The Light Reading Interview
In the Spotlight: Gordon Stitt, president, CEO, and chairman, Extreme Networks
In the often staid world of networking, any company that embraces bathroom humor, encases its products in deep purple plastic, and keeps a bottle of tequila in its conference room might be labeled a bit extreme.
Of course, when the company calls itself Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR), all the above fits right in.
At the helm of this operation is longtime networking veteran Gordon Stitt, who in a previous life was a founder of Network Peripherals, a pioneer in the field of network switching. Five years ago, Stitt, along with Stephen Haddock and Herb Schneider (also Network Peripherals veterans), started Extreme, betting that Ethernet switches could do the work of routers, more quickly and at a lower cost.
So far, the company's plan has been a success, as Extreme claims to have sold product to support 3 million Ethernet ports, making it a leader in the Layer 3 switch market. But as Extreme looks to expand into new markets -- especially those outside its large-enterprise comfort zone -- Stitt might be wise to keep the salt and limes nearby.
Competitively, Extreme faces challenges from above and below. Its main foe is Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which Extreme says it sees head-to-head in 80 percent of its potential deals -- something like playing the Yankees four days out of five. Extreme, with just 1,000 or so employees, knows it can't be Cisco, so it must find other ways to compete with the giant.
On the startup side, Extreme has competition from Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY) and Riverstone Networks (Nasdaq: RSTN), though it faces them with confidence. Extreme's swagger is reinforced by internal marketing messages in the company's men's room – where plastic urinal screens have the words "Foundry Networks" printed on them, and a poster above the urinal proclaims: "Riverstone Networks – You're Soaking in it." (The poster also contains some product-comparison stats, as well as a warning: "Don't fall in.")
Extreme's corporate sense of humor could come in handy in the near future, as the company tries to push into tougher-sell markets (like the metro service-provider arena) while weathering the public-market meltdown.
Fiscally, Extreme will stick to its guns in not offering vendor financing, instead looking for deep-pocketed customers who are fully funded. Internally, Extreme shows restraint by eschewing fancy espresso machines in favor of a popcorn wagon in its kitchen – more in line with what one employee calls the "cold pizza and diet coke" culture of a company named after its founder's love for extreme skiing.
The 44-year-old Stitt, who isn't afraid to wear a deep purple, logoed, button-down shirt to an interview, says he's still excited by the promise of high-speed networking, a rush that makes his job more fun than anything else he could imagine.
Read on as Gordon Stitt explains his extreme thinking on:
Acquisitions and Wall Street
Strategic investment and the funding crunch
Standards, the market, and the competition
Ethernet, wineries, and the future