Calling the shots: Ciena’s APAC VP and GM Anthony McLachlan helps keep Asia connected
Bankruptcy is an end point few employees relish witnessing at the company they work for, particularly if it comes at the end of a long period of service. For Anthony McLachlan, however, it was an experience that ultimately proved rewarding, despite the challenges.
Prior to his current role as vice president and general manager for Asia Pacific at telecommunications equipment supplier Ciena, McLachlan spent 16 years working at another telecoms company, Nortel Networks. When Nortel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009 amidst the global economic downturn, he was the company’s vice president of carrier sales in Asia and participated in the eventual sale of some of Nortel’s assets to Ciena, before moving over in 2010.
“Many people saw it as a challenge, but it was a very unique learning experience that not everyone goes through, both commercially for customers and for people,” McLachlan says. “Change, to a lot of people, is a challenge and not an opportunity. I encourage people to embrace change and look at the upside benefits that can come from it.”
At the time, Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection was a relatively unknown concept in Asia, according to McLachlan, and education about what it meant for Nortel’s employees was a key focus. Maintaining good communication and having regular check points in order to providing clarity on objectives and strategy was key, as was being able to make quick decisions. “The mantra we used at the time was ‘speed over perfection’, which was all about making quick decisions in order to create certainty,” McLachlan says. “In a firm that’s restructuring, it can be a challenge for people because they’re looking for ‘what does this mean for me?’ When people don’t get clarity they begin looking inwardly, and this has a consequence on your business.”
When McLachlan joined Ciena in 2010, its presence in Asia-Pacific was not substantial. But the acquisition of assets through Nortel’s Metro Ethernet Networks business enabled the company to grow in the region. “There was a resurgence of a need for a very proficient bandwidth player in the segment and Ciena brought together 2,000 people [from the acquisition] into a Ciena organisation of 2,000. Both management teams at the time were motivated to win.”
This was not the first time McLachlan’s career had undergone a significant change, though previous circumstances were quite different. Prior to his 16 years at Nortel, and thanks to a trade background in electrical engineering, McLachlan spent the first 10 years of his career working in the building services industry. Wanting to pursue tertiary education, he began a part-time bachelor of business degree in accounting and finance at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia in the late 1980s.
“I didn’t have a degree at the time and I started it as a part-time degree about four times a week while still working full time. After about three years of working six days a week I decided ‘enough is enough, I want to finish this thing’ and managed to convince my wife to support me for a year. I think I did more subjects in one year full time than I did in three years’ part time.”
McLachlan says the result was a “career changing point”. While he could have used his degree in the building services sector, he instead chose to look around and see where else he could put it to use. This led to work in the telecommunications sector, where he initially joined Nortel in a commercial role in 1992.
“Having a good foundation in the basics of building and having been on the tools myself provided me a nice segue into telecoms, which was by and large an entirely new sector for me to go into.”
McLachlan soon transitioned into a more sales-orientated role. The first half of his career with Nortel had him stationed in Australia, before moving to the UK for a year working on some of the company’s large projects, followed by a return to the Australian market and soon after moving into a product role at Nortel covering Asia-Pacific. He would later move into the carrier side of the business – in the role of vice-president of carrier sales in Asia – prior to the company’s Chapter 11 period.
However, McLachlan also wasn’t quite done with education, and shortly after attaining his Bachelor’s degree he pursued an MBA that focused on marketing, which he attained in 1996 also from the University of Technology Sydney. The MBA provided McLachlan with a number of benefits, foremost among those was learning how to better organise his thoughts in a more efficient way in order to drive outcomes, he says. The course also provided him with opportunities to study courses in France, along with develop a network of contacts that continues to serve him well to this day.
“I have a lot of contacts I established while doing the MBA that tend to be good sounding boards,” he says. “That helps in business – you need internal and external mentors to ensure you develop the right level of balance in the decisions you make.”
Having a strong network of contacts and maintaining strong communication is particularly useful when working in a multinational corporation from a remote location, as Australia-based McLachlan does with Ciena. The limited face time makes establishing relationships with team members and key stakeholders all the more important and McLachlan ensures he regularly travels to and communicates with the company’s 13 Asia-based offices.
“It doesn’t matter what industry or company you’re in – it’s the same concept,” he says.
Today, McLachlan’s responsibilities centre on customer support and engagement across Ciena’s Asia Pacific business, including ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. And, true to his word, change is one of the constants that McLachlan readily embraces about his work.
“What really excites me is that this is a very fast-moving marketplace. Economies are growing and it thrives on innovation and change. We will likely be among the first to lead 5G connectivity in this area of the world.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Anthony McLachlan’s tips on captaining a telecoms team.
Stay on the ball “From an industry point of view, sectors such as telecoms are always changing so it’s all about staying current and abreast of what’s going on.”
Communicate effectively “How we engage with people is changing. The world is a lot smaller nowadays and if you have an APAC role, you need to be mobile and engage with people across different media as well as face-to-face.”
Connect to customers “It’s also important that you personalise business. I try to impress that upon the team as well that we need to be in touch with people. It’s not entities that are buying, it’s people buying.”
Take a break “Balance is important. Broadband is very pervasive in our lives these days and how you switch on and switch off is a personal thing rather than a prescriptive thing. A key leadership skill is encouraging people to try and find that right balance in their own lives.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Calling the shots.