Johnson: Exploiting change

Management guru Peter Drucker once observed that “The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity.”It’s a pretty good description of how Juniper Networks CEO Kevin Johnson has been running the 16-year-old, high-performance networking company for the past five years.

For the Sunnyvale, California-based company, it has translated into a steady drumbeat of innovation in the routers, switches and security that keep the Internet growing. It also has yielded a company that is competitive and profitable as it responds to changes in the marketplace and in technology.

And that search for change recently led Johnson and his team to survey federal CIOs and customers. The most important takeaway was that more than 90% of respondents were interested to learn more about software-defined networks – projected to be one of the hottest growth areas in IT.

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But what is it?

Johnson acknowledges that there is a lot of hype, and different definitions floating around in cyber space. His definition is simpler: centralized software that allows for more agile and efficient management of distributed networks.

That’s pretty timely.

“The federal government, of course, has lots of distributed networks through the various agencies – DoD, VA, Labor, Commerce, and others.” Johnson explains with no lack of enthusiasm. “And we certainly want to see government be more efficient and agile – especially in such a challenging fiscal environment.

“CIOs in the federal government understand that software-defined networks can provide efficiency that can translate into savings,” Johnson continues. “Our job as the provider is to make sure it is reliable, cutting edge and secure.”

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Juniper got a jump start in federal IT back in 2003 when it won a major contract from the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to provide mobile tactical routers to move Internet protocol traffic supporting warfighters – a game-changing victory over its bigger competitor, Cisco Systems. 

“We’ve been innovating ever since to bring the best, most efficient and agile networking to the government.” Johnson says. He acknowledges that sequestered budgets have slowed the federal market down, but notes that “government needs what we do, and we all need government to have the best technology to manage programs that really matter to people, and to protect information that is vital to national security.”

After five years with Johnson at the helm – almost one-third of Juniper’s history – the company last month announced that it had formed a search committee to find a successor to take up the reins as CEO. Johnson will have his hand on the wheel until then, and then stay on through a transition period.

He is at a point where he has gained a perspective on challenges confronting not only his company, but his country. Like most execs across the high tech industry, Johnson sees American strength in innovation – but doesn’t believe it is preordained to stay that way.
“We’ve got to not only improve, but really retool our education system,” he opines. “Not only to improve the education of our kids, but also to motivate more kids to pursue the STEM disciplines.

“We need more domestic talent to fuel future innovation right here in America.”

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Toward exactly that end, Johnson has been involved with Code.org,  a non-profit dedicated to retooling education so that every student in every school has the opportunity to learn computer programming.

“Just as Juniper has been a network innovator for the industry, America should be the innovator for the world,” he says. “But in both cases, you need the best talent that can talk and write the language of the digital age.”


Hon. Phillip Bond is former Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology,
and former CEO of TechAmerica, an tech trade association. Today he is 
CEO of Petrizzo Bond, Inc. a technology and health care lobby firm
with offices in Washington and Silicon Valley.