Expanding into the developing world is not an easy game. John McKeown of Lucent Technologies talks to Godfrey Golzen about the HR challenges he faced when the company decided to move into emerging markets
Tech stocks are not the investor's favourites at the moment and Lucent Technologies, whose $33.6bn revenues and 125,000 employees make it one of the giants of the new economy, has taken a beating along with a number of other great names. Stock market perceptions, however, deal in the short or, at best, the medium term and although this is not to say you can ignore annual results, the long-term realities of the IT industry remain in place.
These realities, says John McKeown, VP of HR in Lucent's Optical Networking Group, are of a future more wired for optical, data and voice transmission than anything we currently dream of. "Network traffic doubles every 100 days," says McKeown, and if it's hard to envisage what that means in practical terms, consider this. A driver taking me from Rotterdam's world-class business school to the airport last month was being given voice instructions on the route through a transmitter linked to a satellite somewhere beyond the stratosphere - the stuff of science fiction less than a decade ago. So what comes next?
No one really knows, but McKeown is one of those who sees a parallel between the IT industry and that other great communications revolution of 150 years ago - the dawn of the railway age. Management guru Tom Peters has pointed out that this was full of hiccups, errors of judgement and crass technical blunders, but it was only because it was being built at breakneck speed that the railway network was able to transform global communications so quickly. Today's parallel is IT and you don't have to look beyond the dot-coms to see examples of tracks running to nowhere, which nevertheless do not invalidate the underlying inevitabilities of what is going on. The big difference is that whereas the railways were built with brawn, the e-economy is being built with brains, and the global competition for people who have got the necessary skills is ferocious.
Given that half the world's population has yet to get a phone and that the Internet has yet to mature outside the US, Lucent is keen to exploit that global potential by engaging in joint ventures with t