AFC/Tellabs: Another Thing I Learned

This whole bit of posting is not in a story arc, it is about giving people some things that I took away from my learnings. I have tried to put them into the story arc, but I think reminder of the main lessons is important. This one is that luck and timing have a lot to do with success and failure.

Rick Johnston used to say that he was going to write a book about AFC and he would call it “And They Succeeded Anyway”. He always makes me laugh even though I am much better than he is at Fantasy Football. There is a lot to that in the AFC story. We were definitely not perfect. We screwed up many times, but we were right about enough stuff to take advantage of many situations.

For example, the company was originally started with the idea of rebuilding the former Yugoslavia’s Telecom Infrastructure. But found a foothold in the Independent Operating Companies (IOCs). This was especially true in the smaller companies which were still using older Accounting practices (Rate of Return). This process required companies to go through and upgrade their equipment periodically to keep up the rate they charged consumers. AFC came onto the scene near the start of one of these cycles. There was another cycle going on where these IOCs were trying to offer new services and AFC allowed them to do that.

AFC did not create those business cycles nor was it created to take advantage of them. However with a little luck and timing it was in place to execute against them. That is where the blood, sweat and tears of those early into the company took over. If you get an MBA, nobody is going to tell you that this is the right way to build a business. But this is how AFC got started.

From my own time, you would have to say that we were “ready” with product when the BPON RFP happened. We had our first prototypes ready for a trade show in June of 03, and the RFP happened in July of 03. Hard to have planned that any better. Of course, we didn’t plan the RFP. We were simply executing on our strategy. The fact we chose the technology that was espoused in the RFP was also both luck and planning. I knew the RBOCs (Regional Bell Operating Companies) would go with a standard and there was a choice between 3. I could have just as easily chosen EPON, but though the RBOCs would not choose that standard simply by the way the standard was made.

We were both lucky and made our own luck. No business will be built the way that one was as each instance is unique. So, I want to focus next on what was good about the firm and bad. Hopefully you can all learn from that.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
Change Your Business – Change Your Life!
Business Coaching, Sales Training, Web Marketing, Behavioral Assessments, Financial Analysis

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