From start-up companies to sales people, James Calderbank knows how to spot a winner. The innovative technology expert has a wealth of experience building and managing remote teams for newly emerging companies and has just helped one wireless network provider develop into a global player with revenues of $100 million in EMEA.
In his role at Ruckus Wireless, the Director of Enterprise Sales has ensured the company’s Wi-Fi products are deployed at hundreds of thousands of locations around the world enabling carriers and enterprises to stay ahead of the exploding demand for high-bandwidth applications. Last month it was announced that Brocade Communications Systems is to buy Ruckus Wireless in a cash and stock deal worth $1.5 billion to add to its existing enterprise networking business.
Iperium sat down with the industry pioneer to discuss the challenges of growing a small start-up, the importance of high-quality recruitment and why he’s not a big-company guy.
IP: You have achieved phenomenal success throughout your career, how did it all begin?
I first started out studying computer science at college before working for a PC reseller and became involved with some early networking technology. It wasn’t long before I realised there was more money to be made selling the technology rather than fixing it, so I moved to a networking distributor. I stayed in distribution for a few years before joining Nokia to bring coherence to their distribution and VAR channels across EMEA. Then in 2005, I joined Wi-Fi vendor BlueSocket and helped set up distribution and recruitment programmes. It wasn’t long after that I came across Ruckus in its early stages and decided to get involved.
IP: What were the biggest challenges you faced with a small, start-up business?
Managing rapid change. As technology moves on and new products come out, trying to control forecast accuracy and predictability becomes extremely challenging. When we were turning over a couple of million dollars at Ruckus forecasting was easy, whereas once we had floated the business in 2012 it became much more difficult. It was a challenge to build systems and put people into places we didn’t know weren’t actually needed. We also managed without proper sales operations for many years and once we did hire a Sales Operations Director, we realised she was an absolute genius and we had no idea how we ever achieved anything before.
IP: How important is recruiting the right team in the early stages?
Our plan was to not only recruit people who were competent to do the job either technically or commercially, but also it was vital that they fitted in to the ethos and culture we were trying to create. We wanted to recruit a team that worked with the same level of ethics and honesty that you or I would want to work with, and there’s no point hiring excellent people and telling them exactly what to do, you have to let them go and be excellent.
IP: How did Iperium help with the businesses expansion?
As the business grew we were running around Europe setting up channels and starting to recruit people. We contacted Iperium early on and they immediately understood the kind of people we were looking for. As soon as we had a requisition, I would phone David (Ward) to let him know our requirements and he would come back with a shortlist of candidates. We would then conduct telephone or Skype interviews to narrow the list down before flying in and interviewing around five possible candidates face-to-face. The vast majority of the time we were able to make a good hire from that process and recruited around eighty people, yet occasionally we did hire an idiot. It seems there are some people in this world whose only skill in life is to perform well at interviews, yet it’s something you have to accept when you recruit a lot of people. That said, the reach that Iperium has is spectacular and to be able recruit into Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia - which is its own personal minefield - is commendable. Their network of contacts and the way they were able to pool people together was impressive.
IP: Aspirations for the future?
I’m in the process of leaving Ruckus Wireless as it has now become a much larger organisation and somewhere not quite where I want to be. Although I’m proud to look back and say we we built the business from nothing to a $100 million dollar turnover within eight years, I enjoy start-up or early-phase companies much more as you can build them into exactly what you want. In smaller organisations you have a lot of ability to make an impact with what you are doing - meaning there aren’t many people to tell you that you can’t do things. So ideally I’d like to go back to basics and do it all over again. There are some interesting things happening in the cloud and data analytics space in terms of how you get people on to Wi-Fi networks in a simple manner. I think it’s important that people can understand their own strengths and I’m not a big-company guy. Personally, I’m more about the freedom of building and creating something from small beginnings where at the end you can look back and say "look what we did, that was spectacular".