Polycom lures a CTO from Cisco in executive overhaul

Five months after taking control of unified communications equipment maker Polycom Inc., CEO and president Andy Miller has overhauled the company’s executive.

On Monday he named six new members to his team – all from outside the company — and created three new lines of business to make sure the Pleasanton, Calif., company is focused on customers as much as technology.

Arguably the biggest of the newcomers is senior vice-president Joseph Burton, [pictured] who was lured from Cisco Systems Inc. to become senior vice-president and chief strategy and technology officer. Burton has been CTO of Cisco’s unified communications.

In an interview six hours after he settled into his new chair, Burton explained he was happy at Cisco but liked the idea of working at a company that focuses on unified communications. It was, he said, “an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

Asked what Miller’s pitch was to entice him to Polycom, Burton chuckled and said, “We kind of pitched each other.” Miller, he added, “was very persuasive.”

“We really want Polycom to be a U/C innovation engine,” Burton added. “We’re combining our [product] roadmap for voice and video into a single unified communications roadmap that we think will address the needs of customers.”

“Being able to take the great technology and customer core that Polycom has and really take it to the next level over the next couple of years is something Andy and I are really excited about.”

Former CTO and co-founder Jeff Rodman will assume the title of chief evangelist.

Although Polycom is one of the leaders in videoconferencing and just came off a satisfying second quarter – for the first six months net revenues were US$571 million, compared to US$456 million for the same period in 2009 – one industry analysts said the shakeup is welcome.

In April, Cisco swallowed one of Polycom’s biggest competitors, Tandberg SA, so for that reason alone a response was needed.

Polycom’s “never shown a lot of vision, nor a lot of marketing prowess,” said Zeus Kerravala, senior vice-president at the Yankee Group. “It probably could use some new leadership.” One thing it lacks is a tablet to meet Cisco Systems Inc.’s Cius, he added.

Polycom is a very rich, deep technology, company, retorted Burton, that is number one or number two in many aspects of the unified communications market. “Let’s just say that going forward I expect us to demonstrate even more vision and marketing prowess.”

Roopam Jain, industry director for unified communication and collaboration at Frost & Sullivan, said the importing of new executives wasn’t a surprise because Miller promised to shake things. Miller had also talked about transforming Polycom culture that is more product and technology focused, Jain added.

“Polycom is at unique crossroads today where it faces competition from new directions,” Jain said in an email. “Not only is the combined Cisco-Tandberg entity a huge threat but also Polycom’s long term partner Avaya [Inc.] is switching gears to partner closely with Polycom rival LifeSize. Avaya announced its own desktop video device last week at an event in New York. Polycom’s traditional business structure was soon going to become a hindrance. We believe the new moves being put in place bode well for a more concerted UC effort by the company as well as renewed vertical and end user focus.”

Kerravala calls Burton “very knowledgeable,” who “knows how to build a strategy around a pallet, versus products.”

Brent Kelly, a senior analyst at Wainhouse Research said Burton is “very technical, but able to describe and explain technology in a way people understand. “For Polycom, this is a real coup.”
Henry Dewing of Forrester Research called Burton “a real great catch” who will be an ideal person to champion Polycom’s efforts in the newly-formed Unified Communications Interoperability Forum, which is trying to set standards so UC applications will work more easily together.

The other new executives named Monday include:

–Sudhakar Ramakrishna, SVP and general manager for products, and chief development officer. He will join on October 11 from Motorola where he is corporate vice-president and GM for wireless broadband access solutions and software operations;

Susan Hayden, executive VP and general manager, Polycom SMB, who had been group VP of sales for OracleDirect;

–Alan Rudolph, SVP, Global Services, who was SVP applications management and consulting for Xerox Corp.’s Affiliated Computer Services (ACS);

–Gary Rider, president for Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA). Previously he was VP of Europe Global Sales & Marketing for NCR Corp.;

Ashley Goldsmith, SVP human resources, who comes from F. Hoffmann-La Roche.

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of ITWorldCanada.com and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including ITBusiness.ca and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@] soloreporter.com

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