I have spent a long time from the start of where I joined AFC until Tellabs cutting the legs out of Access. There are more stories here and other places from my past, but I want to put a bow on this story arc. What I want to impart here are the lessons from the history of AFC up to the point that under Tellabs the Access Business imploded.
The first lesson was customer and market focus. The UMC in its early days deployed with carriers that liked what it did and how it did it. On top of that the company focus on that market leant credibility and capability that was unmatched by competitors. We had customers rooting for us to succeed. That is not a normal circumstance and led to awesome early success.
Once the Optical Bubble burst the growth of AFC had stagnated. We had to take a step back and look at what was best for the shareholders. The best long term plan for me was a double down on the IOCs. But we chose a plan that was best for share growth and that meant a plan to sell to the RBOCs. We tried lots of different things to really grow that business and a couple of them finally hit. Not only did we make a plan but we persisted through failure.
One of the great “What-If’s” came out of that era. I can not describe to you how hard the Marconi Acquisition was on top of everything else. I know Keith Pratt missed almost all of a trip by his parents from Ireland to visit him and his family. Amy Paul had a conference room and a chair that we used to joke that our Lawyers were just giving her as the “Amy Paul Memorial Chair”. If that wasn’t going on, would we have done a better job on FiOS prior to the first lab issues? I don’t know, but I always relate the following story about my involvement on Marconi.
We were going to announce the acquisition on 1/4/04. My wife walked into my home office at 11:30PM Sunday 1/3/04 to ask “Who the Hell are you still on the phone with?” It was with the deal team on both sides as we were ironing out last minute issues. That call lasted till 2:30 AM Pacific. If you can’t tell, it was all encompassing in terms of time and energy.
Anyway, after the acquisition the big issue was a poor job of Integration. There were the people issues that I have mentioned, but also systems issues. Things that worked and were part of the AFC way of doing business were often just turned off as unnecessary. Companies look at systems and people and often just don’t understand the other side. I found it funny that in this case, nobody asked. Were all the AFC things right? Heck no. But the systems that built the company can’t just be turned off, they have to be effectively replaced. That means time and transition.
One of the huge differences was the entire business model for the two firms. AFC could never be adapted to being Tellabs, nor could Tellabs be AFC. Trying to treat them the same was the biggest mistake of all.
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