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Juniper needs to get it right this time

Company's reputation with customers rides on yet another CEO selection

Retaining and maintaining customer trust, confidence and respect will be key for Juniper Networks going forward now after two misfires in the CEO’s office. Shaygan Kheradpir resigned suddenly this week after the Juniper board questioned his leadership and conduct with a particular customer, whom they did not name.

It was obviously an important customer, perhaps a 10% revenue customer. Juniper hasn’t disclosed a 10% customer since Q1, 2013, and at that time there were two: Verizon – Kheradpir’s former employer – and AT&T, which recently added Juniper to its preferred list of Domain 2.0 SDN/NFV vendors.

Could Kheradpir have given Verizon the same treatment Verizon likely gave Juniper in negotiations when Kheradpir was CIO at the carrier? Could he have played hardball with AT&T’s Domain 2.0 effort to reduce spending?

Was it due to Juniper’s foreign practices, for which an investigation – that predates Kheradpir -- was launched last year and is still ongoing?

Unclear. What is clear is that Kheradpir, who had only been CEO since January, was the wrong pick by the Juniper board. He came from outside the company – Barclays, as well as Verizon -- as did his predecessor, Kevin Johnson. Johnson, who came over from Microsoft, “retired” at the end of last year after five years in the corner office at Juniper and a lumpy track record.

Two or three CEOs in five or six years -- two in less than a year -- does not build trust or confidence in a company (see "Hewlett-Packard" (HP)), especially after one was ousted 10 months into his term following leadership and customer conduct issues. The Juniper board admitted an obvious error in hiring him in the first place.

Did they get it right this time? Instead of going outside the company again, Juniper elevated an entrenched technology executive in Rami Rahim, a 17-year Juniper veteran and employee #32 at the company. Rahim apparently possesses the Juniper savoir faire, according to Chairman and former CEO Scott Kriens.

That will be key in retaining and maintaining the respect and confidence of customers. Kriens said himself in an internal Juniper memo on Kheradpir’s removal that not everyone sees Juniper as a leader:

While many still believe in us, others are skeptical, and we have given them some reason to be. While some of our challenges are felt by the entire networking industry, some are made more difficult by doubts about Juniper and some of those doubts have been brought on by Juniper itself.

In this time of opportunity, Juniper must have trusted, clear, decisive, and courageous leadership at the very top of the company.

That includes at the board of director level. It’s time for the board to show that it can banish skepticism and doubt by picking a CEO customers can respect and trust. Someone who knows what Juniper stands for, its raison d’etre, and how it is best equipped to serve its customer’s needs.

It’s not someone from Microsoft, an enterprise software company. It wasn’t Kheradpir, who came from a Juniper customer and perhaps battled tooth-and-nail with Juniper customers in negotiations. We’ll see if it’s Rahim.

After two strikes going outside, it’s time to pitch inside.

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