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Light Reading Hall of Fame 2015

We've added five more notable industry figures into the Light Reading Hall of Fame – find out who they are!

June 29, 2015

14 Min Read
Light Reading Hall of Fame 2015

Five more influential individuals have been inducted into the Light Reading Hall of Fame this year, adding to the list of dignitaries that have been recognized in recent years.

The Hall of Fame recognizes those individuals, both the famous and the infamous, who have made a notable contribution to the global communications sector. Among those inducted in previous years are Steve Jobs, Bob Metcalfe, Brian Roberts, Kris Rinne, Martin Cooper, Irwin Jacobs, Larissa Herda, Niklas Zennström, Edward Snowden and Bernie Ebbers.

Ebbers is an example of the "rogue" element in the Hall of Fame -- those who have been inducted for actions not in the best interests of the industry (in our view).

Figure 1:

This year's intake, though, doesn't include any villains. (Well, at least that's our take on it…)

So who made it this year?

  • John Chambers, Cisco

  • James Crowe, formerly of Level 3

  • Jonathan "Jony" Ive, Apple

  • Chris Pinkham, Twitter

  • Tom Wheeler, FCC

Find out more about them, and why they've been inducted into the Hall of Fame, in the following pages.

John Chambers, CEO, Cisco Systems
There's a lot that can -- and will -- be said about John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s long-time CEO, now that he is on the eve of his oft-delayed retirement. He is one of the most storied and successful chief executives that Silicon Valley has ever seen, voted third in Harvard Business Review's 2014 list of the world's best-performing CEOs. Chambers has served as Cisco CEO for the past 20 years and will retain the title of chairman and advisor to his replacement Chuck Robbins when Chambers hands over the reins on July 26. (See Cisco: Chambers to Be 'Wingman' to Robbins and Cisco's Robbins to Replace Chambers as CEO.)

In his tenure as CEO, Chambers grew the company from $1.2 billion in annual revenue to its current run rate of $48 billion by focusing on its strengths in networking, weathering two economic downtowns along the way. Network World reports that, under Chambers, Cisco acquired 168 companies and has been the number one or number two player in 16 of the technology markets in which it participated.

Chambers was known to be a charismatic leader and dynamic interview subject (see video below) who was good at managing Wall Street's expectations and riding out the hiccups in Cisco's business as it honed its strategy and adapted to technology changes. Not everything he did was a triumph (remember the Flip camera?), but Cisco has always seemed to get back on track. (See Chambers's Legacy: A Resurgent Cisco .)

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On his last earnings call as CEO, Chambers described himself as a "less-than-perfect leader" and reflected on the past 20 years, noting that Cisco changed the way the world works, lives, learns and plays. (See Cisco Earnings: Carriers Cast Shadow Over Sunny Quarter.)

"We've had our setbacks but always come back even stronger, something almost no other technology company has done," Chambers said on the call. "We have remained incredibly focused on delivering for our shareholders. We are a cash and profit machine and have maintained our margins over time by delivering sustainable differentiation through integrated architectures based on intelligent networks. What I am most proud of, however, is how well positioned we are to repeat the success of this last 20 years."

Chambers, at age 66, will soon retire, but don't be surprised if you haven't heard the last of him. Aside from advising and acting as "wingman" to new CEO Robbins, he says he'd like to spend more time with his wife, hunt and travel, but many suspect he has some political ambitions for his future as well.

Next page: James Crowe, formerly of Level 3

James Crowe, formerly of Level 3
James Crowe has been one of the most influential -- as well as just plain stubborn -- executives of telecom's IP era. He was not only the guiding light behind the first all-fiber, all-IP network built by Level 3 Communications, but also a major voice in the evolution of the VoIP era and a role model for a generation of competitive telecom upstarts.

Even more impressive was Crowe's long tenure at the helm of Level 3. In an era that saw many companies, and their chief executives, rise fast and fall even faster, Crowe was a steady presence at Level 3 for more than 15 years and across three different decades until his retirement in 2013. (See Level 3 CEO Sets His Exit.)

Prior to Level 3, Crowe was a competitive provocateur as the leader of original CLEC Metropolitan Fiber Systems. When MFS was acquired by WorldCom, he briefly served as chairman of WorldCom, but in late 1997 moved to the company that built the MFS network, which later became Level 3 Communications.

During Crowe's early years at Level 3, the company's laser focus on IP led it to contribute in a major way to the development of the first IP softswitch at Lucent Technologies and the broader use of softswitch technology to enable a new generation of VoIP competitors. Level 3's parallel focus on building a vast, robust fiber network also helped it become a major force in evolution of wholesale services and content delivery networks.

While his initial years at Level 3 were focused on network construction and promoting Level 3's distinction as an all-IP carrier, Crowe later switched gears to become an acquirer in a post-meltdown telecom landscape ripe for opportunistic M&A. Level 3 acquired many companies under his watch, culminating with the game-changing acquisition of Global Crossing, which elevated Crowe's company to become an international powerhouse. (See Level 3 Buying Global Crossing.)

He also oversaw a strategic redirection, during which the company began to focus more on converging IT and telecom opportunities, and created new sales channels, efforts that put the operator in a strong position for the enterprise market surge that Level 3 has made under its current leadership. (See Level 3's SDN Play Focused on Hybrid Clouds and Level 3 Revs Its Enterprise Engine.)

Crowe also chaired the National Network Reliability and Interoperability Council and the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee.

Figure 2: James Crowe: Stubborn visionary. James Crowe: Stubborn visionary.

His tenure was not without controversy, however. In the years after Crowe was named to his government security post, Level 3 was implicated in the National Security Agency's Prism wiretapping scandal. (See Prism in a Big Data World.)

Crowe's commitment to building a network geared for big capacity demand, and then Level 3's costly acquisition binge, had the company burdened with debt and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Crowe often battled with financial analysts and the likes of George Gilder over the company's expensive, build-it-and-they-will-come fiber strategy. (See Level 3: 'Size Matters' Isn't Enough.)

Crowe also defended Level 3's occasional reliance of Indefeasible Right of Use-based capacity transactions as IRUs became central to scandals at other large telecom companies. In later years, Crowe led Level 3 into a much-publicized peering dispute with Comcast that added fuel to the net neutrality fire, and further heightened the competitive tension between telcos and cable companies. (See Level 3: This Is Not a Peering Dispute and Is Level 3 Right About Net Neutrality?.)

Throughout it all, however, Crowe focused on one particular underlying belief -- that demand for fiber capacity would continue to explode and define Level 3's market opportunities. His unwavering focus on that point is probably the biggest reason why Level 3 has survived and thrived.

Next page: Jony Ive, senior vice president of Design, Apple

Jony Ive, senior vice president of Design, Apple
Apple's Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Design (Chief Design Officer) Sir Jonathan (Jony) Ive, may have as much to do with the company's renaissance as a consumer electronics powerhouse as its late CEO, Steve Jobs.

Ive has been widely hailed as a genius of minimalist industrial designs. The designer's re-imagining of the form and function of cellphones, music players and more has helped to transform Apple from a perceived also-ran to a front-runner (once more) in the tech world.

Ive joined Apple as a designer in 1992. Some of his early work was on the PowerBook laptops and the ill-fated Newton handheld computer. It was a dark period for Apple without Steve Jobs at the helm as the company's reputation and share price dipped.

Figure 3: Sir 'Jony' Ive: Design guru. Sir 'Jony' Ive: Design guru.

Ive, however, was made head of industrial design and Jobs returned as permanent CEO in 2007. Ive's design chops had hit a fertile streak with the iMac, iPod MP3 player and the first iPhone, which Apple launched in 2007. Since then he has worked on subsequent generations of the iconic smartphone, the iPad, and the iPad Mini.

Aside from Jobs, Ive arguably has had as much to do with the reinvention of Apple as any other individual. The two worked closely together and both shared a passion for clean, utilitarian industrial design.

This can be seen in the rise of the company's market valuation to record levels as iPhone and iPad mania took hold: When Ive first joined the company, Apple's share price was at a high of $17.50 for the year: Its current share price is $126.75, giving the company a market capitalization of $730 billion. In late 2014 it became the first company to ever command a valuation higher than $700 billion.

Ive also has major role in the post-Jobs Apple era. A New Yorker profile from February this year describes him as "one of the two most powerful people in the world's most valuable company."

London-born Ive was knighted in 2012, hence his official title of Sir Jonathan Ive.

Next page: Chris Pinkham, VP, engineering, Twitter

Chris Pinkham, VP, engineering, Twitter
Chris Pinkham is not a familiar name in telecom; in fact, most people won't know of this engineer at all.

But he's the man who, while in charge of Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN)'s global infrastructure in the early 2000s, came up with the idea that grew into EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) and, in the process, helped give birth to today's exploding cloud services market.

Pinkham, who is now vice president of engineering at Twitter Inc. , has said in multiple interviews that EC2 was developed for Amazon's internal use, as an approach to decentralizing its infrastructure by providing services directly to development teams within the company. One of the goals was to reduce the cost of computing resources significantly from the cost of traditional data center infrastructure. He and a fellow engineer, Benjamin Black, in 2003 wrote the first proposal for a "virtual cloud-provisionable server," which they presented to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

Figure 4: Chris Pinkham helped to create the cloud services market while at Amazon. Chris Pinkham helped to create the cloud services market while at Amazon.

Pinkham, who was raised partially in South Africa and educated there, then helped lead the team, based in Amazon's first satellite office in South Africa, that developed EC2. Among those involved in that team were fellow Amazon engineers Christopher Brown and Wiljem Van Biljon.

That development proceeded very quickly -- by 2005, Amazon was beginning to offer services to some customers - and the rapid rise in popularity of EC2 not only led to a global cloud market but also established Amazon as the early leader in that market, a role Amazon Web Services hasn't relinquished. Of course, the company has continued to build out its cloud services portfolio well beyond those early capabilities, but it has seen major competitors do so as well, and yet continues to hold a commanding position in the market.

Pinkham, meanwhile, left Amazon initially to form his own firm, Nimbula, to bring the EC2 technology to private clouds. That firm was acquired by Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL) in 2013. Pinkham left a year later and today is vice president of engineering at Twitter.

Given the tremendous impact that cloud computing has had on the telecom space and the many forms of "as a service" technologies to which EC2 has given rise, the Light Reading Hall of Fame acknowledges Chris Pinkham as its midwife, aiding significantly in the birth of the cloud as we know it today.

Next page: Tom Wheeler, chairman, FCC

Tom Wheeler, chairman, FCC
Even though he has held the post for less than two years, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has already left an indelible mark on the US communications industry.

During his short time in office, Wheeler has made muscular use of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's broad but often vague regulatory authority to torpedo major mergers in both the cable and wireless industry in the name of competition. Last summer he signaled strong opposition to a proposed deal between Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US Inc. and then in April he moved to block Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). (See Wheeler to Cable: Suck It Up and Comcast Formally Ends Its Bid for TWC.)

Those moves alone would have been enough to make Wheeler a strong candidate for Light Reading's Hall of Fame this year. But, just to make sure, the nation's 31st FCC chairman sealed his place in the Hall of Fame by steering the Commission to impose a Title II common-carrier regulatory regime on the broadband business over the vocal opposition of the cable, telco and wireless industries in late February. (See Wheeler: We'll Enforce Title II 'Case-By-Case' and FCC Rejects Title II Stay Request.)

Embracing the long-debated concept of net neutrality, which few dispute anymore, the FCC's historic Open Internet Order bans broadband providers from blocking, throttling, prioritizing content for pay or making other moves to favor one type of content over another on their networks. But, far more controversially, the order sets out to maintain and enforce these rules by establishing a new, utilities-style regime on broadband providers and the Internet that will reverse decades of hands-off policies by the US government. The new rules took effect earlier this month and are already having an impact. (See Title II Rules Take Effect, First Net Neutrality Complaint Hits TWC and FCC Adopts Title II Rules .)

In numerous public appearances and statements, Wheeler has promised that the Commission will still use a light regulatory touch and will not use its beefed-up Title II powers to regulate broadband rates and prices. But leaders of the three affected industries are dubious at best, prompting them to take the FCC to court in what promises to be another long, drawn-out legal battle. (See NCTA Files Stay Vs. FCC With D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.)

Figure 5: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has surprised many during his tenure. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has surprised many during his tenure.

With these and other bold actions, the 69-year-old Wheeler has dumbfounded his public-interest critics and stunned his old allies in the cable and wireless sectors, both of whom expected a far less activist role for him. A long-time lobbyist who once headed both the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and the CTIA , Wheeler is actually the only person enshrined in both the Cable Television Hall of Fame and the Wireless Hall of Fame, a distinction that once prompted President Obama to dub him "the Bo Jackson of telecom" (referring to the 1980s athlete who played for both Major League Baseball and NFL teams).

Obama nominated Wheeler for the FCC post after he raised more than $500,000 for Obama's two presidential campaigns and spent six weeks volunteering for Obama in Iowa during the first race. Like Obama, Wheeler is an avid fan and student of Abraham Lincoln, having penned two books about Lincoln and the Civil War. He may need to draw upon those studies as he seeks to put down his own civil war in the communications field.

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