Join Dean DeBiase Host of The Reboot Chronicles, a popular no-holds-barred podcast on iHeart Radio, iTunes, Spotify and YouTube that has been bringing together CEOs, entrepreneurs, authors and global leaders, for over a decade, to discuss how organizations are rebooting their leadership-competitiveness of everything from growth, innovation and technology to talent, culture and governance.
True AI & The Future of Networking: Rami Rahim - CEO Juniper Networks
Rami Rahim, CEO of Juniper Networks is someone who truly can be labeled a pioneer in the building of the Internet. Headquartered in Silicon Valley with over 9000 employees, operations in 50 countries and over $4.7 billion in revenue, Juniper Networks played a pivotal role in how we all communicate today. Along his two-plus decades of experience at Juniper (how rare in an industry so lacking in company loyalty), Rami has received many accolades including being named by The Economic Times as one of the “most loved CEOs.” Juniper is one of the behind the scenes sort of companies that doesn’t get the attention of the media the way others do and I was delighted to pick Rami’s brain about the future of networking.
With telecom and infrastructure growth having slowed due to supply issues along with competition from cloud services, we discussed how the company is rebooting into more agile growth and moving from this hardware centric world into software, AI-driven cloud services, security and 5G.
As Rami says “Juniper has always been a true innovator in IP networking technology. We were builders of the infrastructure that helped the internet scale at a time when service providers were really struggling to keep up because it was at the cusp of the.dot-com boom. Imagine a little upstart company trying to convince service providers to trust their networks with a startup’s technology. The only reason I think we managed to get that kind of trust was because they really had no choice. Traffic was exploding. They needed technology that could keep up with it. We had an innovative new architecture and were developing routers with silicon technology. We offered a very scalable internet, and a great operating system to keep up with that demand.”
Rami went on to discuss how Juniper has rebooted itself for the cloud-based world.. “But we have evolved our business and diversified it. Now it’s very nicely split between telecom operators, which remain extremely important to us, cloud providers, (all of the major hyperscale cloud providers in the world are our customers), and global 1000 type enterprises that are increasingly trusting their networks, on our technology.In the early days, our claim to fame, our credibility, our pedigree was scale and performance. But things have evolved beyond that into experience. Right now, if I talk to a CTO, CIO or CEO of a big fortune 500 company or a telco or a cloud provider, their biggest challenge is complexity in network operations that is slowing them down. The solution to that is software driven innovation, AI-driven innovation that will remove the complexity from running networks. And yes, it will remove the human factor from running networks altogether.”
Taking On Doubters with Fruit & Water - Kara Goldin, Founder, Hint Inc.
I’m a big believer that some of the best business ideas are simple, and also driven by personal conviction. I recently sat down with Kara Goldin, author of a great book called Undaunted, Overcoming Doubts and Doubters, which details how she faced up to endless naysayers and triumph with Hint Water which she scaled into a couple hundred million dollar company. What is Hint? Water with fruit essence. No sugar, no artificial flavors or sweeteners. It was one of the big successes of the Covid beverages-by-mail era. Like me, she was a Diet Coke addict who wanted to be healthier and looked at what was right in front of her: a big cup of water that she made more palatable by adding fruit slices, and she created a product out of it. This was not her first go round in startup land, she had worked at a dot com that was sold to AOL, but the first time she ever entered the consumer products space and wow, she did with a bang, or kiwi, strawberry or coconut.
SPAC-ing Into the Future of Sports Tech
David Dow, CEO, Sportsmap Tech Acquisition Corp, Gow Media
Know what a SPAC is? If you are interested in novel ways to raise money for a company, you certainly should. I recently interviewed David Gow, CEO of Gow Media, the largest media company in Texas with properties like SportMap Radio Network, 2 ESPN local stations, a lifestyle site, an automotive and a sports site. He recently created a blank check company through a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Corp) IPO with the NASDAQ raising $100 million. SPACs have been all the rage over the last 24 months, with over 850 of them taken public. Is this just another risky way to find funding or a sound plan going forward?
First off, how exactly does a SPAC work? As David recounts, it’s the opposite of the typical money raising process which involves an operating entity, a business it grows up, and becomes large enough to then go public, or list on an exchange like the NASDAQ and raise a lot of capital through an IPO. “In the SPAC world, it's backward. We’ve created a hollow company listed with NASDAQ that can raise a lot of capital. But now we've got to go find the operating business. And that's why it's often referred to as ‘a blank check company.’ We've been given over $100 million to go identify and acquire or merge with a great operating business. Our special purpose is sports tech.”
With so much private equity currently available, why would you go this route? As David sees it, the opportunity brings together capital, a board which has great expertise and that public stock. “For some businesses, having a public stock creates a great currency for additional acquisitions. So we are a time and cost efficient way for a private entity to get to the public realm.” He has a point there. The planes, trains and automobiles of the roadshow process and all the filings required for an IPO are not for the faint of heart or wallet.
So what is his SPAC looking for (contact me if you want in!) are companies where technology is innovating the sports industry: eSports; health and wellness including wearable devices and businesses like Peloton which are both software and hardware; fan engagement including smart stadium technologies and fantasy and gambling.
David is particularly bullish on esports because the business models are still being defined and he and Gow Media can play an active role in that. As college athletes become able to monetize their name, image and likeness, he plans to build a platform to connect athletes with brands. NFTs also hold huge promise when connected to athletes.
One thing that David believes is a big part of fueling innovation in start-ups in his region is The Cannon, which provides support infrastructure and colocation of support resources. The Cannon offers “an angel network of investors, a mentor network, shared services of fractional CMOs and CFOs to help businesses who couldn't afford a full time employee community building programmes when somebody gets a big VC round.” Having participated in a similar project in Chicago, 1871, I can attest to how essential this sort of support is.
The Soul of a New Corporation: Ravi Chaudhry - CEO, CENext Consulting
One of the most important topics I teach at the Kellogg School is corporate governance. Coming out of the pandemic and with heightened awareness of the impact of corporations on the future of the planet, I welcomed onto The Reboot Chronicles Ravi Chaudhry. His book, Quest for Exceptional Leadership: Mirage to Reality has been acclaimed as a discerning analysis of the leadership vacuum that pervades the world. He believes that leaders have to re-discover the leadership traits that lie dormant within them. He is the founder and Chairman of CeNext Consulting & Investment Pvt Ltd, New Delhi. Prior to that, he was Chairman of four companies in the Tata Group, India. He has consulted with many Fortune 1000 corporations as well as been an advisor to Governments of Switzerland, Turkey, Brazil and Norway, as well as the World Bank.
In Ravi’s mind, the last two years have been a breaking point for the general public with corporations. As he says, “Business leaders are pretty good at keeping track of the company's performance indices. But somehow, they still apply the toolkit of yesterday. They tend to miss out how radically society has changed in the last two years and how the social contract, which kept the wheels of economy moving, is broken.”
He sees how employees have awakened to the lack of equity, fairness, and transparency, and how an increasing proportion of customers are asking tough questions about company ethics. He typically begins his consulting with corporate leaders by asking them if they are aware that the world is changing faster than anyone could comprehend, in directions that they are not likely familiar with. The big challenge for them is to keep abreast of what is happening, distinguish between risk and opportunity and identify anomalies before they become established trends.
He decries corporate boards as too often “the echo chambers of like-minded peers, with self confirming news inputs that reinforce our beliefs.”
To him, there are seven non-negotiable tenets of business today. The first two are related to ESG: Decisive stakeholder primacy over shareholders, social and climate justice. The third and fourth relate to the respect for women and minorities, and support for youth activism, and regard for trade unions and employers. Fifth and sixth reflect corporate director ethical citizenship, transparency and humility. And seventh, is to create and nurture a company with sustainable profitability.
In Ravi’s world of fixing the corporation, he requires a total narrative shift from “corporate governance, to governance of the corporation. Beyond compliance to corporate character. Beyond corporate lobbying, to corporate acknowledgement that society matters, and nature matters more than all the corporations put together.”
It was a heady discussion filled with ideals that will inspire you to new levels of possibility in the world of corporate governance. And yes, he does have recommendations for the most controversial corporate entities today. Mark Zuckerberg, we are talking about you.
Reinventing Fast Casual in the Pandemic Age - Paul Mangiamele, CEO, Legendary Restaurant Group
Paul Mangiamele, CEO, Legendary Restaurant Group
I have been a “turn-around guy” for the last 20 years and rarely do I encounter someone like Paul Mangiamele, who swooped in to fix long-standing fast casual brands Bennigan’s and Steak & Ale. He not only wanted to set these brands on a better course, he put his money where his mouth was and bought the franchise. Once he had them back on their feet (and ensured distribution of those Baby Back Ribs and Monte Cristo sandwiches again), along came the pandemic. And yes, he and his wife Gwen, the co-owners, persisted and came up with new ways of connecting with customers and even increased their reach globally.
If you are not familiar with the Fast Casual category, the Applebee’s and Sizzler’s of the restaurant world promise familiar menus nationally, but have been contracting for some time. Paul Mangiamele was brought in in 2011 to lead the turnaround of Bennigan's and Steak & Ale but he ended up buying the firm and bringing the brands back from the brink of Chapter 7. What worked? As Paul says “Not too many CEO’s own their brands (100%) and the fact that my wife and I have significant skin in the game by investing our own money lends strong credibility to our franchise offerings and models.”
Paul’s work with these origin fast casual brands embodies the three key components of reboots that I teach at the Kellogg School: people, platform, and passion.
Rather than cut costs as many turn-around experts advise, Paul decided to “invest our way into profitability, not save our way into profitability.” He followed the precepts of Ray Kroc, of McDonald's, who always said that the quality of service, cleanliness and value equals profitability. “I bought what I saw was the unlocked value of the brand and wanted to shine up these diamonds that got a little dirty through the mismanagement of people. We brought the leadership and retained the intellectual capital that my team possesses.”
AI, M&A and Early Ecommerce Exits
The Reboot Chronicles is about organizational and personal transformations, and my guest on this episode, Michael Rubenstein, Co-Founder of OpenStore may likely not be known to you yet. But, the work he has done over the years has radically changed advertising and ecommerce. He is someone whose work likely touches everyone in business who does any kind of advertising and is currently helping early-stage ecommerce brands get the early liquidity they may want, and maybe be the next Chewy or Wayfair.
Michael honed his skills at DoubleClick, where he was founder and general manager of their ad exchange and stayed with them through their acquisition by Google in 2007 for $3.1 billion. Before advertising exchanges, buying “spots” on TV, radio, print, and even digital was a holdover from the Mad Men world of phone calls, lunches and vast amounts of paperwork. Into this picture stepped DoubleClick that automated the buying of ads online and placed them on an ever expanding “network” of sites. Sellers could feed “inventory” into the system and buyers could place orders and within a day see their ads on their favorite websites. Wall Street sales efficiency entered the advertising world.
Michael’s next move was running AppNexus which upped the ante for this ecosystem by being an exchange of all exchanges and coming up with the concept and the technology to deliver “RTB”: or real time bidding. Just like the automated commodities exchanges of corn and wheat, advertising became a traded commodity. What you may not realize is that the ads you see on digital content (and increasingly streaming video) that appear so relevant to your interests or purchasing habits are bought instantaneously on a bidding basis and matched in that instant to various databases of sales and online activity.
As Michael recounts it: “if you look at the way media was bought and sold on the internet, prior to the advent of programmatic 15 years or so ago, it really looked a lot like the way television or magazine advertising or anything like that have been bought and sold. So the idea of actually putting that model online and using algorithms in real time to tailor media buying decisions was revolutionary. And what started in the early 2000s as an experiment using publisher remnant inventory, has since turned into a movement that has eaten the entire advertising and media buying world. Today the majority of advertising, even in traditional media is being bought and sold using programmatic techniques.”