Michael Hatfield admits to being a little disappointed when an
internship between his junior and senior years at Rose-Hulman
landed him in the communications area of aviation giant McDonnell
Douglas. To him, working directly with the company's fighter jets
seemed much more exciting than dealing with communications
Fast-forward about three decades. Today, Hatfield is an
incredibly successful technology entrepreneur with a particular
specialization in . . . you guessed it, communications
Hatfield, who earned his undergraduate degree in electrical
engineering and mathematical economics, is president and CEO of
Cyan Inc., his third successful communications systems startup.
Before that, he was founder and CEO of Calix Inc., maker of
high-speed access systems for communications service providers.
That was the follow-up to Cerent Corp., the provider of high-speed
fiber-optics systems acquired by Cisco Systems in 1999 for about $7
So, the real thrill for Hatfield was not working on fighter jets
after all, but rather building new companies and helping them take
flight. He knew all along he wanted to be involved in launching
businesses, probably tech-based companies.
"Change" is quite the understatement. Not only was the telecom
business changing, but the networks were evolving from local and
long-distance voice communications to wireless voice connections
and data links, and fiber optics. Hatfield handled the changes
well, working at "Baby Bell" Ameritech, DSC Communications, and
Advanced Fibre Communications before becoming more
Hatfield's startups reflect the industry's non-stop changes,
focusing on different parts of the internet. Cerent addressed the
need to move huge volumes of data and voice traffic through the
core of the internet. Calix focused on technology for what's known
as the "last mile" of the connection, from a communication
provider's central office to the customer's home. Cyan fills in the
middle ground between the internet's core and the last mile.
What's tricky about change is identifying the next great place
"If you only react to what is, you're going to be too late," he
says, calling on a football analogy: The quarterback must throw not
to where the receiver is, but where he will be.
Hatfield's not quite ready to go public with where that receiver
will be next, when it comes to internet and communications
technology, but it's clear the future is red hot.
"There were a lot of people who thought the internet was going
to be like the CB radio of the '90s," he recalls.
Those naysayers were incredibly off the mark.