Alcatel-Lucent spent nearly its entire lifetime in survival mode.
Seriously, its entire lifetime. Formed by merger in 2006, AlcaLu quickly got dragged down by the baggage of the old Lucent and is only now coming up for air. Like the other large companies that sprang from former telecom monopolies — Nortel comes to mind — Lucent, and subsequently AlcaLu, had a hard time adapting to the leaner communications industry that was emerging out of the early ’00s dot-com collapse.
But CEO Michel Combes, who took over in 2013, says the days of perpetual restructuring are done. He repeated the message to press and analysts last week at the company’s annual Technology Symposium, and AlcaLu does seem reinvigorated, based on reports from Light Reading (video) and The VAR Guy.
Combs says he’s positioning AlcaLu for a new phase of innovation, a culture patterned after that of TiMetra, the Silicon Valley startup that’s thrived in the 10 years since Alcatel acquired it. It’s a reverse takeover.
That’s the exact phrase Combs used during a Silicon Valley visit in September, when he met with a small group of media — including reporters from AlcaLu’s native France, so this wasn’t a case of trying to flatter the locals. He knows what he inherited in TiMetra. Weeks before becoming CEO last year, he visited the Mountain View office, arriving on a weekend to spend four hours talking with executives about what made their operation tick.
The strategy makes sense, because TiMetra is the most successful acquisition I’ve ever covered. Possibly the most successful in networking history.
In 2003, TiMetra was one of many startups trying to develop high-end routers to attack Cisco‘s market share. Not surprisingly, most of that crop failed or got acquired into obscurity. After TiMetra, the next best story is Redback, which still survives quietly inside Ericsson.
As AlcaLu spent years patching up losses and re-re-restructuring, TiMetra thrived, possibly even passing Juniper for second place in edge routing market share, depending on which quarter it is and which analyst’s ranking you’re reading. AlcaLu’s edge routing market share is around 25 percent today, up from barely 1 percent a decade ago, Combes said.
What worked? TiMetra’s technology was good, but more crucially, Alcatel-Lucent made the smart move of leaving TiMetra autonomous. Moreover, TiMetra CEO Basil Alwan stayed with the company and kept his team mostly intact, creating the continuity to let the startup’s long-term roadmap play out.
This success didn’t go unrecognized. Alwan’s role at AlcaLu grew in 2009 to include the task of merging optical and IP networking. I like to think of it as Alwan’s group having absorbed optical networking.
It’s no wonder Combes wants to spread TiMetra’s influence even further. “We need to really roll out this culture within the full Alcatel-Lucent,” he said in September. And beyond culture, AlcaLu’s technological direction relies on the router franchise TiMetra built.
“TiMetra has been managed as one pillar of the company, but as networks migrate to full IP, TiMetra migrates to the heart of our customer networks,” Combes said.