Execs Cast a Wide Net

Former telecom and optical networking execs are prodded to look outside of their industries to find work

August 12, 2002

4 Min Read
Execs Cast a Wide Net

Former telecom and optical networking executives are being forced to look into other industries for work.

With companies like Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW), JDS Uniphase Inc. (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), Qwest Communications International Inc. (NYSE: Q), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON), and WorldCom Inc. (OTC: WCOEQ) all cutting back, along with the hundreds of equipment startups and CLECs struggling to get funding, positions in telecom or optical networking are hard to come by.

Job hunting experts say that with the industry in shambles, job seekers need to cast a wide net when looking for a new position.

Seth Harris, managing director at Christian & Timbers, an executive recruiting firm, has even been encouraging executive candidates to leave the industry altogether, as many middle managers and lower-level employees have already done (see Laid Off, and Leaving Telecom ).

“People in telecom have to be creative and move out of their comfort zone into other industries, because that’s where the jobs are,” says Harris. “I talk to executive candidates all day, and the biggest thing is that they don’t realize they can leave telecom. Most of them have an enormous set of operational and budgetary skills that they can leverage in other industries.”

He's been telling CEO types to target enterprise software or Internet-enabled companies. He says many firms -- such as Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) and SAP AG (NYSE/Frankfurt: SAP) -- have divisions dedicated to telecom service providers and equipment companies.

Another popular route for the burned-out executive is venture capital. As these firms investigate companies to invest in, they can use consultants to help them evaluate the technology. VCs are also interested in tapping former CEOs to serve as interim CEOs of portfolio companies that have run into trouble.

Carl Showalter, former vice president of marketing for Juniper Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: JNPR), had been in the communications industry for 12 years before throwing in the towel and joining Light Speed Venture Partners back in April (see Lightspeed Drafts Former Juniper VP). Sharad Mehrotra, a founder of Procket Networks Inc., also left his post to become a VC at a venture firm, New Enterprise Associates (NEA) (see Is Procket Heading Toward the Edge?).

Doug Green, former vice president of marketing for Ocular Networks, which was bought by Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA) last December, is now an independent consultant providing expertise in telecommunications marketing, communications, and investment due diligence to startups and VCs (see Tellabs Nabs Ocular). Occasionally, Green, who has been involved with a number of successful startups that eventually hit it big -- like Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), Ocular, and Chromatis (bought by Lucent for $4.5 billion) -- moonlights as a columnist on Light Reading (see Can Startups Sell to Carriers?).

Companies like Gillette, General Electric, or Raytheon are all manufacturers that could use the skills of former optical networking chief information officers, chief operational officers, or chief financial officers, says Harris, noting that supply-chain expertise lends itself to many industries.

These execs could also try targeting the life sciences industry, which includes biotech and pharmaceuticals. While these industries have little to do with telecom, they are hot right now and receiving a lot of funding.

“There are a lot of biotech companies out there looking for someone who has been through the process of raising money in the venture community and has helped take a company public,” says Harris. “A lot of the guys I see in the optical space have already been there.”

Operations management is also needed in these growing companies. Anyone who has had experience implementing a mission-critical application in an optical equipment or components company may be well suited for the same kind of role in a biotech or pharmaceutical company, because the supply chain issues that need to be automated are very similar.

But making the switch to another industry isn’t always easy. Michael Centrella, former CEO of Merlot Communications Inc., ended up staying in telecom after he left his struggling startup over a year ago. But it came at a price. After an intensive three-month search, he landed a job at a small service provider called Vonage DigitalVoice as VP of sales. Although the move was a step down both in title and salary, Centrella says he is happy he stayed in telecom.

“My expertise is in telecom and networking, and I still have a lot to contribute to the industry,” he says. “It’s a good company and I know the funding is secure. That was a big factor in my decision.”

He admits that the search wasn’t easy, but he used a technique that Harris says is a good strategy. He targeted a set of specific companies he was interested in and marketed himself directly to the top officials and VCs of those companies. By the end of the three months, he had three promising offers. Two were in telecom and one was in enterprise software.

“I really was very proactive about my search,” says Centrella. “I sought out different avenues where my skills were transportable, but in the end I stayed with telecom.”

— Marguerite Reardon, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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