Al Baker manages enterprise solutions
at Siemens Communications
He’s been a vital contributor to establishing
the company as a global force in CRM, VoIP and unified communications
Al Baker, based in San Jose, CA, has been VP of
global and U.S. product management and marketing
for Siemens Communications, Inc (Munich, Germany)
for the past seven years.
Baker is a long-time player in the enterprise telecom
and applications industry. His product management responsibilities include three daily challenges: anticipate the direction of the market, keep up with technological advances, and outpace competitors.
Siemens Communications is a vendor of open communications solutions for companies of all sizes. Baker has been a vital factor in establishing the company as a global force in Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP), unified communications, enterprise mobility and contact-center industries.
Baker’s product teams have defined, built and brought to market enterprise communication solutions for many large companies. He notes that VoIP is a major technology advance for businesses today. In the past four years the technology has picked up “significant speed,” he says, to the point where some analysts think that in the near future more than half of all new, large-company phone systems will be VoIP.
“Those technology trends are guiding our product development. We’re in the right place at the right time with that technology,” Baker says. He adds that other electronic tools like presence, collaboration, video and instant messaging are becoming more important to large businesses, so his team concentrates on putting a variety of useful tools in the portfolios they suggest.
Baker isn’t in charge of engineering; he’s in charge of the product management group that guides engineering. Earlier in his career he lived in Toronto, ON, Canada and led an international team of about fifty product managers who covered all aspects of product lifecycle development. Now, five directors report to him. “We’re always building solutions eighteen months out,” he says.
He starts each workday early so he can reach Siemens engineers in Germany, the
United Kingdom and other European locations. And he deals with major customer concerns
as they arise.
“Even when it’s bad, it can be good,” is Baker’s motto. “What looks like a disaster,” he explains, “can be an opportunity to shine and show the best work the team can do!”
He also keeps a close eye on competitors, noting any new strategies they may be bringing in, and keeping up with technological advances in general.
As a manager, Baker enjoys bringing together “the best and brightest” and helping them hone their skills to the highest potential. When he builds new teams, he tells people he’s not looking at their IQ level, but at their ability to collaborate. It all goes back to working well in a worldwide marketplace, he says.
“I tell people, ‘I don’t want to see your MBA or EE; show me your report card from kindergarten. Did you play well with others and share your toys?’ Because in any big corporation today, bringing large solutions to the marketplace basically requires intensive and continuous collaboration.”
Hired on Friday
Baker smiles when he recalls how he first came to Siemens in 1994. “I wish I could say it was well thought out. This was before the Internet, and I just faxed my resume and a cover letter based on an ad in the newspaper.
“The letter was literally ‘To whom it may concern.’ I faxed it in on a Wednesday and by the next Friday I was hired!”
“Maybe Dad can help me”
Baker grew up on the south side of Chicago. He chose engineering for his career after his dad went to night school and became an electrician. “I thought, ‘He’s an electrician, maybe he can help me.’ That’s how deeply I thought about it,” Baker says with a laugh.
He pulled C’s in his first EE classes but aced IE, and that helped him decide to combine studies in business with his engineering classes. In 1981 he got a BSEE with a minor in IE from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL).
He moved to the West Coast’s Silicon Valley to work for Texas Instruments (Santa Clara, CA) in product marketing and as a field engineer. Then he went back to school for an MBA from Stanford’s graduate school of business (Palo Alto, CA), which he finished in 1985.
Learning and doing
He spent a year as an associate consultant at Touche Ross & Co (San Francisco, CA), where he developed a five-year business and financial model for startups in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It was literally learning to swim in the deep end. I was always learning and doing at the same time,” Baker says.
In 1986 he became a sales and service manager in communication products and services for AT&T in San Francisco. He was responsible for sales reps who closed millions in new PBX business and legacy PBX replacements. He stayed with AT&T until he joined Siemens in 1994.
Moving up at Siemens
Siemens brought Baker in as manager of strategic planning and competitive analysis. His second job was director of product management and marketing, which made him the senior director over computer telephony integration and call center product management. The corporation’s call center product sales in the U.S. reached $100 million under his direction.
From 2001 to 2006 Baker was VP of product management and marketing, based in Toronto. He was responsible for setting the portfolio roadmap, defining strategy and technology direction of the CRM and contact center solutions. Then he took on the role of U.S. VP for Siemens’ enterprise unified communication portfolio.
The Internet, Baker says, was the technology that brought about the rapid change in Siemens’ portfolio. “If you look at the world, it’s flat today. It was Internet technology that flattened the world. The solutions we’re building today all reside in an Internet framework.”
Wonderful with diversity
Siemens is a wonderful company when it comes to promoting diversity, Baker reflects. “After a few years of working here my son wondered about my working for a German company. So we talked about Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics in Germany.
“What happened at the 1936 Olympics? Jesse Owens won four gold medals and put America’s black athletes on the world map!” Baker says.
He wishes more African Americans would apply to work at Siemens. “For me, it’s been a very positive experience. But Siemens isn’t as well-known in the U.S. as it is in Europe, so we don’t get a large number of African American applicants. They think of IBM or Microsoft and they don’t think of Siemens.
“But they should!” Baker declares. “Put yourself around others who are striving and moving,
as we are at Siemens. If you have it in you to be good, it’s easier to do at a fast-paced company with co-workers who are also driven. The most important thing is to dream, set goals and work hard.”
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