Meet the CEO: Richard McBee, CEO of Mitel

December 16, 2016: Rich McBee. Photo by Dave Chan.

Richard McBee is the CEO of telecommunications business Mitel. The company serves over 70 million consumers based in over 100 countries, and powers more than two billion business connections on its cloud and next-gen applications. In this interview, McBee discusses his journey to Mitel and how he envisions driving change for the business.

Can you tell me about yourself and your business background? 

I’ve been in the communications industry for more than 25 years. I started out at Tektronix where I spent 15 years learning about the industry and different business functions before taking on a range of leadership positions at the company. After Tektronix’s acquisition by Danaher Corporation, I served as president of Danaher’s communications and enterprise group before joining Mitel as CEO in 2011.

During my time at Mitel, the business communications industry has seen incredible change, from the ubiquity of smartphones and apps to the emergence of AI in our daily lives. Mitel has also seen incredible growth in those years, and we’ve more than doubled our revenues and have become a global leader in the business communications market.

What’s your journey to becoming CEO of Mitel?

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a CEO. Of course, when I was young, I didn’t know exactly what that entailed, but I knew it was the position responsible for driving the company.

I was also fascinated by the stock market response to the CEO’s actions. Throughout my school years and career, I looked for opportunities that would help me reach this goal.

Although it feels like I’ve known what I wanted to be forever, having good mentors was instrumental in getting there. Whenever I told people what I wanted to do, they were very helpful in recommending what type of experience I needed to gain. I wouldn’t be in the position I am today without their advice.

Explaining that CEOs need a broad skill set, they encouraged me to gain experience in sales and product marketing, which are the primary training grounds for many CEOs. I began my career in product marketing with that in mind and then went from there to sales, back to marketing, and later back to sales as I moved up the career ladder – at each stage drawing on the experiences of my mentors to build perspective.

When the opportunity came along to join Mitel as CEO, a few of my mentors thought I was ready, so I decided to make the leap. Their ongoing counsel and guidance over the years really led me to carefully evaluate decisions and ultimately gave me the confidence in my own readiness to accept and do the job.


How has the business transformed in the last 5 years, and what’s in store for the next 5?

This is an incredibly exciting time for the business communications market. The speed of change that we’re living through is phenomenal, plus today’s consumers have increasingly high expectations for the companies they do business with.

It’s pushing both Mitel and our customers to evolve. I think the most notable transformation I’ve seen has been the around the accelerated adoption of cloud technologies. And as we look forward, I think cloud adoption will continue to increase. Mitel is focused on helping customers get there with the cloud option of their choice – whether that’s public, hybrid or private.

Our mission continues to be to make communications and collaboration seamless. We believe that starts with ensuring our customers can choose a path to the cloud that’s right for their business.

How do you see yourself driving the change?

Being a champion for change is a core part of being a CEO. It’s my job to drive growth and performance for Mitel. That doesn’t happen if you stand still, so I’m always fine-tuning our strategy, looking for ways to stretch the organisation so we can improve, and working with our teams to foster innovation.

It goes back to the speed at which technology is changing the way we do business. In today’s world, you must set a strong directional path, but constantly be adapting.

Our decision to take the company private last year is a good example of that. Going private has given our team more flexibility to focus on strategically executing in ways that drive the greatest business value in the least amount of time, without having to report it all every 90 days.

Public companies aren’t always optimised for speed but as a private company, we’re able to focus our attention on moving the needle with our key KPIs and, more importantly, our customers and partners. 

What’s the most rewarding part of being a CEO?

To me there are two parts: the first is creating a vision and seeing our employees make it a reality, where they stretch beyond what they thought was possible, while developing their skills and abilities on the journey.

The second is enabling customers, who have put their trust in our business, to meet their goals. It’s especially rewarding to have a customer tell us what they need and be able to delight them with our products and solutions.

If you could give advice to another CEO, what would it be?

A company is only going to be as good as the people in it. An empowered workforce can achieve great things. Many of our most successful programmes are employee initiatives, where the employee told us they wanted to explore something, and we gave them the freedom to try out their idea.

To be a successful CEO, you need to enable your people to try new things, iterate, try again and see if they can make something happen. 

What’s an accomplishment that has shaped your career?

What’s really shaped my career are the things that didn’t go right or the way I planned them. I consider it an accomplishment anytime I’ve been able to quickly get back up, dust myself off, and get back to running, having learned something from the experience.

No-one is going to get everything right, there are too many variables, but your diagnoses of why it didn’t go right, gives you insight into what variables to look at next time, always building a smarter decision tree. I guess that’s why they say experience counts.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

One of the most critical insights I gathered from my mentors is the importance of taking the time to learn from the people you encounter, regardless of their role.

Every perspective offers something valuable and every person has a story to tell. I like the saying that it’s not the journey, but the people you meet along the way that really counts.

Name a book that’s influenced you.

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. 

Name a company that you wish you founded & why.

Apple. They had their share of ups and downs and lessons learned. Ultimately, though, they created a transformational platform vs just a product.

With a product, you talk about its features. With a platform, you develop an ecosystem and the ecosystem can be boundless; it helps you grow in ways no single company can conceive.