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Osicom Hires New President and COO

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
10/25/2000

During its scandal-ridden past, Osicom Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: FIBR) has been known for having the kind of managers who’d line up a firing squad by having everyone stand in a circle. Which is to say: not real smart (see Osicom Investors Rebel).

But in the past few months there have been some big changes at Osicom, the most recent being the appointment of telecom veteran James M. Dixon as its president and chief operating officer.

Dixon was first introduced to Osicom as a business analyst whose mission was to evaluate Osicom and its Sorrento Networks Inc. subsidiary, which will soon be combined into one company under the Sorrento name. Dixon wasn’t looking for a job; he did his tire-kicking at the request of an old friend, Rajendra (Raj) Singh, CEO of Telecom Ventures LLC, a Sorrento investor and board member (see Osicom's New Board Game).

“What I found was that when you put aside the external issues, the confusion, the fumbling, and you focus on [Sorrento’s] market, its technology, and its people, it’s a very sound and well-aimed business,” says Dixon.

“When I went through Sorrento, I was scratching my head and wondering if I had gone to the wrong address,” he says. “This was not the situation that had been so often described to me.”

Ironically, the very things that delighted Dixon have miffed investors in recent months. If the company’s metro DWDM technology is so good, they often grouse, why can’t it translate that into decent earnings or something to make the stock more valuable? Or at least more stable? (see Sorrento's $40 Million Deal)

To give you an idea what a wild ride Osicom's been on, consider this: The stock's closing price on Tuesday, $31, is both 253 percent better than its year-ago price and 50 percent worse than its price of two months ago.

Dixon says he’s still not sure why Osicom and Sorrento have been so pitiful at communicating with the outside world, but he says he intends to follow the advice of former employer Craig McCaw by under-promising and over-delivering. “I’m going to be cautious about any promises or any efforts to validate what’s previously been promised or expected,” he says.

In Dixon’s eyes, Sorrento’s product arrived before a market for it really existed. Now that the metro space is heating up, though, his challenge will be in preparing Sorrento for rapid growth — a problem it's never experienced before. His agenda includes making sure there’s enough production capacity to meet demand and shoring up Sorrento’s customer support and product development efforts.

Dixon’s background includes fifteen years working with telecom switches at ITT and Harris Digital Telephone Systems. “I’m familiar with the switching space,” he says. “The fact they do it now by manipulating light, well, I haven’t got all that down yet. I still have some learning to do.”

Though he may need to bone up on optical technologies, Dixon says he understands metropolitan networks and can help Sorrento with his experience in what it takes to support big carriers as customers.

While he’s hitting the books and buffing the business, Dixon should be wary that he’s not the first telecom veteran the Osicom family has tried to install as its bridge to credibility. Oren G. Shaffer, formerly of Ameritech, took the reigns in March, only to hand them back in September.

According to sources close to Sorrento, Dixon’s fate will largely depend on how well he can run Osicom and Sorrento without stealing the limelight from Xin Cheng, who continues as Sorrento’s CEO (see Xin Cheng, Founder, Sorrento ). That might be easier now than it once was. After all, Cheng has become adamant about adding new blood to Osicom’s management ranks.

The challenge will be in how Dixon deals with becoming the stabilizing force in a company that could sorely use one.

-- Phil Harvey, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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