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The gospel according to Dilbert

Sep 01, 20033 mins
NetworkingTelecommunications Industry

You should see my office. It’s littered with blow-ups of “Dilbert” cartoons – some of which I have blown up to 2 feet by 6 feet. The longer I am in this business, the more I am absolutely certain that Scott Adams (Dilbert’s creator) and sometimes Gary Trudeau (of “Doonesbury” fame) are the only people who get it. Let’s face it: Our industry is nuts.

SBC is losing 1.8 million telephone lines a year in California, as AT&T, the new MCI and a host of cable companies take its business. The European telecom companies spent $150 billion for 3G licenses, built out their systems and now are having a price war because of overcapacity. 360networks sells its fiber backbone for 2% of what the company paid for it. Everyone acts surprised when excess capacity causes steep discounts. Duh . . . what do they expect?

Rick Roscitt goes from AT&T (carrier) to ADC Telecom (hardware) to MCI (carrier). Dick Notebaert goes from running Ameritech (carrier) to Tellabs (hardware) to Qwest (carrier). Dave Dorman goes from Sprint (carrier) to PacBell (carrier) to PointCast (start-up), then to Concordia (joint venture) and to AT&T (carrier). Ron LeMay goes from Sprint (carrier) to Waste Management (waste management services) and back to Sprint – where he gets fired for taking the financial advice of the firm’s auditors, who themselves get fired. Gerry Levin goes from running Time Warner to being bought by AOL to getting fired, and now the company wants to change its name back to just Time Warner because the AOL name reminds people of what screw-ups they are. A few of my friends have not only gotten fired, they are going to jail. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Tell me, is this the nuttiest industry you ever saw?

Let me tell you about one of the brighter types. Dan Smith runs Sycamore, which a few years ago was worth $51 billion and now is worth $1.1 billion. When things were nuts as a bunny, Smith went out and raised $1 billion in cash. When reality hit (read: no customers), Smith pulled in his horns so now he loses “only” $10 million a year. When people complain, he answers that at this rate, he should worry because in 100 years he will be out of money. A few years ago, when Dan and Desh Deshpande were running Cascade, they sold out to Rob Ryan and Ascend for $3.7 billion when they had a bad quarter. In reality, their venture capitalists panicked. Ascend, which had nothing of note technologically in its own tank, then sold the whole company to Lucent for – hold your breath – $20 billion. So this time at Sycamore, Smith decided that not only can he handle one bad quarter with a billion in the bank, he can handle 400 bad quarters.

Did I mention that this industry is nuts?