REDCOM’s CEO explores corporate decision making in a changing market landscape
Dinah Weisberg originally wanted a career in marine biology but admits she “had some sense talked into her by her parents.” Two computer science degrees and an executive MBA later, she is now CEO and President of REDCOM, one of the more unusual communications vendors on the circuit, and one with deep and enduring links to the Pacific and the PTC.
REDCOM, a privately-held supplier with about 170 employees, was founded by Ms. Weisberg’s parents, Klaus and Brigitte Gueldenpfennig, in 1978. Since then, both the company and its markets have changed significantly. Ms. Weisberg took over as president in early 2017. REDCOM, she says, needed a “reset and refocus” on strategy and core competencies. She explains: “Our main mission now is to provide the most reliable, intuitive, interoperable, and secure communications solutions in the world.”
She highlights security and reliability as particular capabilities at REDCOM: “When you take a look at what you’re good at, [then] that is what you should focus on. We redoubled our efforts to focus on the security message, and on becoming a thought leader in secure communications.” Reliability, she says, is a quality that REDCOM has always been “extremely adept at.”
She continues: “We are a small, nimble company and able to adapt very quickly to customer needs.” Being small may have its advantages, but big suppliers also dominate in what is a global space. “Size matters to a particular customer [set],” she acknowledges. “It matters when you are a big player in a competitive field.” She points out that in REDCOM’s market, big players may supply lower cost product for a large market, but customers may discover particular features key to their needs will be absent. “Our solution will often be unique, but it will be what customers need,” she affirms. Bespoke features, she says, frequently become incorporated as standard offerings in successive product releases as a result.
REDCOM currently focuses on military, government, first responder, and service provider markets in the U.S., as well as internationally. Separate as these segments are, she maintains they have much in common, particularly where service assurance, and even security issues, are involved. Natural disasters compromise communications, particularly in remote areas such as the Pacific islands, where REDCOM has been an active supplier for decades. “Reliable communications are like an insurance policy: you sure wish you had it when disaster hits,” she reflects. There is a clear, if nuanced, message: cloud and IP systems may “not serve you well when they go down.”
The same thinking crops up in REDCOM’s military and tactical offerings now seen “in some extremely key places in U.S. government facilities that require 100 percent uptime.” REDCOM can supply cutting-edge solutions, she maintains. Equally, she argues that legacy hardware-based solutions might be an extremely effective backup to virtualized ones. “It’s a big concern: how are you going to communicate when the network goes down? And I say that because we also offer an entirely virtualized solution, but the concern remains.”
Making Strategy in Uncertainty
Back at REDCOM, emerging from its re-strategizing process, some of the same issues emerge too. Any strategic decision making, she says, forces a fundamental question: at any given time, even under conditions of uncertainty, what is the right course of action based on the information you have? Next comes staffing, particularly the development of cross-functional teams. “We have developed an incredible team of talent and experience… there is overlap but, more importantly, there is a lot of filling in the blanks [in project achievement].” REDCOM has also made acquisitions in the network services space to complement its carrier grade switch portfolio.
REDCOM, she admits, has also strategized in a slightly contrarian, non-business school, way. “We bucked the trend,” she says. “All product development and manufacturing operations are done here in Victor [REDCOM’s U.S. headquarters in New York State].” Offshoring would have lowered product costs at the possible expense of product quality. REDCOM’s methodology retained key skill sets in house and eventually allowed the company to launch a contract manufacturing service to other U.S. companies, which is now a successful business on its own. Meanwhile, during a time of trade tensions and uncertainties, the U.S. as a whole is seeing a greater focus on domestic manufacturing and identifiable supply chains. The returning cycle, she says, probably means a critical strategic rethink for some and poses a key question: “What happens in the product space when companies are banned?”
Gender parity is another issue that has surfaced in the boardroom. As the woman owner of a small business herself, Ms. Weisberg responds robustly and succinctly: “I want the best person for the job,” she says flatly. She adds: “You have to go for the talent. Just talent. This is probably a controversial opinion, but the solution is to go head-to-head and look at performance and see where that takes us – not to give someone an unfair advantage because that implies they are weaker and they need it. I am happy to say we have many women at REDCOM who are excelling in their roles and are highly regarded.”
External challenges relate to product marketing and people development. “We can’t necessarily make the customer buy on our timeframe,” she admits, with implications for product development roadmaps. “Likewise, providing a cultural environment where people want to come to work is extremely important,” she concludes. “[In this sector] it’s an employee’s market and sometimes it is challenging to recruit high-quality talent, especially on the engineering side.”
REDCOM’s strategic overhaul continues. Getting nearer to defined goals on a day-by-day basis is what preoccupies her each morning, she says. “I would like us to ride this wave of being critically selective on who we bring on board and have those people mesh with us,” she explains. “Organizationally, we are engaged in [some] significant initiatives from a strategic market perspective. I would like to see those come to fruition and dominate the market. I don’t necessarily mean this in terms of size, but in terms of the most capable solution REDCOM makes.”
This means staying close to the REDCOM community and maintaining ongoing dialogue and feedback from customers. Similarly, she says, she would like to see the PTC community grow as a forum to help make that possible. Above all, in a time of uncertainty and operational challenge for many, she advocates the wider community takes “a bigger picture view” of the solutions it needs and wants—and avoids getting caught in options that may be fashionable now but that leave problems in their wake.