Nortel Bets on Mumford

The Harley-riding career Nortel man takes CTO post. Can he return Nortel to optical leadership? HDX is the first test.

December 17, 2001

4 Min Read
Nortel Bets on Mumford

D.G. (Greg) Mumford has been appointed chief technology officer at Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), in a move that clearly puts optical networking at the top of Nortel's priority list (see Mumford Named Nortel CTO).

"I'm really excited," Mumford says. "Technology is a key focal point for Nortel."

The news is the highlight of the latest executive deck-shuffle at Nortel, taking place just weeks after ex-CFO Frank Dunn took the reins from retiring CEO John Roth (see Nortel Swings Axe, Switches CEOs).

Greg MumfordMumford is a tough-talking career Nortel vet who enjoys taking a spin on a Harley and clearly relishes Nortel's past leadership in the optical market (see Greg Mumford). He has led the company's optical long-haul networking strategy for the last several years (see The Top Ten Movers and Shakers in Optical Networking page 4, Nortel's Mumford Addresses NFOEC, and Nortel's Got a Plan). He is succeeded in that post by Brian McFadden, who's moving over from the presidency of the Metropolitan Optical division.

Nortel's other two product divisions continue with leadership unchanged: Frank Plastina remains president of Metropolitan and Enterprise Networks; and Pascal Debon is president of Wireless. McFadden, Plastina, and Debon, like Mumford, report to CEO Dunn.

Mumford, 55, is the second fulltime CTO to take the post after the departure of William R. Hawe under a cloud last February (see Nortel CTO Quits as Woes Mount). Nortel veteran Jules Meunier quietly took the job when Hawe left, but kept a profile so low as to be virtually invisible to outsiders. He subsequently left the company in November.

Mumford's job won't be easy. The promotion puts him in an even hotter management seat than he's already in, in a company that's clearly in hot water. Management changes, plus deep layoffs, have left Nortel wounded and demoralized.

Indeed, one of Mumford's chief priorities, he says, will be to help create a "sense of community" among the technology personnel at Nortel -- no easy task in a company that's lost over 50 percent of its workforce in one year.

Mumford has technological challenges too. He's taking his post at a crucial juncture -- when Nortel is about to release its pivotal Optera Connect HDX, a product Mumford oversaw and which is set to be key to Nortel's future.

It's also a product that's late to market -- so late that Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), against whose CoreDirector the HDX is aimed, has expressed confidence it won't be as big a threat as it might have been earlier on (see Ciena Casts Cloud Over 2002).

Mumford isn't apologizing. Instead, he asserts that added developments have strengthened the HDX's value proposition. "It's ready to go now... It's ready to scale. It can support 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, DWDM, ultra-long-reach, and 40-Gbit/s as customers start making decisions to deploy that."

Despite all this, Nortel's marketing machinery isn't giving any further information about general delivery of the box. "When we have something to announce, we'll say so," a spokesperson says.

None of this is keeping Mumford or other Nortel execs from characterizing the HDX as a linchpin in Nortel's future strategy. "The HDX is what brings the optical long-haul network and metro together," says Marco Pagani, the newly appointed president of Metro Optical, a subset of Plastina's Metro and Enterprise division.

Mumford clearly sees the HDX as key to boosting Nortel's ailing long-haul market, which has taken hit after hit this year (see Nortel Dogged by Competitors), most recently at Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q) (see What's Behind Qwest's Numbers?).

Besides HDX, Mumford has plenty of other things on his "to do" list. Here's what he's got to say on some other key topics:

  • On 10-Gbit/s Ethernet: "I think Ethernet is key to real network performance. Its full value is not yet realized. A lot of its potential is not tapped."

  • On wireless technology: "Wireless has become more important... but in the last mile, we will continue to see scaleable landline as optical, and we'll see how ADSL does for the rest... Wireless [in the last mile] is a niche technology and will stay a niche."

  • On the return of carrier spending: "I won't speculate on that. Clearly, as carriers go through the transition from voice to data, paying the freight, they'll need products that scale and help get costs down."

  • On Nortel's layoffs and financial condition: "Everything we've had to say has been said and is printed in press releases... Where the company is today has all been published. Nortel is very broadly based. Some of our technologies, including wireless and optical Ethernet, have been leading and have really changed how carriers look at their cost structures... My work will be to make sure we continue the breakthroughs."

— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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