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Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this column incorrectly described the function of the ATM Forum. The article has been corrected here.

Irfan Ali

Monday, November 1, 2004; Page E08

Position: President and chief executive, Lambda OpticalSystems, an optical network solutions provider in Reston.

Career highlights: President, CommWorks Corp.; vice president, marketing, 3Com; vice president, marketing, Newbridge Networks Inc.; assistant vice president, Newbridge Networks Inc.; senior manager, market development, Nortel; senior member, scientific staff, Bell Northern Research. Ali founded the ATM Forum, an industry group to promote asynchronous transfer mode technology.

Age: 41

Education: BS, electrical engineering, Osmania University, India; MS, electrical engineering, Southern Methodist University; MBA, Southern Methodist University.

Personal: Lives in Reston with sons Jaidan, 8, and Jibran, 6.

How did you get where you are?

I am an electrical engineer by training. From a very early point during my education, I've been attracted to the field of networking. When I finished graduate school, I joined Bell Northern Research. The exclusive focus of our efforts was designing, building and developing new technologies for the telecom market. But I wanted to have a broader focus beyond just engineering. So I moved into a broader role within Nortel, the parent company of Bell Northern Research. While the lab was building new products, the parent company would go out and seed the market, develop the market and prepare the market for new technologies. That was a very exciting part of my career where, among other things, I got to found the ATM Forum, which was actually one the first organizations of its kind. The forum defined a new model for the introduction of new technologies in the market.

Just about most of my career, I have focused on new technologies and the process of bringing new technologies to the market successfully. The reason I joined Newbridge Networks was to build a Frame Relay and ATM business. Both were brand-new technologies at that time. This is what excites me, what drives me and it's also something that's guided me throughout my career.

I was fortunate enough to be on the right side of the telecom boom. And the challenge then was to take a successful business that was growing at a very high rate and manage it effectively by focus, by effective definition of priorities and by rallying the entire organization around us. That was the good part. But I was unfortunate to also live through the collapse of the telecom industry. During that collapse, we had a set of different challenges to deal with, such as rationalizing the business, laying off a significant portion of the workforce and bringing the business back to cash break-even.

The most important skill to have is mental toughness. That's absolutely critical in the high-paced environment that we function in. You get hit a lot, but what you do after you get hit is important. There is a lot of distraction. How you deal with challenges requires mental toughness.

I'm motivated by the notion of making a difference. For any individual or group of people to achieve a lot, what they do can't just be a job. I approach everything I do as a calling. It's an opportunity to make a difference, an opportunity to leave a mark and have fun doing it. And this is what I try to communicate to the rest of the organization.

-- Judith Mbuya

© 2004 The Washington Post Company