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Carol Stephenson takes the lead

How can Carol Stephenson be so laid back?She has staff meetings to attend, customers to visit, speaking engagements to uphold, flights to catch. Oh yes, and a prominent communications organization to ...

March 1, 2000  

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How can Carol Stephenson be so laid back?

She has staff meetings to attend, customers to visit, speaking engagements to uphold, flights to catch. Oh yes, and a prominent communications organization to lead.

Yet, Stephenson, 49, who took the helm of the Lucent Technologies Canada Inc. as President and CEO less than a year ago, seems remarkably at ease with all of this — despite the fact that she is the person now shouldered with the responsibility of growing Lucent’s business in Canada and leading the company into a new millennium.

A mammoth task — and one that seems a long distance from Ms. Stephenson’s first job as telephone operator for Bell Canada, back in 1973. This job was intended to fund her university education (which was supposed to lead to a Masters of Social Work degree), but would, in fact, be the impetus to a long career in the telecom business.

After graduation, Bell hired her in a management capacity, and she says she has done “just about everything there is to do in telecom” since, including customer care, network provisioning and strategic planning and marketing.

Leading the pack

It seems natural then that she would end up in a leadership capacity. The woman, who was named the 1995 Woman of the Year by Canadian Women in Telecommunications and the 1998 Woman of the Year by Wired Women, was destined to lead.

After years at Bell, she wound up at Stentor Resource Centre Inc., where she became President and CEO in 1995. When the company wound down in 1998, she moved over to BCE Media, a start-up company offering satellite services for business customers, and stayed there from January, 1999 until her departure for Lucent.

“I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years, but on the service provider side of the business. So I think it was logical to move into still the same industry but from a different perspective, that being an equipment vendor.”

But it wasn’t as if she was job hunting. Lucent approached her, and she was intrigued by the team-oriented, non-hierarchical atmosphere.

“I was really impressed with Lucent in terms of its culture, and the fact that it’s a big company that operates in quite an entrepreneurial fashion.”

Customers are priority

For these and other reasons, she accepted the task of leading the company during such an exciting time — a time when there is such an “insatiable need for information,” she says.

She will oversee all facets of the organization, including the structured cabling side of things, which is done solely through channels.

“My involvement will be in terms of what we can do to get our partners well trained and make sure that our distribution channels are working well so that we grow that business.”

Yet she is very thoughtful about just what is most important in this business, and in the technology business in general.

“I think at the end of the day technology will continue to evolve, products will continue to develop, and I think to be successful, it’s the basic fundamentals that really count, and they are: “Are you servicing your customers well? Is your product leading-edge — are you innovating all the time with your product? And, can you deliver really good service to the product to make sure that it has a very good reputation in the marketplace?”

She says she spends a good deal of her time travelling to see customers and staff — both at home and in the US.

” I think it’s really important to spend time face to face with customers,” she says. “There is a high, high priority on meeting customer needs.”

A day in the life

When asked what a “typical” day looks like, she actually pulls out her agenda. A “day in the life” can go something like this: an employee broadcast, followed by a customer meeting, followed by a vendor meeting and dinner with another customer. Then, depending on the day, she might be off to the airport to fly to another city for more meetings or a speaking engagement.

In addition, she also makes time to sit on several boards, including the Information Technology Association of Canada and Women’s College Hospital Foundation Board.

“I try and stay pretty involved in the community, corporately as well as volunteer work,” she says. “I think that’s important. I think you should give back to the community that you live in and I also think you should give back to the industry.”

Winding down

The obvious question here is whether she takes time out to smell the flowers. It seems she does.

“My downtime is important,” she says. “I don’t work weekends. And I very much try and separate work during the week from my weekends. So I work like crazy during the week and I take my weekends off.”

She likes to wind down by reading, boating and relaxing in her house on the Rideau River in Ottawa — home number one. Home number two is a condo located close to Lucent’s offices outside of Toronto in Markham, Ontario.

Is she leading two lives in two cities? Maybe, but it seems she is handling the balance well. In fact, Stephenson mentions that following this interview she would be attending an Ottawa-Toronto hockey game to see the two cities battle it out.

I wonder who she was cheering for?CS

Janine Strom is Editor of Cabling Systems magazine.

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