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Polycom Names Peter Leav its new President and CEO

Earlier this week, Polycom announced that Peter A Leav will become the next President and CEO of the company, taking over from interim CEO Kevin Parker. Mr. Parker will remain Chairman of the Board and will help transition Leav into the company.

Bringing in a new leader, particularly from the outside, can be somewhat risky; a new person at the top typically means a change in culture and focus for the company. For instance, under Bob Hagarty, Polycom was a very engineering-focused organization but wasn't all that strong a sales execution and marketing company. Andy Miller then took over as CEO and the focus shifted and we saw a much more aggressive Polycom, which reflected Miller's personality. This, coupled with the continued strong engineering, allowed Polycom to pick up share in video over rival Cisco during the Miller tenure.

So what should we expect from Mr. Leav as he grabs the reins at the head of Polycom? Well first and foremost, we should see a continued focus on go-to-market. At NCR, his most recent role was Executive Vice President and President of Industry and Field operations. He also was tasked with leading NCR's global go-to-market efforts, including the global sales force and both the direct and indirect channels.

This experience will prove extremely valuable to Polycom at this point in the organization's history. Over the past few years, despite a slow-growing video market, Polycom has invested a significant amount of resources into new products and platforms to "skate to where the puck is going," as Andy Miller used to say. Now that most of the next-generation products have been announced, it comes down to execution, and it appears from Leav's background that this is a strength of his. The UC industry is growing in the 3%-5% range and has become increasingly more competitive. Success for Polycom will have to come through share gain against its primary rival, Cisco. Leav's field experience should help bring the right attitude and competitive spirit to the Polycom sales force and channel.

In addition to the channel issues, the communications industry is in the midst of transitioning to software-based systems. I don't believe the hardware platforms are going away, but software will certainly play a much more significant role than it has in the past. Although I'm not intimately familiar with the details, I know that Peter Leav was heavily involved in a similar hardware-to-software transition at NCR when point-of-sale systems, cash registers and other big-volume products at the company went through that evolutionary step. It's easy to say, "We're becoming a software company," but in practice, the transition is quite difficult, so Leav should be able to bring some best practices into the company and minimize the impact of any "gotchas" that might arise.

The other aspect of Leav's background that should be beneficial to Polycom is that he's a global leader. In addition to having a strong sales background, Leav has significant business experience in North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Don't get me wrong, I understand that Polycom is already a global company, but if the company is going to grow above market rates, then it needs to improve its positioning outside the North American market.

This is a critical time in the evolution of Polycom. The company is facing new competition from a number of smaller, more nimble start-ups; the market is transitioning from hardware to software and the cloud; and the company has an excellent opportunity to catch the wave created from Microsoft Lync. These changes will significantly transform the company, and Leav is tasked with something akin to changing the wings while a plane is still flying.

I wish Leav all the best as he joins Polycom, as it stands on the precipice of the most significant change in the company's history. His background certainly seems well suited to the task at hand so I'm expecting big things from him.

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