‘The world needs a company that is solely dedicated to innovation in IP networking’
To remain a technology company first and foremost, its gear will speak for itself
IN his first major public appearance with a group of analysts and media, Juniper Networks chief executive officer (CEO) Rami Rahim (pic, above)
was not only excited but also extremely upbeat and confident about the future prospect of the company he now leads.
This despite the turmoil that had been plaguing the networking gear maker, which in the span of 18 months has seen three CEOs at the helm. Rahim took over late last year.
See previous story: Juniper Networks in good shape to win again: CEO
Part of his confidence stems from the fact that Juniper has had, and still has, what Rahim believes to be the right mix for success: Its class-leading technology for IP (Internet Protocol) networking; and being on the right track in addressing the world’s IP networking problems.
“We believe that problems in IP networking have not been solved sufficiently,” he said at the recently concluded Juniper Networks’ Innovation Showcase held at its headquarters in Sunnyvale, California, on March 11.
“We’re maniacally focused on IP networking, and I think the world needs a company that is solely dedicated to innovation in IP networking,” he added.
Founded in 1996 with the aim of creating high-end networking equipment, Juniper has been in the forefront of networking technology, often challenging its biggest rival Cisco Systems Inc as well as the smaller ones such as Arista Networks Inc.
However, the company has in the past 18 months struggled with leadership issues, with Rahim only being installed as recently as last October.
After five months in charge, Rahim is seeking to establish his credentials as the right man to take the company forward.
Indeed, this was evident in his keynote address on March 10 when he sought to convince a room full of analysts and members of media by touting the pedigree the company has built over the years.
Candidly reflecting, Rahim noted that while the company certainly isn't a startup in the classic sense anymore, nonetheless, the phase it is going through today “certainly feels as if the company is a startup right now.”
He described the feeling he’s experiencing as one that’s full of excitement, being able to create new breakthroughs in networking while developing opportunities for growth for the company.
Rahim would know what this feeling is like: After all, he was employee No 32 at Juniper and had been instrumental in developing one of the company’s first flagship products, the M40 high-performance customer-designed router.
“We’re listening to our customers and what they need most to address their challenges and concerns,” he said.
“At the same time, we’re incredibly optimistic and confident that we’re able to differentiate – in fact, not only differentiate but meaningfully differentiate – ourselves from the competition and help our customers resolve their problems.”
Still, recent events have cast a pall over the company, and investors and shareholders remain slightly antsy about its future. Writing in Bloomberg last November, Andre Kindness, an analyst at Forrester Research, noted that Juniper has “bigger issues than just the particulars of leadership ….”
“It’s not about who got replaced or how they got replaced, but in the whole tumultuous industry, everyone is trying to figure out how to stay relevant,” Kindness said. “Juniper really needs to get back to the core values.”
Same fundamental strategy
When asked how he planned to balance technology innovation while running a profitable business and having the spotlight trained on him by investors and shareholders, Rahim declared, “I believe right now, I have freedom to do what I need to do [in Juniper].
“Investors are very knowledgeable, and in fact can offer great insights that can be fed into the overall strategy for the company. But the bottomline is that I have ‘access to the right levers’ to execute our strategy.”
Elaborating on this to Asia-based media a day after his keynote address, the 43-year-old engineer-turned-executive said he truly believes he has the ability right now to steer the company to the right direction for its next phase of growth.
Quizzed as to what he would do differently from his predecessors, Rahim said that fundamentally, things at Juniper would not be very different from what they were before.
Noting that he was part of the same leadership team last year that charted Juniper’s long-term strategy, he argued that the company’s “direction is fundamentally sound.”
This strategy calls for the company to centre on industry verticals that value its products and services, as well as to focus on the innovative technology, high performance, scale and automation that it can bring to customers, he added.
“Essentially, things at Juniper will be the same. However, the difference one might detect from me is in the way I describe products and strategy, as I like clarity of thought and thinking.
“I also like to distil things down to first principles for our customers, investors, as well as employees,” he added.
Citing co-creation as one of the major themes for Juniper under his helm, Rahim said he believes customers today are operating in a rapidly changing environment, and that the real value for them vis-à-vis Juniper is the first-hand interaction and access customers can have with its development teams.
For example, he noted that many customers don’t know where to start and find it a big step because of the complexity of making the leap into full-scale automation in networking, through technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualisation (NFV).
“Our sales teams are equipped with knowledge and training and so forth, but there are occasions when we have to have the people who develop the products engaged directly with customers.
“Co-creation is great for the customer, but I also have a selfish reason for this because it’s great for engineers to have true first-hand knowledge of what our customers face – so that they can take that back to the innovation floor and make sure they’re developing with customers’ problems in mind.”
Drilling down further into the specifics of his strategy, Rahim said that Juniper will remain a ‘pure-play’ IP network gear-maker, unlike most of its competitors, which may choose to focus on the whole gamut of IP infrastructure products and services.
Companies in this space include Palo Alto, California’s HP Networking; China’s Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp; and Franco-US giant Alcatel-Lucent, to name a few.
Rahim said Juniper’s strategy – be it technology or business – has always been to focus on what its customers’ pain points are, and work on the solutions to these challenges.
“When I think of strategy, it has to tell us where to invest, what to build, how to take it to the customer, and also what not to invest and/ or build.
“[Put simply], we have to build a better mouse trap. Juniper is first and foremost a technology company, and we need to compete by differentiating our products from our competitors, and let the merit of our gear speak for itself,” he declared.
“Where we have done that in the past, we have succeeded – and this is where I will personally bring to the table my 18 years of experience, to guide the company as to what has worked and what has not.
“My goal is to apply the result of those lessons, and ensure that we can win [again].”
Next: Marketing plans and a conversation with Rahim’s successor Jonathan Davidson
Edwin Yapp reports from Juniper Networks Innovation Showcase in Sunnyvale, California, at the kind invitation Juniper Networks Inc. All editorials are independent.
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