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New Lumen Channel Leader Reacts to ILEC Sale, Potential Channel Impact

“We need to digitize a lot more than what we have done,” Dave Young told Channel Futures.

James Anderson

August 24, 2021

11 Min Read
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Dave Young says everyone – including channel partners – at Lumen Technologies is waiting to learn the impact of the company’s ILEC sale.

The company earlier this month appointed Young in its new senior vice president of strategic services role. Channel partners will now interface with Young following the departure of channel chief Garrett Gee. Young oversees channel partners as well as system integrator, hyperscaler and digital ventures units at Lumen.

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Lumen’s Dave Young

Young’s appointment comes at an intriguing moment in the company’s history, just days after the company announced its sale of its Latin American and ILEC businesses.

Young sat down virtually with Channel Futures to discuss a variety of topics, including the company’s new organizational structure, its recent acquisitions and Lumen channel partners.

We have edited the transcript for length and clarity.

Channel Futures: Could you start by giving us a bit of your career background?

Dave Young: That’s a great place to start. I’m pretty comfortable with the road that I’ve traveled — 30-plus years in the telecommunications marketplace. I worked in a couple of big brands out of college and ended up with one of the companies [Level 3 Communications] that now makes up Lumen in 2002. So 20 years of background inside of Lumen, and operating in a variety of different roles. I was always customer-facing, originally in the federal channel, then in a broader view of public sector. And then the next step for me was to work with the hyperscalers. That was a great opportunity. And I still am responsible for that portion of the market, although the public sector is no longer in my purview.

Instead, we’ve put a couple of markets together. We’re talking about the channel partner market today, but I also have the hyperscaler market. I also have something we call Lumen Ventures, where the VC firms are to develop the next technology companies to partner with Lumen’s platform. And then the system integrators.

All of those clients that we put together have something in common — working with another company to create value for a customer. That’s really easy to see in the partner channel. But when we begin to look at our relationship with the hyperscalers or the system integrators, you really begin to notice that’s a commonality in all of them. They’re also markets that we believe are the growth engine for what Lumen’s going to become in the next three to five years. And we’re putting them together so we can cross-pollinate ideas and solutions.

The thing that I’ve done in the company that probably interests people the most is the success that I’ve had building bridges and having the company itself achieve the things that we need for a market; so, my relationship with our product house or our operations team or our CIO stack. I’ve got very strong, established relationships to be able to take what my previous markets required – say a digital marketplace or a customized product – and be able to work with the corporation. To not have to do it out on an island, but to work inside the corporation to achieve what the market needed.

CF: Do you mind talking about that process of changing this structure, specifically as it pertains to the partner program?

DY: The partner program was a channel that stood holistically as a marketplace. And we began to see that some of the great foundational work that’s done in the community to build those relationships to serve customers — it became obvious that work exists in some of the other markets that we have. There was a commonality of …

… pulling that together. Again, it’s working with another company to create value for a customer. So a single company can’t create value by itself for that customer. It takes two, or maybe even three or four. And the partner channel is a great representation of that model, where we work with the community in order to solve a customer challenge. We get alternative perspectives, and solutions are built. Maybe it doesn’t always include just the Lumen product but includes many products that the partner is bringing together to answer that solution. I think the partner channel is a great model for the success of how that’s been achieved.

CF: Richard Murray from Telarus told me that you’re a change agent and a person who’s really good at getting stuff done inside the corporation. You’ve kind of alluded to that already, but can you share more of your philosophy?

DY: I’ve enjoyed my interaction with Richard. It was very insightful for me. And the whole community actually has been very patient with me, as I’m in a bit of a learning curve now. And Richard was instrumental in helping through that, as well as probably at this point, 15 or 20 others. I have a hard stop at the bottom of the hour, because I have another one-on-one call. So it’s been a fantastic experience for me. Very exciting.

Lumen’s got a great foundation of solutions that we offer. In general, it fits marketplaces fairly well. There are nuances. Maybe it’s an IT or a digital environment or marketplace to operate in that looks different. I would expect the digital marketplace that the partners desire would look entirely different than the one we built for the federal marketplace. What I think I’ve been fairly successful at is having those relationships across the corporate organization that drive the company.

I bring the organizations that I lead into those flows in order to reap the reward of the expertise of that particular part of Lumen, make sure that they understand the market I’m serving and the nuances and requirements, get their buy-in, build a calendar, and hold them accountable to achieve the goal. And I think that’s a recipe that you’ll probably see me in action with over the next period of time. I’m definitely still in the listening phase. I get to talk to a lot of different people: the partners, the customers, my employees, my ecosystem and the people around the company that are already supporting the business. It’s been a fantastic learning cycle for me. It has been energizing.

We’re going to get into the next phase, which is validation. Because everybody has a list of things. And generally, they’re alike when I talked to the partners, but they’re not all identical. They’re not all singing from the sheet. But in general, we’re pretty close and in tune with the areas that they would like to see us discuss and create a vision for. I think we’re probably going to be in that validation phase coming back from Labor Day weekend, and we’ll start to validate some things and move towards articulating a vision.

CF: What’s a common theme that you hear from partners?

DY: A digital environment is a good example. We need to digitize a lot more than what we have done. How do we create a digital marketplace from which to operate? The challenge there is that you just can’t create a whole, big digital marketplace to operate, because …

… that’ll take forever. What parts of our relationship do we want to focus on first, to make digital? Some partners might want to see quoting be more digital. Some might want to see delivery. Others might want to see compensation. Every partner comes to the table with a different perspective on where we need to operate. But holistically, the digital marketplace is probably a good overarching theme.

CF: What other goals do you have?

DY: My responsibilities [definitely include] leading the partner channel, but I have a couple other pieces of business too. And so my 100-day plan is not just about the partners, although they are big pieces of it. The first piece is me understanding the organizational culture. What parts of the culture am I comfortable with? What are areas where I want my personality to show up in the culture? So that’s really the first step.

I would think that there’s a period of time when we are able to have a conversation about what we see, what we think the near-term solutions might look like, what the midterms are and what the longer-term heavy lifts are.

CF: A topic that we’ve talked about before with Lumen has been channel integration. What are some of the conversations you’re having with partners and your team around that?

DY: I’m quickly falling in love with it. I believe it is a wonderful opportunity. I think we can see some of the early statistics around some of the changes we made recently, and the positive impact they’re having on the business. So I am really interested in learning where success is happening. We talked about my ability to change. One of the things I do is ruthlessly hunt for success, model it and then replicate it. I think that’s [sic] where we are with the program. We’re finding success. How can we model it, and then replicate it everywhere? Because our successes are in pockets. I need it to be more broadly impactful to the business. [With] very early success being seen, how do we begin to replicate that? Both the partners and the employees are, of course, helping me go through that learning curve and sharing what success is looking like. I think there are a couple of opportunities to continue to improve the environment. And we’ll be thinking through them and driving that success model broadly.

CF: Partners are asking about the impact of the ILEC sale to Apollo Global Management. What’s the conversation like for partners that were in that business?

DY: Everything is the same today. The order of magnitude and the level of detail that I think we all seek are the next transition period of what happens in a deal like this. And those details have to be worked out about how things are going to happen. We definitely have discussed it with the buyer, and the buyer has agreed to what the asset looks like. Now we’ve got to understand what that means physically to the asset, to IT systems. There’s just a lot of work that we’ve got to go through to be able to answer the questions that we all want to answer. The thing that we need to do is operate the way we’ve always done it, because the asset’s going to exist in the future. We’re going to work with customers to solve their challenges. So my goal is to …

… be working with partners like I did before the announcement, until we understand the equation a little bit differently on what the next step is and how that looks.

But it’s full-steam ahead the way we’ve always done things. Yes, we have an announcement. Yes, we’re going to further understand what that means to any market. It’s not like the channel doesn’t understand and other markets do. This is a common phase of where we are across the entire company, whether it’s wholesale, enterprise, partners — everybody is asking that same question. And the corporation with Apollo is going to work through those answers.

CF: Obviously there’s no one-to-one correlation, but was selling the Latin American business a similar process? In the sense of communicating to the buyer, “This is what you’re buying? And what you’re buying includes the channel.”

DY: Yeah, all of that conversation, because the due diligence that occurs is pretty in depth on these types of transactions. The buyers always want to understand where revenue is being generated from. So you go through that very natural cycle. I would say, though, that all of these types of transactions are unique in their own ways. Sure, Lumen announced two transactions very close together about an asset sale. The environments are somewhat different though. Those two do look quite different to the to the buyers.

CF: What do you want to say directly to the partner audience?

DY: I have really enjoyed getting to meet the primaries at the partners that I’ve had the opportunity to come across. As we look at as our economy in the country, small business owners are the lifeblood of that economy. And the way the partners think, the energy they have, how they create value in the marketplace, and that entrepreneurial spirit of that group of business owners — it has been remarkable to hear them, how they discuss their business models and how they look at the market. They’ve just been very refreshing to spend time with. They’ve been very patient with me. [They’ve shared] both sides of the ledger: “Here’s what is really good, Dave, and here are the things I hope that you’ve looked at understand better and influence.” They’ve been very mature about it. They know that I’m not going to be able to solve something by the Tuesday after Labor Day.

We’re probably going to understand the steps and walk toward the goals in incremental progress as we go. And it’s a partnership. They all want Lumen to succeed just like we want them to succeed. That strength, that foundation and relationship has been really remarkable for me to touch and understand and get to know. I look very much forward to looking with this group of thought leaders.

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email James Anderson or connect with him on LinkedIn.

 

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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