Bill Cadogan, Mahi Networks

"It's important that some of these little companies survive."

October 27, 2004

6 Min Read
Bill Cadogan, Mahi Networks

61803.jpgBig fish or dead fish? That's the big question for Mahi Networks Inc., now that CEO Chris Rust earlier in the week stepped aside to be replaced by industry veteran Bill Cadogan (see Rust Out, Cadogan In at Mahi).

Yes, Mahi is one of those optical networking companies founded during the bubble days. But here's the thing – it's still around, and that's worth points. Maybe hiring Cadogan is one of those coming-of-age things, when a startup recruits the gray-haired CEO to bring in the big business or kick volume manufacturing into gear.

Even if you don't believe that previous CEO Chris Rust is leaving to "spend more time with the family," Cadogan's hiring makes sense. By most reports, Mahi is on the cusp of landing some sizeable deals, including one with MCI Inc. (Nasdaq: MCIP) and possibly even one with SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), even though the company has yet to announce anything (see SBC: ROADM Search Ain't Over).

Cadogan, if anything, gets points for persistence. When most VCs were shutting down their optical networking operations, Cadogan, at St. Paul Venture Capital (now Vesbridge Partners LLC), doubled down on Mahi, and even guided them toward the purchase of Photuris Networks, a manufacturer of reconfigurable optical add/drop multiplexer (ROADM) technology (see Mahi Nabs $70M, Photuris Assets). These days, large carriers are showing a renewed interest in optical transport technologies, particularly the ROADM (see Who Makes What: ROADMs). Startups such as Mahi – and competitors Movaz Networks Inc. and Tropic Networks Inc. – need to collect some of those major wins if they're going to stick around.

In the ROADM market, Movaz and Tropic have lined up big-name partners – Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) and Alcatel SA (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA), respectively – to help their chances (see Lucent & Movaz Seal Deal and Alcatel Shows Off Tropic Tech). So the fight is on, and Mahi may have to find a deep-pocketed partner to join the hunt.

Cadogan joined ADC Telecommunications Inc. (Nasdaq: ADCT) in 1987 and left in 2001 to become a venture capitalist with St. Paul. That means he bailed from ADC just in time to avoid the downturn, although he says that's just coincidence and not prescience – too bad, because we were hoping to scam some football picks from him.

So turn the page, as Light Reading catches up with Cadogan on his latest project.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

Light Reading: So, why the change in CEOs?

Bill Cadogan: We do believe the company is at a critical juncture with regards to customer acquisition. There are some just coming online, and some that we're in negotiations with.

Light Reading: Couldn't Chris Rust have done that?

Bill Cadogan: Chris wanted a change. He's been commuting a fair bit up to Petaluma, and for him that's more than a one-hour commute. His new job with U.S. Venture Partners is a lot closer to home.

Light Reading: Ah – so he already has a job lined up.

Bill Cadogan: This is something that's been brewing for four to six months.

Light Reading: You're calling from Boston. Is that where you're based now?

Bill Cadogan: My home is in Minneapolis, so I'll be commuting.

Light Reading: To Petaluma? OK, but – if Chris burned out on a one-hour commute, how long before you burn out?

Bill Cadogan: That's not a concern. This is what I've gotten used to.

Light Reading: So, if you're in Minneapolis, do you follow college football?

Bill Cadogan: Yep.

Light Reading: Who's your team?

Bill Cadogan: On the East Coast, I'm a Boston College fan. They just had a big game vs. Notre Dame [an amazing 24-23 win, no less]. But I'm also a [University of Minnesota] Gophers fan.

Light Reading: Gophers – that's the answer I expected.

Bill Cadogan: I was born in Boston. ADC moved me to Minnesota. [The Gophers] are doing OK. They were 4-0 going into a game against Michigan, and they lost that. Then they lost to Michigan State the following week. I think they just lost their focus.

Light Reading: I went to UC Berkeley, so it's a surreal year for me – they're actually good. I'm not used to that.

Bill Cadogan: Yeah, that's a good team, there.

Light Reading: I guess they were a long shot for the Rose Bowl, but they'd have to have beaten USC.

Bill Cadogan: They should have beaten USC. They outplayed them.

Light Reading: As you're coming back into a day-to-day role, what's your impression? What kind of equipment industry are we left with after the crash?

Bill Cadogan: There's no question it's getting better, but when you look at how tumultuous the downturn was, you see the recovery is going to be uneven. We'll see it spurt up for a quarter or two then drop down again. It's going to be uneven by sector, too, and unfortunately, some of the technologies introduced in 2000 will never get a foothold. But the trend line is clearly positive.

When you look at the big picture, it's important that some of these little companies survive. Otherwise, it's a pretty dreary business, watching big companies ignore their customers and get rewarded for it.

Light Reading: What's your main job as CEO?

Bill Cadogan: As a VC, I've been recognized as a guy that has a lot of operating experience. So, the opportunity for me is to use that for Mahi's benefit.

Light Reading: You mentioned it's a "critical juncture" with customers, but that's true with partnerships, too, right? Tropic has joined up with Alcatel, and Movaz has the Lucent partnership. Does Mahi need to do something similar?

Bill Cadogan: Yeah. In fact, that's one of the critical issues we face, and we do have several discussions going on. As a startup, [a big-name partner] would be key for certain large pieces of business. So, look for us to have some really definitive action there.

Light Reading: Now, what about this MCI deal? When does that get announced? [See Sources: Mahi Moves Include MCI Win.]

Bill Cadogan: Progress continues solidly with MCI. I think you'll see something very soon. I couldn't tell you if that's a week or several weeks.

Light Reading: We've also heard you have deals in the works with SBC and BellSouth. Any truth to that?

Bill Cadogan: I'm certainly not announcing anything today, but when you talk about large companies like that, it certainly speaks to why I'm stepping up as CEO at this time. We would expect to compete for those pieces of business.

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