Avaya announces a new president and CEO

Avaya Inc. last week announced that effective January 2009, the networking vendor will have Kevin Kennedy join the team as its new president and CEO. He’s just the latest former Cisco Systems executive to move to Avaya.

Kennedy, who is currently the CEO of Milpitas, Calif.-based JDS Uniphase, was at Cisco for eight years prior to that, serving as senior vice-president for the service provider line of business and software technologies division.

This year, Avaya has seen a number of ex-Cisco employees turn up in positions with the company. First off, there was Todd Abbott who joined Avaya in May, and is now Avaya’s senior vice-president of sales and the president of field operations. In June, Cisco’s former chief development officer, Charles Giancarlo, resigned from the company and stepped in to fill Lou D’Ambrosio’s post as Avaya’s interim president and CEO. In that same month, Jeremy Butt, another former Cisco employee, was named as Avaya’s new vice-president of worldwide channels.

With Kennedy coming on board next year, Jon Arnold, principal analyst at Toronto-based J Arnold & Associates, says there may be something bigger taking place internally within Avaya’s four walls.

“There’s a lot of Cisco DNA in Avaya now that you have to wonder if there’s a bigger plan there,” Arnold said. “Cisco is the biggest player in the IP telephony space and this seems like a kind of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them,’ move. You have to wonder if Avaya’s making an effort to bring the best moves and skills from Cisco in-house.”

Once Kennedy steps into the president and CEO role at Avaya, Giancarlo will step back to become chairman of the board.

Last month, Avaya unveiled its upcoming plans and strategies as it pertains to the channel. Dave Sherry, president and founder of Unity Telecom, a company that focuses on selling, designing and implementing IP-based business communications systems and also an Avaya partner, said he’s pleased with the changes.

“Avaya’s working towards channel-izing their business,” he said. “This is a great thing and is something we’ve hoped they would do for a long time now. In the past, the business was split between direct and channel, but now with them tearing down those walls, we can get to net new opportunities and other types of customers.”

Last year, Menlo Park, Calif.-based private equity firm, Silver Lake, took Avaya private. Since then, the company has been less transparent about its plans and Arnold, who attended Avaya’s global analyst event last month, said he caught a glimpse of some of the company’s future plans. Arnold said that during one of his presentations, Giancarlo did not rule out the option of the company perhaps becoming public again at a later date.

“Charlie referred to Seagate by saying when the company decided to go from private to public, they had already doubled their sales,” Arnold said. “I think Avaya probably has some sort of an internal plan where they’re working to get the best team together in place to grow the company back to a point where they can go public again.”

Arnold expects that with the addition of Kennedy to the Avaya team, the company will have an even tighter-knit group of leaders.

“Does this move make them stronger to compete against Cisco? Sure,” Arnold explains. “Today, Cisco’s number one and Avaya’s number two. I don’t think Avaya will knock off Cisco anytime soon, but they’ll be a stronger competitor. Avaya’s channel-centric strategy and having the right leadership in place is what makes them strong.”

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Maxine Cheung
Maxine Cheung
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