Partners: Lumen Technologies’ New CEO Kate Johnson ‘Sees The Value In The Channel’

‘Lumen is bringing in people that come from a distribution model. From a partner standpoint, I think that’s fantastic,’ says one Lumen partner on the service provider’s new CEO and the leadership team she’s bringing in.


Kate Johnson

Lumen Technologies, formerly CenturyLink, has a new president and CEO at the helm that partners say is already spending time with the channel and is primed to take the financially struggling telecom giant into a new phase of growth.

“The opportunity with Lumen’s channel is the best it’s ever been,” said Shane Stark, chief operating officer of solution provider Carrier Access, Inc., a longtime Lumen partner. “Since the Level 3 merger, they lost their identity for a little bit. But now I feel like from a channel perspective, they’re getting it back and we’re excited.”

Tech veteran Kate Johnson joined the company in November. She brought with her Ashley Haynes-Gaspar, former COO of US Business Applications and Industry at Microsoft, who joined Lumen’s marketing organization as executive vice president and customer experience officer, Wholesale and International earlier this month. Arrow Electronics and Hewlett Packard veteran Chris Stansbury, now Lumen’s CFO, came on in April.

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“Lumen is bringing in people that come from a distribution model. From a partner standpoint, I think that’s fantastic,” Stark added.

[Related: Lumen Technologies Names Microsoft U.S. Leader As CEO; Jeff Storey To Retire]

Stark, a member of Lumen’s partner advisory group for the last 15 years, said that Johnson was the only CEO of the telecom to ever join the most recent meeting.

“I feel comfortable with her. She sees the value in the channel and proves that by spending time with partners,” he said.

Johnson, a technology leader with nearly 30 years experience, specializes in leading digital and business transformation to drive growth, she said during Lumen’s Q4 2022 earnings call earlier this month. She has held leadership roles across a variety of Fortune 100 companies including Oracle and General Electric, as well as other tech firms, such as Red Hat. Most recently, Johnson served as president of Microsoft U.S., overseeing the company’s sales, services marketing and operations. During her four years in the role, she led the U.S. division through a cultural transformation while nearly doubling enterprise revenue.

Johnson during the company’s most recent earnings call said 2023 would be a year of “rapid change “ as the company works to pivot towards growth.

“I’m here now,” Johnson said during the call with investors when asked what the company was doing to turn around its financial performance, which has been on the decline in recent years. She said that under her leadership, the company would reshape its core intellectual property in connectivity, security and edge cloud to solve customer problems, as well as centralize marketing for tighter alignment to the customer lifecycle.

During its final fiscal quarter of 2022, Monroe, La.-based Lumen’s Large Enterprise segment dipped 4.3 percent compared with revenue from a year ago. Also on the decline was the Midmarket segment by 7 percent and Enterprise Channels, which fell 7 percent. Lumen’s total Business segment revenue slipped down 5 percent during the fourth quarter.

“One of the things that I’m bringing to the table is this maniacal focus on execution. And I think that that’s a really important shift,” she said. “You need to think about Lumen as a collection of companies that was trying to drive synergy from a bunch of mergers and was inwardly focused on driving operational efficiency … But there was no anchoring North Star. There was no customer obsession. There was no really focus on: ‘How do we innovate for growth? And we hadn’t been in a position to invest in our go-to-market engine, everything from marketing to sales and sales support and customer success. Now we are.”

Once the acquisition of Level 3 Communications was complete in 2017, many former Level 3 executives took over the helm of then-CenturyLink, including CenturyLink CEO Jeff Storey that had previously served as president and CEO of Level 3.

“Since the merger, the CenturyLink partner program --which I thought was one of the best channel programs out there -- has been a disaster,” said one Lumen partner that spoke to CRN under the condition of anonymity. The partner said that the problem with many Level 3 executives taking over was that the former telecom company didn’t have “nearly the product set” that CenturyLink had and that the way they went to market with their offerings was different -- less channel-friendly than CenturyLink, the partner said.

But the partner program has since been greatly improving under the leadership of Lumen Channel Chief Dave Young, a very “partner-friendly” executive who joined the company in 2021, the partner said.

The channel partner said that Lumen today, under the leadership of Johnson, is bringing in executives that are a welcomed change. “These folks are used to working with partners. It’s very promising.”