Blue Planet Case Study

Sep 10, 2020

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The Challenge


Described by The Baltimore Sun as the “world’s biggest player in optical connectivity,” Ciena (NYSE: CIEN) is a telecommunications networking equipment and software services supplier offering products and services that support the transport and management of voice and data traffic on communications networks. The company’s Blue Planet division operates like a startup within Ciena, supplementing the company’s hardware portfolio with powerful Network-as-a- Service-(NaaS)-based tools.

As the company transitioned from selling hardware to also offering software through Blue Planet, it became clear that a shift in sales strategy was necessary. While hardware sales typically involve the client’s CTO, software more often is sold through the CIO – dramatically different scenarios. Internal dynamics around operations and revenue and the inherent challenges of operating a company within a company that sells different yet complementary products underscored the importance of putting the right people in place who understand how to navigate those challenges.

The Partnership


Integrating hardware and software sales requires leaders who can bridge the gap between the organizations and smooth the internal political and cultural differences that often exist when a newer team joins an established organization with a veteran executive team.

Rick Hamilton, who leads Blue Planet’s software and services organization as senior vice president, turned to ON Partners’ Seth Harris, whom Hamilton views as a longtime trusted partner.

“When I have to make critical hires I go to Seth,” noted Hamilton. “We’ve built a strong rapport and he’s become a true partner, helping me determine who I need and how I get there. It’s a consultative relationship and I look to him to find strong candidates, narrow the field and give me his professional opinion on the best fits technically and culturally. He’s 10 for 10 with me so far.”

The Work


For BluePlanet, Harris worked with Hamilton in three stages to identify and hire the right leaders, a process the two have honed over time. First and most importantly, Hamilton outlined which attributes were most critical in the new hires, as well as potential barriers, scenarios around how candidates may be judged and how he planned to vet them.

Harris then conducted due diligence and presented five to ten candidates who Hamilton narrowed to just a few finalists he felt could not only do the job but also work within the company’s internal structure and culture. Those candidates then met with company leadership and potential peers to confirm Hamilton’s top choices.

At the end of the process, two finalists remained, with Hamilton and Harris realizing that both candidates brought key skills and attributes to the table. They agreed that creating a new role for one of them based on his strengths would make the organization even stronger.

The Result


As a result, Hamilton hired David Tulis as VP, Worldwide Sales for Ciena.  Blue Planet also hired Tom Carter as VP, Global Sales for Blue Planet.

“Having Seth do all of the filtering and heavy lifting is incredibly helpful,” noted Hamilton. “Our process led us to the conclusion that we needed to hire both finalists based on their distinct capabilities. Had we undertook the search in the more traditional way, getting feedback from the bottom up, one of them no-doubt would have been rejected. With Seth’s help, I recognized the strengths they both brought to Blue Planet and easily made the case to hire them both.”

Noted Harris, “My relationship with Rick is based on years of working together and understanding where to focus, the right questions to ask and how I can best help make the process smooth and successful. Nothing can take the place of experience.”


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