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Avaya's new CEO sets three top goals for company

Q&A with Kevin Kennedy as he preps for VoiceCon keynote.

By , Network World
March 26, 2009 09:22 PM ET
Avaya CEO Kevin Kennedy

Network World - Avaya's freshly minted CEO Kevin Kennedy will deliver a keynote at VoiceCon Orlando next week, during which he is expected to announce a major addition to its unified communications platform architecture and the promise of cost savings.

Leading up to the show, Kennedy answered questions from Network World Senior Editor Tim Greene about the changes he has implemented since he took charge in January, his goals and how Avaya will weather the bad economy.

Q: What are your short-term goals for the company?

A: Number one: the transition. I had time to work with [interim CEO Charlie Giancarlo ] on the transition. I'd say probably two or three of the people that report to me now, Charlie and I jointly hired even before I started. My first observation is I don't expect a lot of churn amongst the executive staff, partly because I participated largely in who is here.

The second piece is that there needed to be a shift in focus for several reasons. One is that the GDP and the industry began to contract, so that's different as I started. Second I have a competitor that announced bankruptcy. Third, my observation was that while the team is very open to change - so that was a very positive thing I inherited - they were more focused on their functions than they were on things that were required as a team to accomplish.

Q: What have you done to deal with these challenges?

A: I have formed three work streams for the executive staff. First is restructuring given the new world that we live in.

The second is to focus on transitions – to think about do we have the right pricing structures, do we have the right channel, practices, certifications? Transitions could mean in general [mergers and acquisitions] if we did a small acquisition. I'd say the success of this company in the past on exploiting acquisitions has not always been excellent. The main thesis here is we needed to make sure the company aligned on transitions.

The last piece was finding the beacons of growth to lead us out of the recession and what we would change in our go-to-market model.

We appointed a Chief Restructuring Officer (Jim Cherico) for the first activity. We took one of our former finance leads and head of operations (Amar Pai, vice president, executive operations and strategy) and gave him the second one, the transitions and the risks associated with them. And the third, the beacons of growth and go-to-market, I personally chair that work stream.

Q: Were these your decisions or were they worked out with Giancarlo?

A:  Charlie stayed on site for about the first two weeks. That allowed me to meet employees, go to town halls and so forth. As I went through the first round of management reviews, what I saw was people working very well and intently to become very good at their functions but there was a need to tighten up the alignment across the team, so about four to six weeks into the job I felt that these were the three most important things to focus on, execute well on and we formed those streams about a month ago. It’s not unusual. Sometimes you have to push things and sometimes you have to pull things, and this was a time where I had to pull a fewer number of things across for success.

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