Try to be data driven but also trust your gut feelings. However, hold your opinions lightly. I guarantee at some point you will be wrong. This industry is evolving rapidly. Don’t get hung up on your ideas, support the best ideas and then excel at bringing them to fruition.
5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?
In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing George Mulhern, CEO at Cradlepoint.
George has more than 25 years of business-to-business technology expertise, including 20 years at Hewlett Packard. He has particularly deep experience in growth strategies for hardware, software, and service businesses within the SMB and enterprise markets. He successfully led businesses with sites located in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I attended college on a tennis scholarship and had originally planned to make my living as a professional tennis player. After a short stint on the satellite tour, I realized that was not a likely path. From there I went into a sales role for General Electric and then later signed on with Hewlett Packard as a marketing engineer. At that time everyone in HP was an engineer. To this day, I still don’t know what a marketing engineer is, but it turned out to be great move and I loved my time at HP. I worked my way up through the ranks and with some luck and perseverance wound up a senior vice president and global business unit manager for HP running a 5B dollars business unit. I left HP in late 2006 and became a general partner in a regional venture capital firm and that is how I was introduced to Cradlepoint. Cradlepoint was a venture-backed start-up that hit some hard times and decided to do a CEO change. I took the job and am forever grateful that I did.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting things have happened to me outside of my career, but that is a different interview. I feel very fortunate that my career has given me the opportunity to meet of interesting people and visit interesting places around the world. One experience, that still feels a bit surreal was during a visit to Beijing, China about 20 years ago. After a day of business meetings, a colleague and I decided on a whim to see if we could catch a taxi out to the Great Wall. It was dusk when we got there and there were a handful of vendors on the side street, but very few people. It turned out that we were the only two people on the Wall as far as the eye could see in either direction. It was both awe inspiring and somewhat eerie so see it that way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Well, I don’t have just “one.” I have a few that I go to all the time, but I will just share two. The first is from a childhood idol, Arthur Ashe, a US Open Tennis Champion. A reporter asked him, ‘what does it take to become a champion? He responded “start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”. Whenever I have been in a tough spot or am not sure what to do, either professionally or personally, I refer back to this quote. It has always provided a sense of encouragement to just take that first step, to get started, once you do, the second step becomes more clear. I don’t know who to attribute the second quote to, but it is deeply embedded in the Cradlepoint values. “Stay humble and hungry, or you will be”. Without a sense of humility, a person can’t learn, and in our industry the world changes every day. The hungry part is the fact that in the tech industry, you have never “made it”. You have to keep striving every day to get better and to better serve your customers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people that have helped along the way, starting with my mother and father who have both passed, but were exemplary examples of the Greatest Generation. They taught me about integrity, respect, generosity, and work ethic. From my work experience, there is one person that I believe really put me on a positive trajectory. He was the manager that first hired me at Hewlett Packard. I had been working in a consumer products division of General Electric at the time that was very hierarchical in its management style. My first day on the job at HP, my manager said, “I would like you to build a new distribution channel for this product line.” I had no experience with HP and no technology experience at the time. I said, “how do you propose I do that.” He said, “I have no idea, that’s your job, but let me know if and when I can help.” I felt accountable, trusted, supported, and valued. Coming from where I had previously worked it was liberating, exciting and of course a little terrifying, because I had no idea how to do it either. But I figured it out and that experience has shaped how I work with others ever since.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
First, a desire and willingness to hire people smarter than me, more experienced than me, and with a different point of view than mine. Second, a reasonably good ability to get a high- powered team of individuals to align on a common purpose and work together. Third, I have always been pretty good at spotting potential areas of opportunity. I have been right a little more often than I have been wrong.
To see an example of this just take a look at the Cradlepoint leadership page on our website. These are some of the most accomplished and experienced leaders in the industry. They, along with the teams they have built are truly the ones that transformed Cradlepoint from a bankrupted small start-up to a global leader in our markets and a Unicorn valuation. It has truly been an honor and a privilege to work with them and all the Cradlepoint employees.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?
If you think about many of the world events over the last several years that have given us great joy or despair, Cradlepoint was there helping people celebrate, partake, recover, survive, connect, and get their lives back on track. Whether a hurricane, flood, pandemic, refugee crisis, marathon, parade, or inauguration, Cradlepoint cellular router solutions have played a role. Our solutions have provided rapid response and support for real time networking needs.
Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?
First of all, 5G is different than any “G” that has preceded it. It’s faster, smarter, more economical, more secure, and more extensible. It enables communication service providers to fully leverage their many infrastructure investments and drive new revenue streams. Most importantly, 5G means business. Whereas 4G gave rise to the consumer app economy — think; Uber and DoorDash, 5G will specifically enable businesses to leverage wireless technology to help transform the way their business operates, drives revenue, and serves customers.
Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.
Imagine visiting your favorite retailer at the next event you attend, and the pop-up experience is just like you’re in a brick-and-mortar store. Imagine the ability to recover from a major procedure at home versus a hospital bed or get a critical doctor video consult from wherever, whenever. Or the bodycam video from a police incident in your neighborhood is immediately uploaded to the cloud and on display to citizens. These are just a fraction of the experiences and capabilities that 5G enables businesses and public sector organizations to deliver.
One of my favorite examples of the potential of cellular networking was with a small village in Sierra Leone. They had no running water and no electricity but given their location they had 4 bars of LTE coverage. HP donated some laptops, Cradlepoint donated some cellular routers and with a GA-powered generator, they were able to access the Web and a global market for the products they had previously only been able to sell locally. Talk about closing the digital divide!
Can you see any potential drawbacks about this 5G technology that people should think more deeply about?
As you might expect, I see much more opportunity than any drawbacks from the technology, itself. The only drawback may be in meeting the heightened expectations for what the technology/networks can deliver in the short term. The 5G networks are just being built out, so performance will vary depending upon location and access for the next 6 to 12 months. Like a lot of technology transitions the move to 5G is going feel like it is taking a long time and that it happened overnight — both. That said the 5G transition is one of, if not the, fastest technology transitions ever.
Some have raised the question that 5G might widen the digital divide and leave poor people or marginalized people behind. From your perspective, what can be done to address and correct this concern?
The global pandemic has really brought this issue to the fore. I believe that LTE and 5G technology can play a role in helping to bridge this divide. For example, Murray City Utah School District has deployed a private cellular network to connect students at home for remote learning. If you think about it, connecting the under-served and disconnected will more likely happen via cellular than wireline technology.
Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the wireless/technology industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- As a starting point, you have to have a strong interest in the technology and passion for how it can positively impact the lives of your customers. That moves it out of the “just a job” category and into something that causes you to get out of bed in morning eager to make a difference. At Cradlepoint, we want to “untether” the enterprise to enable them to be more innovative with opportunities to create new value for their customers.
- Think about and decide what “highly successful” means to you. At Cradlepoint, it takes every employee performing their role for us to be successful, whether individual contributor or senior manager. No one job is more important than another. Highly successful for some, is doing a great job at work to enable them to have a full and more meaningful life outside of work. Others want to move up into higher levels of responsibility and leadership roles. I always caution folks that as you move up, you do sacrifice some level of work/life balance. There is no way around it. The higher you go, the more people you have depending on your availability for support and decisions that need to be made.
- Try to be data driven but also trust your gut feelings. However, hold your opinions lightly. I guarantee at some point you will be wrong. This industry is evolving rapidly. Don’t get hung up on your ideas, support the best ideas and then excel at bringing them to fruition.
- Get comfortable with change. Change management is probably the only skill you will acquire that will last your entire career. If done right, it should be a constant serious of small changes vs. large change efforts. Major change initiatives are often a result of not being closely enough aligned with your customers and their changing requirements. In my experience it is the companies that learn faster and execute better that win.
- Be an amplifier. In the old days, some people thought that “holding information” gave them organizational power. The opposite is true. Share information broadly, look for ways to lift the performance of those around you, make the team better because you are on it. In my experience those are the folks that get promoted.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.