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CxO Download: Jef Graham of RGB Networks

9:40 AM -- Jef Graham has been CEO of RGB Networks, the video processing solutions company, since 2006, with prior stints at Juniper and at Peribit Networks, which was bought by Juniper for $337 million in 2005. Jef talked about RGB’s challenges and CEO leadership. But I did forget to ask him where the second "f" went to.

What has been your biggest challenge leading RGB in 2010?
My challenge is to get the fact that RGB is offering a three-screen solution in every carrier CTO’s brain.

Your biggest challenge in 2011?
Continuing to get that three-screen awareness out into the industry. We came from cable, and when I came in January 2006, we started the telco platform, with an NEBs-compliant head, and then we came out with a mobile offering. In the States the three businesses are more fragmented, but in international markets they come together.

Biggest regulatory issue for the cable and telco video industry in 2011?
One of the things that affect us is the need for better standards for ad insertions. In cable, there is great standardization, but there is nothing in mobile and in the telco-TV arena there are Microsoft standards and not much else.

What’s the most important advice you can give someone who wants to be CEO of a communications equipment company?
It depends where you coming from. You need to have focus, a clear idea of what your mission is and your value proposition, and understand the difference between you and the competition. You need to set a specific period, like every month or quarter, and decide what are your priorities, and then go back and measure yourself against those priorities. It’s easy to be redirected from your goals in the heat of battle. You need to measure yourself against what you intended to do. Lots of people justify what they did after the fact, when in reality they should have kept their focus.

Your biggest mistake?
[Not] taking action in a more timely manner. Most of the issues that cause both stress and mistakes are delays in taking action on people. The old theory about the rotten apple poisoning the barrel. I learned a big lesson when after working 15 years at HP, l left and went to a startup. I hadn’t realized while at HP I was lucky in that I didn’t have to deal with difficult people. That was not the case at the new company and I was a deer in the headlights. You can’t tolerate difficult people in a small environment. You need to make decisions quickly, and fairly and honestly. There is a tendency to hope it all goes away.

Your biggest success?
Hiring great teams, and hiring really great people. The key is having really clear objectives. You have the team come up with their objectives, I have my view, and then we meet in the middle with a set of common goals. We set our objectives for the quarter and then measure ourselves against those goals. You need to be very disciplined measuring yourself against what you wanted to achieve. It’s okay to get a few red markets. For us at RGB, it’s been a great last quarter where we hit the top six objectives for the quarter.

What do you hope your legacy at RGB will be when you leave?
I’m not leaving any time soon. The important thing I hope is that people will say it was fun and we had great success. The two go hand in hand. That’s what I hope, that when I bump into people they say that was a great time and we got great results. Life is too short not to have fun.

What book are you currently reading?
The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. There are many leadership issues about what it takes to win, the need for decisiveness, and how at some point the leader can’t tolerate difficult people who aren’t in sync with the team. [As for a business book, Graham is reading a pre-release version of a new book by Jim Collins (he of Built to Last fame), but was obliged not to reveal it, other than to say, “It’s really good."]

— Joe Braue, Group Director and SVP, Light Reading

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