Passing the Baton: Orchestrating a Well-Received CEO Transition for Juniper Networks

With little time to spare and no room for error, Sterling coordinated with Juniper’s HR, investor relations and corporate communications teams to create messaging, FAQs, press releases, internal communications, and a video interview to smooth the transition.

The Challenge

Juniper_Networks_logo_croppedJuniper Networks’ founding CEO, Scott Kriens, wanted to hand the operating reins to his successor in a manner that would be viewed as a positive move for the company by all key Juniper stakeholders: the executive team, Juniper’s 6,000+ employees, service provider and enterprise customers, channel partners and both institutional and individual investors.

While Silicon Valley CEOs come and go at a brisk pace, Mr. Kriens had been the CEO at Juniper for almost 12 years, guiding it from a small venture-funded upstart into a well-respected $3B publicly held networking leader. As a result, thousands of people – both inside the company and out – had come to view Mr. Kriens as a permanent fixture at Juniper, just as Larry Ellison is seen as a permanent fixture at Oracle.

Mr. Kriens’ successor, Kevin Johnson, hailed not from within Juniper, nor even from within the telecom industry, but rather from Microsoft. In an industry that is generally somewhat suspicious of “outsiders,” it was clear that this transition would have to be orchestrated very well, both internally and externally…and it all had to be accomplished in three working days.

The reason for the exceedingly tight time frame was that Microsoft was holding its Analyst Day the day prior to Juniper’s quarterly earnings call. The operating plan called for Juniper to make the announcement of Kevin’s appointment public on the earnings call, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decided that Analyst Day was the right time to announce Kevin’s departure from Microsoft. As Juniper still wanted to share the news on its quarterly earnings call, a compromise between the parties was reached. Microsoft would announce Kevin’s departure from Microsoft, but would not pre-announce his appointment as the new CEO of Juniper Networks.

The Approach

Sterling worked in a coordinated side-by-side fashion with internal communications, investor relations and corporate communications team members at Juniper to fashion an integrated communications plan around this news. The combined team created transition messaging, FAQs, press releases, internal communications from Scott Kriens and a short video of a joint Kevin Johnson/Scott Kriens fireside chat that went on the company’s website as soon as the release went over the wire.

Understanding that the media speculation would start as soon as Microsoft made its announcement, Sterling worked with the corporate communications team to ensure that all incoming media calls were logged and returned with the message that while Juniper doesn’t comment on rumors or speculation, we would be delighted to speak with them about the quarterly results the following day. We blocked several hours after Juniper’s earnings call for Scott Kriens and CFO Robyn Denholm to speak with key investors and top-tier business media in 15-minute increments. Knowing that this would also be important to journalists in other geographic areas, we also scheduled calls between Scott Kriens and APAC and EMEA media for later that evening and early the following morning.

The morning of Juniper’s announcement, Scott Kriens briefed the entire leadership team about the news and shared the relevant FAQ documents with them. The news was disseminated to all Juniper employees immediately prior to the earnings call, and the intranet content was updated to include FAQ information about the transition, background information on Kevin and a place for employees to ask any questions they might still have. Juniper leaders also reached out to key customers and partners through a variety of mediums about the news as soon as the stock market closed.

The Results

As a result of this well-orchestrated effort, the initial response from both internal and external constituencies was exceptionally positive. According to the Cision report, Juniper was visible in 205 corporate stories in July, which resulted in 297 million opportunities to see the Juniper brand (both statistics represent all-time highs for Juniper).

The company was portrayed positively in 121 of those articles, which yielded 188 million opportunities-to-see the Juniper brand portrayed positively. News of Juniper’s Q2 earnings and the appointment of Kevin Johnson as the company’s new CEO were the primary factors driving the exponential increase in media coverage. In fact, those two topics represented 86 percent of Juniper’s positive corporate coverage.

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