Believes a techie CEO can be beneficial for a tech company like Juniper
Building relationships with customers important, innovation still key focus
THE popular perception is that technical people don’t make good business executives, more often than not because they struggle to express themselves in a language that the latter can understand, especially when the complexities of technology are mired in jargon.
As a result, companies are hesitant to promote technical people to business executive roles. But for Rami Rahim (pic), chief executive officer (CEO) of Juniper Networks Inc, this wasn’t the case as the search to fill the CEO position, vacated when his predecessor Shaygan Kheradpir was dismissed last October, happened very quickly.
See previous story: Juniper Networks in good shape to win again: CEO
An 18-year company veteran, Rahim has been with the company almost since its inception in 1996. Alongside founder, current vice chairman and chief technical officer Pradeep Sindhu, Rahim co-created the company’s first flagship router, the M40, the world’s first high-performance custom-designed Internet router.
But how does a geek at heart take on the role of CEO of a billion-dollar, publicly-listed multinational?
In an interview with Asian-based media at the recently concluded Juniper Networks Innovation Showcase at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, Rahim spoke about how “maniacally focused” Juniper is on networking and what it takes to win again.
See previous story: We are maniacally focused on IP networking: Juniper CEO
The executive also revealed that though he had been in engineering for many years, he had been exposed to the business aspects of Juniper in the past few years.
“… over the last several years, I had been the general manager for various business units within Juniper. I was responsible for profit and loss for the routing and switching, and even the security, business.
“During that time, I certainly picked up the skills needed to run large business units that go beyond the technology aspects,” Rahim argued.
But more than that, the affable 43-year-old executive believes that for a technology company like Juniper, having a leader who understands the technological value proposition of the products it produces is very beneficial.
“Firstly, this helps a CEO like me make very important decisions, such as where to invest, how to prioritise, and the different technical areas that you need to apply your resources to. You could do this more easily, with better results, by having a technical background,” he said.
“Secondly, in a changing environment, having a leader who has the ability to get into substance with customers not just in terms of the technical proposition, but also how they connect to business value, is a really beneficial thing for the company to have.”
When asked what the current Juniper board expects out of him, Rahim said they look for many things from the CEO, but one of the most important is the ability to marry technology with the business agenda of the company, and for the CEO to ‘connect the dots.’
“… it’s all about how the technology and product strategy will result in financial success for the company,” he declared.
Rahim and his successor Jonathan Davidson, the new products and innovation boss, also fielded a wide variety of questions from Digital News Asia (DNA) on the company’s strategy.
Below are excerpts from both interviews:
DNA: You’ve just taken over the reins at Juniper. In Asia however, there have been some challenges in terms of your business opportunities. What are your plans regarding Asia, including South-East Asia? How important are these areas to you and how do you plan to take on the competition?
Rahim: Asia and South-East Asia are absolutely a key market for us. You’re right that we saw some weakness in Asia, primarily in China, where the competitive and political situation is somewhat more difficult when compared with the rest of the world.
Asia is such a large region to talk about our performance and you’ve got to keep in mind that the competitive dynamics change from country to country.
In South-East Asia though, for instance in Malaysia and Singapore, we’ve actually seen good momentum and growth. [Rahim visited Malaysia to meet customers a month after he took over the CEO role].
As for our approach to China, we’ve got to be very targeted and ensure that we only invest in opportunities where we believe we can have a real shot at winning due to our technical superiority.
We’ve seen examples of this in the past, but there is more work to be done. In China, we are also relying on key partners to take our solutions to the market. And we will continue to partner with right companies that can do so.
DNA: How about emerging markets in the region? What kind of marketing will you do?
Rahim: There are efforts here in terms of our commercial and marketing engine that we need to better build to give us access to a broader market. Since I took on this role, there has been focus on parts on technology, but I’ve also spent a bit of time and attention on the commercial and marketing side of the business.
I’ve set clear execution imperatives to my team, including for them to build and improve our commercial engine.
We have had good commercial success but I think it has to do so more with success in certain areas and geographies. What we need to do is to put in place a team that can execute this same success consistently around the world.
This includes proper incentives to partners, top-class training, upfront access to knowledge … product knowledge that will make it a success for Juniper.
DNA: Do you see yourself as a company that would possibly get into other areas of the cloud and data centre business, such as compute and storage? If not, why not?
Rahim: I don’t see ourselves getting into the compute and storage business as we’re maniacally focused on IP (Internet Protocol) networking, and I think the world needs a company that is solely dedicated to innovation in IP networking.
So far, I would say that we’ve been successful in the best-of-breed business, and I acknowledge that there are large customers that want to choose best of breeds.
We also seen good results in taking our own solutions development and using that to include compute and storage so as to give confidence to customers that if they use our networking products with a certain set of storage or compute devices, they can have the confidence that the solution can all seamlessly work together because we have done all the necessary configuration, pre-testing, and that it’ll work out-of-the-box.
Beyond that, our customers can turn to a few key partners around the world, typically local in nature, that have taken our networking and included in their offering our full stack of our products.
This is an area where we have an opportunity to increase our alliance with compute and storage vendors around the world. There are partners which are willing to be a part of this, especially on the switching side.
Next: A conversation with Jonathan Davidson, Rahim's successor