3Com's Next CEO Shares Post-Benhamou Vision

On Jan. 1, Bruce Claflin, now president and chief operating officer of 3Com Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., will become the company's president and CEO. Claflin will replace Eric Benhamou, who will continue serving in his post as chairman. Wednesday, Computerworld asked Claflin how his management style and vision for 3Com differ from Benhamou's.

CW: What are the fundamental differences between the jobs of COO and CEO?

Claflin: There are really two answers to that: very little and a lot. Eric has already structured my job so I have fairly broad responsibilities in the company, including all of our product development, manufacturing, marketing, sales, service support. All of the key staff [in these organizations] already report to me. The three groups that don't are the chief financial officer, the chief technology officer and business development. So, in some respects, I've been doing a large percent of the job already.

Having said that, however, there's a big difference between being the boss and not being [the boss]. There is an incredible sense of responsibility, recognizing that the ultimate decisions and ultimate performance of the company rest with me.

CW: How does your management style differ from Benhamou's?

Claflin: Eric and I stylistically are very different people. We always arrive at the same point, but ... we come at it from a different perspective. I am probably more verbal, and I am probably more assertive. Eric is more cerebral and thoughtful. We complement each other very well.

CW: What changes do you personally have in mind for 3Com heading into 2001?

Claflin: We've already announced an enormous amount of change in the company over the past year. ý But change is the nature of our business, and I would expect going forward you'd see us more assertive, aggressive in investments in technology and marketing.

Planet Project [a worldwide Internet poll to collect information on cultures and beliefs, which 3Com announced yesterday] is a good example. This is without question an audacious attempt at doing something that has never been done before and on a scale that is unparalleled. There is risk with it, and there is also great reward. It typifies the kind of company we want to be going forward.

CW: What's 3Com's current market focus, and how might that change in the future under your leadership?

Claflin: We focus on three markets today, two of which we've done historically -- commercial markets and carrier service provider markets. The new market for us is the consumer. As people get ... high-speed connections to the Net, they inevitably want to share it among multiple devices in the home, which creates a networking opportunity.

CW: What's the hottest market for 3Com?

Claflin: It's clearly consumer. It is bring driven by broadband ... both at work and in the home. Second, there's wireless. We're the leading provider of [Code Division Multiple Access] wide-area wireless connections and local-area wireless networking. And there's IP telephony, too.

Voice [over IP] is without question an enormously disruptive technology. The whole voice world grew up in a regulated environment in which business models were established, monopolies were set up ý under the auspices and oversight of government. The data world came completely unregulated and deployed technology in whatever way made commercial sense. We now have the regulated and unregulated worlds coming together. Let's be clear about it. The data world won. It is turning the voice world on end.

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