Outgoing Meru CEO Sums It Up: Wired Is Not The Future

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Meru Networks CEO Ihab Abu-Hakima in October confirmed plans to leave the wireless networking specialist after seven years, saying he had achieved "personal and corporate goals" and that the time had come to transition to a new leader.

He was named CEO in January 2005, and there's no doubt that in those seven years Abu-Hakima helped turn Meru into a wireless player -- one with a modest, but fiercely loyal group of channel partners, and one that gets its share of industry mentions alongside established wireless leaders such as Cisco and Aruba and scrappy, channel-centric upstarts like Ruckus Wireless.

Meru's momentum in the past two years has been tricky to evaluate; it had a successful IPO in 2010, but the company's stock price has continued to flounder. But Meru has stayed aggressive, making across-the-board additions to its executive team, staking much of its channel growth on sales of its virtualized 802.11n wireless technology and making acquisitions such as the September 2011 pickup of access control specialist Identity Networks.

To hear Abu-Hakima tell it, the company is hitting its stride, with Apple's iPad and the bring-own-your-device, or BYOD, phenomenon validating Meru's vision of an all-wireless enterprise network edge. In an interview with CRN Senior Editor Chad Berndtson this month, Abu-Hakima weighed in on Meru's growth, his pending exit, and what aspects of wireless technology are ripe for innovation. Excerpts of the conversation follow:

Why are you leaving Meru Networks?

I joined the company seven years ago this month, and the goals that I set when I joined were the goals that I had set with the board. Take a company -- a startup that had developed an absolutely unique way of delivering what I considered a next-generation enterprise network or what the enterprise would operate day-to-day on -- and establish traction for it in the industry. Build the company to a point where it could become a public organization and have direction, traction and momentum.

I feel that I have achieved that. It's obviously a lot of work to take a company from a position of no momentum to one where we're deployed in 56 countries and with more than 6,000 customers. It's the right time for me.

You listed a few growth metrics there to talk about momentum, but which metrics are most important to you?

Meru, as a company, developed a unique approach -- an original approach, a completely different approach -- to how to deliver a network that, if you like, is all wireless, to support what we believed were the ways enterprises were going to be operating on a day-to-day basis, which is in a completely mobile environment.

For me, the metrics included taking this vision, identifying early adopters -- the lighthouse accounts looking for a solution and validating that what we'd developed had a significant value proposition -- and then methodically and systematically expanding that footprint. So, for me, the metrics I would use include the establishment of a solid foundation of customers, a worldwide footprint, a footprint in all the different verticals you could think of, and ultimately becoming a public company with a successful IPO.

Are you happy with the performance of Meru's stock price since the IPO?

I am. When we went public, it was a very difficult time for the world economically. I think we were one of three or four tech companies that went public in 2010, and when we went public, one of the commitments we made to the Street was that we were a company that was profitable and that we would remain profitable for 2010. We've been profitable at a rate no other player in the networking industry here has been able to achieve. It was clear to us that this market was going to accelerate in terms of growth, and for us to accelerate in our growth we had to dramatically step up the investment in sales and marketing, engineering and other support organizations.

We made the public statement that we would do that in 2011 and we have executed on our three-year strategic plan to do exactly what we said we would do. We wanted to double our field organization, expand our channel partnerships and relationships and build a marketing engine -- a best-in-class marketing engine -- and focus on accelerating growth. The shift now is how do we accelerate helping our channel partners accelerate their own growth and become productive and profitable with Meru's products. I am pleased with where we are. The stock price will go up, and come down, but in the end it will reflect what we believe will be the end of the execution of our strategic plan. I am not concerned with the short-term status of the stock price.

And that plan explains the continued additions and changes to Meru's executive team, as well?

Yes, as a company evolves and grows, it's important to have the leaders on board who can help grow the company to that next level. We always believed we could take Meru public and grow this to be a substantial company. I wanted to bring on board a management team that knows what a $1 billion company looks like. We have a CMO, for example, who's been at global companies and knows what a $1 billion company looks like.

NEXT: Meru M&A Rumors Abound

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