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Cabletron's Benson touts ‘winners' philosophy

Cabletron's Benson touts ‘winners' philosophy

Craig Benson, has had a "heckuva" busy month. First he gained day-to-day control of Cabletron Systems by taking the CEO title from Don Reed. Then he immediately went to work enhancing the plans Reed put in place over the past eight months. Then he added a few plans of his own. In this recent interview, a group of IDG editors grill Benson about where Cabletron has been and where it's goingIDG: Let's talk first about the transition. It seemed to be very sudden. What was behind that?

Benson: This is a pretty sudden industry. So to ask why things move fast -- it is the culture of the industry, whether you like it or not. And the reason that the transition happened so quickly is because, both Don Reed and I agreed, if you're going to be in charge, you're in charge. So with us it's clear who is doing things. And I'll give you the counter to that. Prior to my coming back, I gave up my office here for the exact same reason, so that we could clearly remove me from the equation. Now I was still here every day bouncing around, but nobody could find me and no one knew where to nail me down. And that was sort of a sign to everybody that you're not to ask me about X, Y and Z.

But it seemed to the outside that it was very sudden, as though the plan Reed had instituted was not working, and you were taking control again.

Don and I have been talking about this for three months. And so to the outside it was sudden. But to Don and myself, who were the only two who were party to the conversation, this had been going on for a while.

There's some sense that you are coming in to more actively execute Reed's strategy. But then there's also a sense that you are infusing a new strategy. What's the balance?

The strategy that Don put together was very comprehensive. I wholeheartedly signed up for it but for one difference. The acquisition strategy, the relationships with the channel, and the ability to bring a solution to our customer -- I'm 100 per cent behind them. Don also wanted to have business units associated with Digital and Cabletron and Spectrum.

The Digital and Cabletron split did not and does not make sense to me. I think our customers benefit from having a combined product set that shares all the features and benefits across the board. And I think it was too narrowly focused before. So really what I want to make sure we do is take all our resources and put them toward broadening the product line, making the product line from top to bottom play together.

Is it true that Cabletron is going to give up the idea of end-to-end and focus just on Spectrum and switching?

Yes, but we'll be in other markets as well. We're going to focus on our core strengths. Switching and management are two of them. We're already in other markets. We have the routing product we just got from Yago Systems. We expect that to do very well for us. We also acquired, with Digital, software-based router technology as well as remote access routing. So we're going to focus on core strengths, but we have other products that really leverage a much broader product solution for customers.

But you are not going to try to be what 3Com is attempting to be and offer every single piece of the network?

I have a philosophical difference with all these guys. Nobody is end-to-end. Let's get real. I personally don't believe these guys who say they're end-to-end are end-to-end.

How is Cabletron going to eliminate products?

We're not going to make them available in catalogues anymore. But if customers want things, we have manufacturing sources available.

But what products are you going to eliminate?

The things we're going to knock off are the things we haven't sold in two years. FDDI adapter cards that we don't sell anymore, crazy things that are still on the price list.

What kind of culture are you going to try and create, and what kind of personality do you want Cabletron to have?

I can try to summarise it in one word -- that's limit the bureaucracy, maximise the opportunity to work with customers and make decisions. Efficiency, I would say, is the brand that I would propose to put on the organisation.

Are there other values? There was some talk about trying to become number one in employee satisfaction.

It's a three-legged stool.

Most people concentrate on the compensation and benefits portion of it. And that's one of the legs.

Another leg is to feel empowered at your work so you go home every day feeling like, wow, I really made a difference.

And the third one is to work for a company where you feel like you're a winner.

Breaking Cabletron from the pack

Cabletron has announced a sweeping new strategy aimed at shoring up customer loyalty, tightening the company's product focus and attracting new customers.

On the hardware side, Cabletron claims it will home in on the switching marketplace, and will not counter the "all things to all people" strategies of Cisco, Bay Networks and 3Com.

On the software side, Cabletron is seeking to double its network management market from some 25 per cent currently, to 50 per cent within nine months.

It hopes to do so by partnering with third-party software companies, as well as through licensing and other sales-related deals. by Doug Barney


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