/2010, 8:41 p.m.

Derek and Alexis Brooks have seen their Inside Cable telecommunications company rise and fall — and rise again.

As a small business owner, Alexis Brooks doesn’t waste a lot of time when asked about the recent economy. “We’ve been through hell,” she says.

Brooks is not exaggerating.

Nine years ago, she and her husband started the small telecommunications infrastructure firm Inside Cable, Inc. Fueled by a highly visible contract with the Democratic National Convention in 2004, Inside Cable capitalized on their success — and extensive business network — and attracted other major clients, including Siemens Transportation Systems, the TJX Companies and Liberty Mutual.

They were rolling. Just five years after launching the company from their kitchen table in Lexington, they moved their company from their suburban home to a 5,000 square foot office in Woburn.

They had 15 employees and counted as their political supporters and friends the late Ted Kennedy,  U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. And annual revenue was growing nicely. By 2007, it was approaching $3 million.

But without much notice, one of their major clients delayed payment on a contract worth an estimated $2 million. One month led to another, and before long Inside Cable was defaulting on its loan and credit lines.  

At the same time, potential government contracts were vanishing as a result of state and federal budget cuts.

And then the recession hit.

The result was a virtual free-fall. Last year, they teetered on the edge of bankruptcy and were forced to lay-off their 15 employees.

“We were in survival mode,” Brooks said. “We owed a ton of money and were no longer considered bankable.”

Brooks said they both realized that something had to happen, sooner rather than later, or their dream was going down the drain.

“We decided,” Brooks said, “that we were not going to fail, no matter what. We saw this period as a litmus test on our resolve, a necessary step before really taking our company to the next level.”

Confronting a challenge is nothing new for the Brooks. Faith, hard work and intelligence has been part of both of their lives from their very start.  

A former model, Mrs. Brooks attended Lexington schools as a Metco student and later, Northeastern University, majoring in broadcast journalism. Her mother, Anna L. Fisher, was a pioneer in public school education in Boston to whom Menino dedicated a media center at East Boston High School.

Mrs. Brooks serves as Inside Cable’s vice president of marketing and communications.

Mr. Brooks serves as the company’s president and chief of operations. His father, Ernest L. Brooks, was the first African American branch manager at Chase Manhattan Bank, in Harlem in the 1960s. A dean’s-list graduate from Vanderbilt University Law School, Brooks was recruited as a telecommunications design engineer by NYNEX/New England Telephone (now Verizon) after his graduation from Tufts University.

It was at his first job that he saw his future. While there, he learned that the company would not commit resources to certain areas of the city. Where the major corporation didn’t see a positive return, Brooks saw opportunities in Mattapan, Roxbury and Dorchester.