Ciena’s Incumbent Engineers Saved Firm

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If Ciena’s CTO, Steve Alexander, been appointed CEO after Patrick Nettles stepped down from the position, the supplier would not have experienced the extreme vacillations in business performance and the negative consequences from the “Nortelization” of the firm would have been totally avoided. Alexander’s sheer love for what he does for a living allowed him to put up with what we believe has been a combination of the leadership’s lack of intimacy with the business dynamics as well as the absence of the necessary temperament over the years. Despite Alexander being one of the founders of the company, Nettles evidently thought a person in sales would be better suited to move the company forward. In our opinion, he may have been heavily influenced by what a lot of Americans often automatically equate with a high level of competence – a British accent.

In order to balance out the “coup” that occurred by the ex-Nortel folks actually starting with the disastrous ONI acquisition, Alexander kept on talented engineers through the “Office of the CTO.” As the “Nortel” executives and other workers were forming their fiefdoms and protecting their turf, while also taking over the direction of product development at Ciena as much as possible, the in-house talent, some of whom had been with the vendor for a long time, did its best to keep the vendor from totally losing its way.

There is no doubt that Alexander has had the support of all of the major customers of Ciena. While we think the CEO has secured his position for a long as he so desires through a Board of Directors who would blindly follow him to the ends of the earth, we would hardly be shocked if influential service providers told him not to even think about pushing Alexander out. The high level of respect that the CTO has garnered from the carriers and the satisfaction of successfully taking on the difficult challenge to be a counterweight to the “Nortel-oriented” management was clearly enough for him to stay on board.

In fact, Alexander deserves kudos from the entire industry for putting up with the substantial cultural changes that occurred as a result of the “Nortel” personnel. They developed a high level of paranoia, for years were constantly looking over their shoulders, worrying about being the next people to be terminated.

Consequently, they arrived at Ciena with a “protectionist” mindset. They hoarded information and constructed silos, which prevented the traditional employees of the company to assist customers in the way they so desired. For example, if a sales engineer went to a buyer’s site to help with an installation, the Implementation Group would slap their hands because they felt that the SE was taking money from the P&L.

Another debacle was in striving to develop a network management system to normalize the myriad OSs and command structures of the solutions they had acquired. The last concept, OneControl, never worked properly. At present, Blue Planet is allegedly the panacea.

Please find details on our new report, Clash of Optical Component Vendors & Technologies in Data Center Networks. For more frequent updates, please follow us here.

[written by Mark Lutkowitz]