Lumen’s new CEO prepares to ‘reset’ with new hires, culture shift

It’s only been two months since Kate Johnson took over as CEO of Lumen Technologies, but the former Microsoft executive already has an ambitious plan to turn the company’s fortunes around. The crux: do fewer things and do them well, with a laser focus on solving the problems customers actually need vendors like Lumen to address. On the residential front, it is also reevaluating its Quantum Fiber strategy.

During an investor conference on Thursday – one of her first public engagements as CEO – Johnson said a culture reset at the company will be the driving force behind every step Lumen takes going forward. Specifically, she’s looking to bring the technology sector’s focus on solving customer problems to the telecom realm.

“We’re the product of many, many mergers, and so we’ve been looking inward for a long time…it was all about operational efficiency,” she explained. “When you look inward for a long, long time, you forget how to look outward. And that is a massive mindset shift that we’re going to be working on as a company…We want to obsess about our customers and their problems, because that’s how we drive innovation which will be how we get to growth.”

Johnson added Lumen has hired Ashley Haynes-Gaspar as EVP of Customer Success, Wholesale and International to lead this pivot. The CEO previously worked with Haynes-Gaspar at GE and Microsoft. Johnson hailed the new appointee as a “change leader” who “knows how to deliver impactful results and is one of the most customer obsessed people I know.” She stated Lumen plans to make several more new hire announcements over the coming months as it ramps its transition plan.

The culture shift will also include building more marketing muscle to ensure it effectively communicates the story of how it solves business challenges to prospective customers “every time we pitch,” Johnson added.

Enterprise services

According to Johnson, Lumen already has robust network infrastructure in place which can be used to serve enterprise customers, rehashing the company’s oft-touted line that it can reach 97% of businesses in North America with 5 ms of latency or less. But the key to achieving profitability will be stacking services on top of that network. She pointed to edge and security offerings as two key opportunities the company can tackle on its own.

On the security front, Johnson said Lumen will work to commercialize solutions from the company’s cybersecurity division Black Lotus Labs, which she called “the best kept secret in the world."

As far as the edge goes, she said that at least initially that will be a “manufacturing story,” though Lumen will also look to offer solutions for retail, healthcare and other verticals. Johnson said Lumen is building programs internally that will enable agile development of new solutions and it will also work to create a robust technology partner ecosystem to flesh out its portfolio. The latter could include tie ups with unified communications providers like Microsoft and secure access service edge vendors like Juniper and Cisco, she said.

Soon, the market will “see us building and partnering to bring technology to the edge that is very differentiating,” she added.

Quantum Fiber

The company is also reevaluating its Quantum Fiber expansion, shifting its focus from quantity of passings to quality. It previously outlined plans to reach a total of 12 million locations over the coming years.

“Delivering quality enablements is a better story around driving profitable revenue so that every dollar coming in the door greatly exceeds our cost of capital. And so, placing the emphasis there, on quality, is a different approach,” she said.

While the number of pure enablements it is targeting will decrease as a result of this shift, she said Lumen will aim to tackle those passings faster with a “factory approach.” To that end, Johnson noted Lumen recently moved its operations organization out of its unified enterprise and consumer group to sit under the purview of Mass Markets President Maxine Moreau.

“That takes away any competing priorities for deployments, it takes away any organizational friction that might be there and it gives us a streamlined org that’s fully accountable and can go after this business in the way that they should with the speed that they should,” she explained.

Johnson concluded: “We’re in a reset mode. We need to do lots of basic things to position ourselves to take advantage of the opportunity that’s before us…Positioning ourselves from a mindset perspective around customer obsession and putting customers at the heart of everything we do, simplifying the company, driving the digital enterprise with automation and workflow, using data and AI to get great at maintaining the network and driving efficiency there, and innovating and investing for growth. That’s this year. We’re standing up all of those programs.”