Mike Hatfield, Cerent’s first leader after the Fiberlane splinter, and Terry Brown, hired by Mike as vice-president sales, marketing and customer service, in early 1998, knew this. Both men had worked with Eric Clelland in the Bell System (at Ameritech), and recognized that they needed a top salesman, a go-getter, to secure those initial orders.
“I give Terry credit,” Eric told me in May 2013. “The word ‘results’ was high on his list of most frequently used words. In sales, it’s all about results.”
Eric set to work and he immediately added to an earlier “order” Terry had won with Vernon Telephone, securing a three-node addition by neighboring operator Coon Valley Farmers Telephone. Eric had convinced both companies that such a joint system expansion would allow the two companies to complete an overall six-node survivable ring configuration. These rural telco operators were sold on the idea. Both Vernon and Coon Valley soon came to deliver traffic more reliably to nearby points-of-presence with AT&T, Century Telephone, and Frontier Communications.
Focus with Likability is A Formula for Success
Sometimes, a customer liking you for who you are is another way to secure business for the company you represent. Gary Kosin, Director of Engineering at Minnesota Equal Access Networks (MEANS) gave Eric an early break.
Eric recalls, “A lot of those state-wide networks existed for Equal Access (EA). The independent telcos built a centralized tandem, a class 4 office, with EA on it . An unexpected result was the backbone they built, their network bread and butter, became the value, not the digital switch.” MEANS built a state backbone across Minnesota and many others fashioned variants of such optical transport infrastructures during the 1990s.
The relatively small rural telcos leveraged this large growth opportunity by building highways of optical fiber transport systems to carry traffic for the large carriers across America. Eric adds, “If you weave all the moving telecom parts together, as the emergence of Sprint and MCI came about, MCI could buy bandwidth from these guys, for example, and not have to deal with AT&T’s kung-fu grip. Consequently, the Independent Telcos were getting wholesale business. This is what got them weighted more towards transport over switching, and here we come along.”
Distance Learning Applications Added to the Allure of Building Optical Networks
During the 1990s, Distance Learning commanded a lot of attention, especially with regard to the schooling of rural America’s youth. Politicians seemed to be falling over each other in their bids to secure funds for their constituencies to build high-speed networks to carry the high-bandwidth connections required to carry both Internet traffic and video links in support of classroom connectivity.
Eric embraced this trend fully, “Cerent was fortunate to come at a time when distance learning started breaking OC-12 systems sized for network growth that didn’t include the bandwidth spike that came from distance learning.”
The 1990s demanded a rapid increase in rural bandwidth driven first, by the desire of the small telcos to support a growing number of long distance carriers, and second by the opportunity to secure “easy” capital to add network capacity in support of Distance Learning. Eric chuckles, “Distance learning was all about free money and adding DS3s for video, which was an unnatural impulse onto the network.”
He adds, “College classes, for example, were brought to rural Wisconsin . The high schools ordered up a DS3 connection using federal funds. And so, those existing OC-12 systems that the telcos had installed got broken up like that.” Eric snapped his fingers for emphasis.
Overnight, the telcos needed to replace their OC-12 systems with, at least, OC-48 systems. Cerent fit the bill perfectly. The company’s pricing was such that its Cerent 454, when configured as an OC-48 with DS3s, was no more than the price of a Nortel or Fujitsu OC-12 equivalent. Eric and the sales people he subsequently hired, jumped on this opportunity, “And the tagline that came about, driven by customers feedback was, ‘Wow, I got an OC-48 for the price of the OC-12.’ They could take their existing Nortel solution, subtend it to the new Cerent box and have the remaining 36 DS3s (and they thought in those terms) for free.”
That competitive failure, on the part of Nortel, led to Eric’s independent telephone sales team securing its first $1 million-plus order, providing an anchor customer for the second major release of the Cerent 454, and to the delight of Triangle Telephone, using an OC-48 backbone instead of the punier Nortel OC-12 version.
Thank you, Eric and his band of early sales professionals at Cerent – Doug Juers, Jeff Parow, David Brooks, Brad Gholson, and Ken Carter.
 A class 4 telephone switch, also called a tandem switch, was used by American telephone companies as an electronic gateway to link their local exchanges into the long distance network. Unlike the class 5 telephone switch, which connects directly to land lines, the class 4 switch was used to route calls that originate beyond the geographical area of the local class 5 switch. In many cases, a land line call may be routed through one or more class 4 telephone switches to set up the wired connection, referred to as a “trunk.” Over time, class 4 telephone switches evolved to accommodate only high-speed digital interfaces such as T1, T3, OC-3 and higher circuit connections. The Cerent 454, with its flexible service interfaces, could easily handle all of these interfaces and became a very popular transporter of trunk circuits between tandem switches. Lucent’s 4ESS and Nortel Network’s DMS-200/250 dominated the U.S. market for class 4 switch deployment.
 Vernon Telephone brought distance learning, in addition to its voice and recently added Internet service, to the Coulee region of Wisconsin.
 Eric did a stint in Texas learning the ropes at DSC. He tells me, “I moved to Dallas along with Mike for my first two years. Both of us were Sales Engineers traveling the globe as peers . . . I moved back to Detroit as a new sales guy and to marry my bride.”