Executive power starts with personal integrity. Who has it? That's one question I posed to a group of venture capitalists and executive recruiters recently when I asked them to help me build an ultimate network industry "Dream Team."
I required this executive power team to include a CEO along with leaders for an imaginary start-up's financial, marketing and technology departments. No holds barred, I told them -- yank 'em out of retirement, steal 'em from competitors, rob other companies of their business acumen, market savvy, technical expertise -- who would they want on the executive management rosters?
Dream Team CEOs
Cisco Systems Inc, CEO John Chambers, as you'd expect, popped up without fail as an exemplary CEO candidate. Although well beyond taking a start-up's helm, he possesses the characteristic trio of intelligence, motivation and maturity that must mark today's CEO, says Len Doherty, principal at L.J. Doherty & Associates, an executive search firm in Sudbury, Mass.
True, says Stuart Phillips, general partner with U.S. Venture Partners (USVP) and onetime Chambers' employee. Chambers embodies what a CEO should be: "intellectually honest, very smart and someone who is adaptable," he says.
Chambers surely does a good job of passing those fundamentals on to his underlings -- half of our source's A-list CEO candidates for the executive Dream Team have worked or currently work for him. Don Listwin, now CEO at Openwave Systems Inc.; Carl Russo, now CEO at Calix Networks Inc.; and Mike Volpi, senior vice president in charge of Cisco's Routing Technology Group; are among those our sources consider fantastic CEO candidates for the start-up or, in the case of those who already have CEO experience, a young public company.
Outside the Cisco camp, network veterans who came to the fore as Dream Team CEOs are Desh Deshpande (Cascade Communications Inc., Sycamore Networks Inc., now retired). Mory Ejabat (Ascend Communications Inc., Lucent Technologies Inc., now CEO of Zhone Technologies Inc.); Dominic Orr (Alteon WebSystems Inc., Nortel Networks Corp., now retired); and Surya Panditi (Avici Systems Inc., US Robotics Corp., now CEO of Polaris Networks Inc.). With their leadership prowess, these executives are easy choices to take over just about any corporate helm, our sources say.
Finance et al
When it comes to the top finance role, you need someone who can be comfortable being a business partner to a CEO, who has the strength of character and trust relationship with the CEO to talk straight on tough issues, USVP's Phillips says. You want people who have shown they can think strategically about the financial viability and growth opportunities of a company, adds Ryan Floyd, general partner at Storm Ventures LLC. Larry Carter (Cisco), Mike Johnson (Ascend, Amber Networks Inc.) and Jack Pacheco (Solectron Corp., now vice president of finance at Ignis Optics Inc.) bubbled up with attributes suitable for the top finance spot.
Jeannette Symons (Ascend, now CTO and vice president of engineering at Zhone) popped up as a good candidate for the vice president of engineering slot, as did Shirish Sathaye (Fore Systems Inc., Alteon, now general partner with venture capital firm Matrix Partners). "You want someone who is smart, highly pragmatic, who has great leadership skills, is high energy and hard working, with a demonstrated history of ability to deliver products. You need someone who knows the limits and who, from an integrity standpoint, is not afraid to speak the truth," says Susan Moore, a general partner with Onset Ventures Corp.
In a CTO, you also need vision -- the ability to see how to use technology in multiple ways to solve fundamental business problems, the sources say. Ed Kozel (Cisco, now retired) and Andy Bectolsheim (Sun Microsystems Inc., Granite Systems Inc., Cisco, now retired) are ideal Dream Team CTOs.
Vice presidents of product management/marketing have the unique talent of being able to speak with customers, understand those needs and then work with engineering to define how to meet those needs through technology, Mason says. Technical knowledge plus an understanding of markets and market analysis are must-haves, sources agree. A good choice? Jim Goetz (Bay Networks, VitalSigns Software, Lucent, now a partner with Accel Partners).
Real-life Dream Team
Mason calls out the entire executive management team at Alteon, a bubble start-up acquired in mid-2000 by Nortel for more than $7 billion in stock, as a true-life, powerful Dream Team. Alteon had a "great" leader in Orr; "an engineering team that executed flawlessly" under the direction of Sathaye; "fabulous" product management under Selina Lo, and smart business financial and operational decision-making under Jim Burke and Joe Booker, she says. "Everyone clicked together. They knew the objectives, and . . . executed very well," Mason says.
Many of these ultimate power team names are readily recognizable to those of us who are longtime followers of the network industry. But even the most obscure names share a few attributes. They are consummate professionals with a proven understanding of business operations and market conditions. Above all, they are known for high integrity. That makes them the epitome of power.