Interview: Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy
As he prepares for his VoiceCon Orlando keynote, Kevin Kennedy talks about his early days at the helm, and how the industry has changed just in the brief time since he took over at Avaya
At VoiceCon Orlando 2009, on March 31, the industry will get its first chance to hear from Avaya's new CEO, Kevin Kennedy, who will deliver the event's opening keynote. Kennedy was named CEO late last year and officially took over January 1, after serving as CEO of JDS Uniphase and also working at Cisco and Bell Labs.
Before giving his VoiceCon keynote, Kennedy agreed to do a phone interview with No Jitter. In the course of a 20-minute conversation, he described the changes he's bringing to Avaya, as well as the changes that have occurred in the industry just since he took over at the first of the year. He said Avaya remains profitable, and he confirmed that the company has done layoffs this year as part of ongoing restructuring efforts. He also described how Avaya is working to compete with Cisco and take business away from Nortel as the latter makes its way through Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Following is a transcript of my interview with Kevin Kennedy:
NJ: Could you give me a sense of what your top priorities have been over the past 6 months, and how you’ve gone about trying to achieve those goals?
KK: Sure. I joined January 1, so I'm here about 2 ½ months, and I'd say the first thing to do is to effect the transition from your predecessor, so Charlie [Giancarlo] and I had about 2 or 3 weeks of real time overlap to pass the baton. During that time, I met with a lot of the employees, town hall meetings, so forth, and mentioned why I came, what I thought the unwritten destiny of Avaya would be. I've been meeting with customers during that period of time, going through the management disciplines.
At a strategy level, I think Charlie and I will have a very smooth transition. No major changes there. From the point of view of how we're executing, there are three workflows that I've initiated. One is to continue to restructure the company given the economic climate. The second is to focus on transitions: So new product transitions, pricing transitions, how to do our channel transition. And then the third is growth. So what will be the things that we will intentionally grow that will lead us out of the recession, and how do we evolve our go-to-market. So those 3 cross-functional things are probably the nuance that I have brought to the company over the last 30 to 60 days. And all relatively execution-oriented, if you will. And I've continued to meet with customers and constituents. So it’s been a full two and a half months.
NJ: Sounds like it. You used the phrase, "Unwritten destiny of Avaya." What do you think is the unwritten destiny of Avaya? What's the vision for what Avaya will look like in a year, two years, however long?
KK: A couple of things have changed--I consciously made a decision to sign onto Avaya around the 1st of November, my first day at work was the first of January, and in January we had a bankruptcy of one of the competitors in the marketplace. We had another competitor sort of up the ante in the way they're playing and declare their intentions in the server world. And so the competitive environment actually changed quite a bit. And I’d say the benefit of that was that I think the enterprise asset that is Avaya was the gem of the former Lucent fold. It today in its market is unique in the sense that it’s one of the enterprise assets that still has an excellent cash flow and is profitable. It's private, so it’s a little bit different than a Cisco. But frankly, in a bear market, being private so that you can focus on execution is a good thing. And so we’re in a moment in time when the competition is changing slightly. Our strength is a good thing. And I think the unwritten destiny is to become recognized as the specialists in real-time communications. And I think that’s what we’re going to do is learn how to just execute and be the choice for people who want open, best in class real-time communications.