Ciena’s OTN Speedwagon wins the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands

October 27, 2013

Company: Ciena.

Location: Hanover.

Employees: 600 locally; 4,700 worldwide.

Seven years ago, Chuck Kaplan was listening to a mediocre band that his employer, Ciena, had hired to entertain the staff at its annual sales kickoff event.

Over a glass of wine, the long-time guitar player said to a colleague, “You know what? We’ve got to be able to do better than that.”

And so was born Ciena’s employee rock band, dubbed OTN Speedwagon. (Yes, that’s a nerdy mash-up of “optical transport networking,” a telecommunications protocol, and ’80s rock group REO Speedwagon.)

Kaplan said that from the start, Ciena executives supported the endeavor, and have paid for the band members—spread across 10 cities in three countries — to get together several times a year to practice. And this year, when the band became national finalists in the Fortune Battle of the Corporate Bands, the firm footed the bill for their travel and equipment expenses.

“The company did not bat an eye. We got so much rallying, all the way from the top,” Kaplan said.

With a set list that included everything from “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith to “Runaway Baby” by Bruno Mars, OTN Speedwagon took the title at the event held in September at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

“We were just ecstatic,” said Paul Bullock, another band member. “Walking in and playing in the room would have been enough.”

Kaplan and Bullock said OTN Speedwagon also played an important role in bringing employees together when Ciena acquired Nortel’s ethernet business. When the band played at a company event, employees could see their colleagues from both sides of the merger up on stage playing music together.

Since OTN Speedwagon formed, the company no longer hires outside musicians to play its annual sales kickoff event. Instead, Ciena provides their homegrown group with professional lighting and sound engineering.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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