Alcatel, Lucent, and Beards

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By Spinality
May 31, 2001

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Everybody here seems to think that merger was a desperate solution being considered by self-seeking executives.

Well, perhaps.

But I've worked with both organizations through the years, and their predecessors, and there are plenty of good folks on both sides. Alcatel, in particular, has always surprised me as a bunch of good, solid engineers and solid engineering management. From a technical standpoint, it's actually possible this would have been a good move for *our* guys -- if they could have teamed up with a bunch of strong technical managers with no Bell baggage.

Here's a little true story (I may have a few details crooked but this is basically what happened). It means nothing, but it really struck me at the time.

We were competing with a bunch of other vendors for some business at Alcatel. It was an interesting project and we (little guys) really wanted the contract. Our competition included several of the big systems integrators and big software vendors and plenty of talent with good credentials. We were like The Little Engine That Could, David and Goliath... you get the picture.

We gave a presentation to the Alcatel guys who were on the hot seat; the folks responsible for solving the immediate problem and delivering the results. They liked us, they liked our solution, they liked the way we approached the problem. So they arranged a meeting with three levels of management *above* the level we were working. In other words, our contact brought in *her* boss, *his* boss, and *his* boss.

We happened to overhear a speakerphone discussion as they were scheduling this meeting. It was something like this:

Big boss: "OK, I know you like these guys, but they're a small company -- we'd be taking a chance with them. I liked what we heard from {*big company with blue underwear*} and I liked {*software vendor with Wall Street credentials*}. Are these little guys really worth the trip?"

Our contact's boss: "Listen, these guys are totally different from the other proposals. They were engineers. They understood our problem. I mean, THEY ALL HAD BEARDS. I think we need to give them a shot."

We got the chance to make our case. We won the contract. Money saved for Alcatel. Technical victories. Happy ending.

But here's the point: A senior-level Alcatel executive was impressed by the fact that our team all happened to be battle-scarred, bearded engineers, and he was prepared to give us a chance because we sounded like we knew what we were doing. No fancy dinners. No golf games. But plenty of tech talk.

You have to love that attitude.

(We had a beardless team member who volunteered to grow one if it was really necessary for the project. As it turned out, she didn't need to, which is probably just as well. But you get the idea. We were working in a B.S.-free zone.)

I'm probably just as happy if the merger doesn't happen; but as a practical matter, I'd probably bet my beer money on Alcatel executives ahead of Lucent executives. I don't think the Lucent/Alcatel team would necessarily have been a bad idea. Everything wrong with Lucent IMO is at the top of the company. A solid corporate culture with no Bell baggage, overlaid on the strengths of our guys with beards, might be just the ticket.

No offence to our good engineers without beards. Some don't like 'em, and some can't grow 'em. But the ones who shave because beards don't go with the Armani suits are the ones who caused a lot of the problems.

JMHO -- Trevor