Leadership in telecom: Carl Russo, CEO of Calix, on trying to execute every day

Russo Calix
Russo has a simple method to leadership that is based on an acronym he coined called SCOPPE (Strategy Culture Organization People Processes and Execution).

Carl Russo, CEO of Calix, is not your typical CEO. He’s not a fan of hierarchies, presidential parking spaces and corner offices. Russo himself has operated the company since 2002 from his 2 foot by 5 foot desk in an open office environment.

Russo has a simple method to leadership that is based on an acronym he coined called SCOPPE (Strategy Culture Organization People Processes and Execution). Although he follows meeting each rung of his SCOPPE strategy every day, he told FierceTelecom that he does not always get to Execution every day. Russo’s leadership philosophy is also coming in handy as the company continues to transform itself from a last mile hardware vendor to a company focused on software and services

FierceTelecom: How do you lead your large organization?

Carl Russo: "I have been working on the same acronym for many years called SCOPPE, which is how I organize my day:

"Strategy: I get up every morning and I think about our strategy and what’s going on in the market. There are all sorts of things that are primary effectors, and there are things that are secondary, and things that are tertiary. There are also things outside of Calix and inside of Calix. There are constantly things you have to sort through to make sure your strategy is optimal and that everyone in the business understands."

"Culture: You might say your culture should not move that much. The answer is it does not, but making sure it stays is what’s important. When cultures get diluted businesses fail. If I can help the people at our company understand our culture, I don’t need to manage them. They can manage themselves."

"Organization: Make sure your organizational structure is optimized for where you are. There’s no such thing as the right organizational structure. There are only organizational structures that are better than others."

"People: Once you have the right organizational structure, you better make sure you have the right people."

"Process: Make sure that the right processes to run the business are where they need to be."

"Execution: After processes, it’s execution. As you might imagine, I don’t make it all the way to E each day."

FT: What’s your leadership style?

CR: "I recognize that members of our company spend a large part of their waking hours at Calix. As leaders of the business, we have a responsibility to create an environment where they can thrive and have the fewest demotivators as possible. I do have a belief that you can’t motivate people because they are motivated by themselves. If you have to motivate someone, you probably have the wrong person."

FT: How do you set expectations?

CR: "One of the things I learned growing up in various companies is the five year strategic plan that used to get great energy and effort does not work. You would build an elaborate three ring binder. After people finished the session, they would put the binder on their desk shelf and never take it down again. What’s the moral of this story? Since this industry moves so fast, you can’t plan 5 years out. How do you set those expectations? You make very clear the island you’re swimming to and you use pictures to show it."

"You then say that’s where we’re swimming and you plan that out the next four quarters. What you’re doing is the following: swimming to the island, but how often do you pick your head up to check whether or not you’re swimming to the island? The more variability you have, the more frequently you pick your head up. If you have less variability you might swim by the island."

FT: What challenges do you face in running a large organization?

CR: "The vast majority of your challenges are within the business. It all goes back to SCOPPE. I found that as you do things that in that order—and some days you make it all the way to E—the rest takes care of itself. If you were to pick one challenge, it’s always going to be people. You’re growing and you’re stretching the people in their current roles because their roles are constantly changing."

What's on the horizon?

CR: "I can’t speak for the future, so I want to make sure the team is very strong. You’re always looking at that. I think you’ll be hard pressed to find a $500 million company that has the leadership team with the breadth and depth of experience. You have the guys that had IOS leadership at Cisco and Juniper and the head of global enterprise sales at salesforce.com. The reason that’s important is we don’t intend to remain a $500 million company."

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