Dynamic Leaders in Telecoms | Thinking the Unthinkable | Charlie Vogt

Genband CEO, Photography by Billy Surface ©2011

Dynamic Leaders in Telecoms– Special Content Initiative by TelecomDrive.com

Leadership is not just a position or a mere title- it is all about actions, creating opportunities for others and leading by example. This is how Charlie Vogt has spent most of his professional career.

Having over 30 years of rich experience working with great technology organizations like – GENBAND (now Ribbon Communications), IBM, Motorola Solutions, ADTRAN, Calix etc – Charlie Vogt, President and CEO, DZS has always been a dynamic leader. 

As part of TelecomDrive’s special initiative –‘Dynamic Leaders in Telecoms’ – Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com speaks with Charlie Vogt, President and CEO, DZS about his amazing journey spanning over 30 years, his idea of leadership and why it is important for today’s generation.

Charlie Vogt

Professional ProfileLeading from the Front | Inspiring Lives

Please share some of your achievements and accomplishments as a Dynamic Leader over the past many years of your professional life?

With 30 years of IT/access networking experience, I was appointed President and CEO of DZS in August 2020 to accelerate the growth opportunity that the company has around the world, and to amplify our technology differentiation spanning key market sectors, such as 5G Mobile, Fixed Broadband, and Fiber-based Enterprise networking.

Since my appointment, we have consolidated under one new unified brand and positioned the company for success by bringing on an extraordinary talented team of industry leaders across all levels of the company. The DZS team is experienced, prepared and enthusiastic about the future state of our business. We have rationalized and accelerated our technology roadmaps, aligned with a disruptive vision and strategy to capture market share in the burgeoning 5G, Fiber to the Premises (FTTP), and smart home, cities and buildings market segments.

DZS saw record quarterly revenue in the third quarter of 2020 that was up 33% compared to the second quarter and up 31% compared with the third quarter of 2019 due to three major drivers:

  • Growing demand for Open-RAN and standards-based networking architectures;
  • Adoption of our innovative and market leading mobile edge access, fiber-based broadband access and customer premises solutions; and
  • Alignment with our marquee service providers, fiber overbuilders, system integrators and distributor partners

Despite limited face-to-face customer contact because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, DZS secured 15 new service provider and enterprise customers during the third quarter with continued strength in Asia and momentum in North America, Latin America and EMEA.

5G and 10Gbps edge access upgrade cycles will also create exciting growth opportunities for DZS. Our expansion related to the 5G market is driving incremental opportunities, complementing our FTTP and enterprise optical LAN businesses. We expect that our innovative mobile AnyHaul transport portfolio will forge new opportunities with fixed and mobile operators globally as well as foster strategic partnerships with the broader mobile, optical and cloud-based supplier ecosystem.

I am pleased with what we have accomplished over the past five months and the prospects for DZS on the horizon as the company participates in a once-in-a-generation era of growth defined by the proliferation of market dynamics such as AI, IOT, ultra-high-speed low-latency broadband access, video collaboration on the go, video interactive gaming and cloud-based service delivery.

Prior to DZS, I was President and CEO of ATX Networks, a cutting-edge Hybrid Fiber-Coaxial and spectrum innovator serving global MSOs such as Comcast, Charter, Cox, Altice, Liberty Global, NBN and JCom. Prior to ATX, as President and CEO of Imagine Communications, the leadership team and I defined and led the media broadcast industry’s transformation from legacy baseband technology to a software-defined networking and IP-based architecture, including partnering with Disney to transition their linear broadcast line-up to the cloud.

Before Imagine Communications, I was President and CEO of GENBAND (now Ribbon Communications), where I led the company from a startup to the industry leader in VoIP, Session Border Control and real-time IP communications solutions and achieving an annual growth rate of ~100% over a nine-year period. During my tenure, the leadership team successfully acquired and integrated six technology companies, including Nortel’s CVAS division in 2010. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal named GENBAND the no. 1 private equity-backed company in America, topping a list of 5,900 companies.

I am a lifelong entrepreneur and have spent two decades building and leading organizations through hyper growth and rapid change. DZS has the opportunity to top everything I have been blessed to be part of in the past. I couldn’t be more excited about the market dynamics and the company’s future prospects.

Leaders often inspire colleagues to achieve greater goals and deliver the unexpected. Can you please share some instances where your leadership quality has inspired others to increase the envelope of excellence?

I have spent my professional career fostering company cultures that are focused on the relentless pursuit of excellence. I believe that our company culture should value working hard, enjoying the process and speaking up when we have ideas. Creating an entrepreneurial and innovative culture that invests in employees and rewards passion, out-of-the-box thinking, hard work and results brings out the best in employees and is something I have diligently worked to cultivate throughout my career. This has inspired employees to innovate, transform industries and deliver breakthrough results – even during challenging market environments.

As President and CEO of GENBAND, I faced one of my biggest professional challenges when we acquired two companies that were four times GENBAND’s size, including Nortel’s VoIP division acquired out of bankruptcy. Besides the task of integrating a global business spanning nearly 100 countries, the greatest challenge (and opportunity) was transforming a 40+-year-old culture into a fast-paced, results-oriented, entrepreneurial culture.

While many companies were hunkering down during the unprecedented economic challenges following the dot-com era and during the financial crisis, we leveraged the window as an opportunity to accelerate our vision and strategy and grew from a disruptive media gateway concept to securing more than 600 service provider customers around the world. During my nine-year tenure, GENBAND experienced a 100% annual CAGR. It was a team and culture that defied convention and embraced my daily challenge of “thinking the unthinkable”.

“You can define and lead or become a follower”

Leaders who lead from the front – are also expected to take calculated risks and then turn such risky situations into opportunities. What is your opinion on this? How important is risk-taking when it comes to developing leadership?

You can define and lead or become a follower. I have spent my entire professional career disrupting the status quo and taking marketshare away from the traditional incumbent suppliers by “thinking the unthinkable.” There have been many bold moves over the years.

Examples include acquisitions of companies that were a magnitude larger in terms of revenue and people, raising hundreds of millions of debt and equity working capital in the middle of a financial crisis to take advantage of the timely opportunity, and redefining legacyATM, TDM and Baseband network architectures with unproven (at the time) software defined, IP and cloud-based architectures. I am a calculated forward-thinker that is laser focused on customer alignment and vision.

What according to you is the best way to expand the horizon of leadership?

Culture defines behavior and performance. Employees and management want a voice, a seat at the table and the ability to move the needle. There are many successful leaders and successful leadership models, though for me, successful leadership is defined by trust, empowerment, transparency, inclusiveness and unity. In the end, success or failure is defined by its people and the culture that is created and embraced.

DZS has had a long history of broadband access innovation and it has fostered valuable relationships with marquee service providers around the world. Since I joined the team in early August, we have designed and launched dozens of product, people and system workstreams all of which are focused on OneDZS, innovation, optimizing operations, customer and partner ecosystem alignment, and take-share programs.

With a company spanning the globe and with customers in nearly 100 countries, operational excellence, culture and leadership will define us. We recently moved our global headquarters from Alameda, California to Plano, Texas – complementing our technology facilities in Seoul, South Korea;Hanoi, Vietnam; Hanover, Germany; Bangalore, India; and Seminole, Florida.

US-based high-tech companies often struggle with expansion into EMEA or Asia due to operational scale, market dynamics, competitive landscape and cultural challenges. DZS has a unique footprint that will empower its global success based on its deep leadership of innovation in Asia (from its DASAN Networks roots), and established technology, operations, sales and service resources and infrastructure across many countries around the world that has resulted from ongoing growth, investment, the merger between DASAN Networks and Zhone (in North America, Latin America and Middle East) and the acquisition of Keymile (in Europe).

We are fortunate to have enviable customers across Asia such as Softbank, Rakuten, KDDI, LGU+, SKB, KT, Viettel and CHT. However, calling on these market leaders in Asia market also comes with the dual challenge and opportunity of competing every day against many of the world’s fiercest competitors – Nokia, Huawei, ZTE, Fiberhome and Ubiquoss. With our recent headquarters move to Dallas (Plano), Texas, and newly appointed technology, operations, sales and marketing leaders and employees, we are accelerating our investment and footprint in North America, Latin America, Middle East and Europe.

Expanding our global reach and empowering 5G and Fiber Edge Access advancements is our number 1 priority. DZS is innovating and partnering with disruptive service providers, as well as mobile core and broadband access technology companies, to accelerate the pace and adoption of O-RAN, open standards and “Freedom of Choice.”

As underserved broadband markets continue to gain mindshare from local and federal governments, such as the United States’ $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), DZS has the opportunity to partner with the service providers, fiber overbuilders, ISPs, utility companies and municipalities as they serve rural communities and bridge the digital divide. DZS recently launched RDOF Amplify!,a program designed to assist hundreds of awardees with network architecture design, professional services and application assistance.

While DZS is well established in the broadband access market, we have high expectations for expanding our innovation and leadership horizon. It is hard to dispute the tidal wave of technology shifts, network capacity requirements and favorable geopolitical dynamics that our industry is experiencing today.

What more can dynamic leaders in telecom / technology space do in order to promote leadership for the young generation? Please share details of your contributions here if any? What does the future hold for you as a Leader?

Generations Y and Z are inspired and lead differently than the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. Never before has the high-tech industry experienced so many young entrepreneurs and leaders innovating on the heels of, or over the top of, the framework developed by the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations. Since I have spent nearly my entire professional career pioneering and developing access networking solutions, an appropriate question might be – what would Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Alibaba, Facebook, Netflix, Uber, Door Dash, Ebay and anything IOT-oriented be without the internet?

Today’s telecom leaders have and will continue to be inspirational leaders for Generations Y and Z, while these younger generations will provide new and innovative ways of thinking, implementing and operationalizing technology. While the Gen X and Baby Boomer generations are notably credited with the design, architecture and implementation of today’s internet, and the evolution of cloudification and software defined everything, Generations Y and Z have been the consumer “user base” which will enable this generation and future generations to further disrupt and innovate.

As for myself, I am a leader of “what can be” versus “how things are. ”I believe that “it cannot be done” is the starting point for “yes it can.” I am a leader that “thinks the unthinkable” and designs roadmaps and playbooks to deliver such results.

With this said, sitting squarely in the middle of today’s generational sea change is DZS. We have an enhanced and new leadership team, a unified brand and three defining technology pillars – Mobile Transport, Broadband Access, and Connected Premises complemented by Services and Software Defined Orchestration and Management – that will fuel our growth for many years to come.

This includes the fixed and mobile broadband investments being made by rural America, supported by the $20 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and the 5G stimulus programs globally. As our industry experiences disruption resulting from a tidal wave of technology shifts and accelerated network capacity requirements driven by an increasing number of people working, learning and experiencing advanced services like tele-health from home, I remain optimistic about the long-term prospects for DZS. This is an exciting time for me and the entire company.

What according to you is the definition of a Dynamic Leader and what are some of the qualities that you think are important to be one?

Below are some attributes that have defined my leadership style, and ultimately have created a winning recipe of people and culture.

  • Authentic
  • Inspirational
  • Visionary
  • Culture Defines Everything
  • Willing to Take Risks
  • Out of the Box, “No Box” Thinker
  • Transparent
  • Inclusive
  • Foster Unity and Team
  • Decisive Decision Maker
  • Leads by Example
  • Empathy
  • Sense of Humor

Personal Profile – Unconditional Love by Family Helped in Driving Professional Leadership

Please share details about your family? Your hobbies or interests?

I have been married to my best friend, my wife Lisa, for 27 years. We have three adult children – Morgan, Taylor and Danny– whom we are very proud of. They inspire me every day with their love, friendship, thoughtfulness and outlook on life.

I have been fortunate over the past 25+ years to call work an extracurricular. Other than leading and transforming companies, which is my passion, I enjoy traveling, playing golf, getting beat on the tennis court by my wife, boating and spending time with our family and friends.

In what way do you think your family helped you in terms of becoming a Leader?

Two words: unconditional love.

I have seven million airline miles. As a leader inspired and driven by customers, I have traveled the world my entire career. Like most professionals, I missed out on many important events over the years and was unable to help Lisa as much as I wish I could have, especially with our three children. We also moved several times as I pursued career opportunities. This meant enrolling the kids in new schools and new sports and having to make new friends, all of which Lisa handled without complaint. Many friends often say, “Lisa is an angel sent down from heaven” – and they are right.

Our children always recognized and appreciated the dedication and long hours Lisa and I devoted to whatever was required to make their lives the best they could be, and they were understanding of my time away with work-related travel. The support that I received from Lisa and the children over the years enabled me to dedicate the time required with ADTRAN, Ascend Communications/Lucent Technologies, Taqua, GENBAND, Imagine, ATX and now DZS.

Morgan, Taylor and Danny have since graduated from college/university and entered the workplace. I continue to learn from them as they freely and openly share insights about the pros and cons of their company cultures, and I relish their advice and that of their generation.