Q&A: Extreme Networks' chairman on Purple Passion and what’s next

Co-Founder Gordon Stitt talks up successor.

I felt pretty sheepish recently when I lined up an interview with Gordon Stitt, former CEO and now chairman of Extreme Networks, to chat about…the color purple.

Stitt seemed unfazed, happy to talk about the significance of the color to the company, which uses purple in its logo, on its switches and pretty much everywhere else to make itself stand apart from other network companies (new employees are invited to share the “Purple Passion” of the company).

Still, I couldn’t help but expand the interview a wee bit to justify the time. Here’s a recap of what Stitt had to say:

Why purple?

You think back to mid-1996 and every box out there, whether a computer or network product, they kind of looked the same. And there were the Big 4 in networking at the time -- Bay/SynOptics, 3Com, Cabletron and Cisco -- with a few companies like Xylan, but it was fairly static in terms of who the players were.

So we tried to figure out how to get attention for the company since we were doing something quite revolutionary in terms of doing routing for a tenth the cost with 10 times the performance and calling it Layer 3 switching.

How could we create a market position around this? That’s where the color became part of the story and ultimately a pretty big part of it. People looked at it and said, "hey wait a minute, how come your box is purple?"

That was an opportunity to tell the story. I worked with a design firm to come up with the logo and we did it in black and white first, then decided to go with purple. When it came time to decide the color of the boxes, we decided to use purple too because it was different from the beige, brown and black boxes of the day.

About new CEO Mark Canepa

He’s got great pedigree. Twenty years at HP, 10 years at Sun. I really like ex-Sun people [Stitt is one himself], particularly from the earlier days there because they have a very similar view toward technology innovation and being discontinuous in thinking, not just making incremental improvements. HP, meanwhile, built great discipline into people and trained people into great managers. You can look around the industry to see that. And [Canepa] having spent the last five years in storage there are a lot of analogies between storage and networking, and I view that as a positive. Still, he comes in with a fresh view.

What will Stitt do next

I’ve been on some private company boards, including one doing some pretty cool video stuff, and will continue to do that. I'm looking at other things like that, not being a day-to-day manager for the next year or two at least.

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