For all you youngsters out there who don’t appreciate classic rock, check out the Billy Joel song called "Goodnight Saigon." In it, Joel pines about perils of war and how terrible it was. However, in the song there’s a message of being part of a unit, with lyrics that go "And we would all go down together."
Going down together is certainly what Juniper Network’s prior management team did. When ex-Microsoft exec turned Juniper CEO Kevin Johnson left, so too did the other Johnson hires, like Bob Muglia. As the song says, "they all went down together." So ended the Microsoft regime at Juniper.
Going down together certainly wasn’t the case for Shaygan Kheradpir, who was ousted this week after slightly under a year on the job. The details around Kheradpir's departure are certainly fuzzy and the timing seems a bit odd. About two weeks ago, Juniper held its annual financial analyst conference, where Kheradpir gave his vision for the industry and the company. This makes me believe the Juniper press release that claims his departure was based on "his leadership and conduct in connection with a particular negotiation with a customer." If there had been a plan to remove Kheradpir, the company certainly wouldn't have paraded him around all the investors and financial analysts. I have no idea what the conduct breach could have been, but it must have been pretty significant to remove the CEO immediately.
The choice of Rami Rahim as a replacement is a bit of a surprise as well. For those who do not know Rahim, he has been a well-respected Juniper executive for a long time. He’s well-spoken, smart, and has been at Juniper since the company was founded.
He’s certainly paid his dues and may very well make a good leader. However, based on the last two executives, I thought the board was looking to bring new ideas and new skills into the company. Rahim has a lot of great qualities, but it’s hard for me to see how he brings a fresh perspective into Juniper given that it’s the only place he’s worked for the past 17 years. Perhaps the Juniper board decided that the talent within the company is fine and the next executive leader should come from those ranks.
The need to make this move should fall squarely at the feet of Juniper’s board. Two leadership changes in the span of a year is unsettling for the company’s customers and investors. The positive news, though, is that in the short term, Rahim isn’t likely to alter things significantly, meaning the operating plan that’s in place now is likely to remain that way.
Though Rahim will likely stick to the plan for now, he’s moving from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. This is a critical point in Juniper’s history. Globally, telecom is struggling, making the business climate tough for a company that has its roots in the carrier space. The security business is constantly under fire from the many startups in the market today, and the growth in the Ethernet switch business has slowed down. I know several investors who would like to see Juniper retrench and go back to being a carrier-only company, so there may be some tough decisions ahead.
So after two attempts at hiring outside the company, Juniper seems content to bring in some homegrown talent. On paper, Rahim appears to be a good choice, but only time will tell, as the only thing that seems consistent about the networking industry today is the rate at which it is changing.