Mary McDowell steers Mitel through uncharted waters

The Canadian company’s CEO hopes that Covid will lead to a permanent wave in favour of communications


Mary McDowell has seen a lot charting a career that has encompassed a long voyage at Compaq as it boomed then acquired Digital (and then was itself acquired by HP), the turbulence of post-iPhone Nokia, overseeing the sale of Polycom and more. It’s fair to say that she has seen nothing like 2020 though, as the pandemic tore down the rigging of business as usual.

Covid also brought business opportunities too, however, as stay-at-home businesses such as Amazon, Deliveroo and Peloton can attest. The sweet spot included communications as our physical world swiftly virtualised and possibly played into the hands of her latest stop, Canadian network veteran Mitel. The company’s MiVoice MX-ONE unified comms product line, for example, has become an “unsung hero”, she says, after “an early summer of uncertainty” that kicked in just under six months after she had taken the hot seat.

Mitel has grown through acquisitions and McDowell, having seen plenty of those, was brought in to make sense of disparate assets. “I came in to tie them all together,” she says over a transatlantic phone line late in 2020.

The road less taken

An obvious, crowd-pleasing tactic might have been to cloud-ify everything in the expectation that 2021 will definitively accelerate shifts away from on-premises ICT. But McDowell demurs, saying that there are “new accounts for on-prem every week … it’s not the buzzy thing in the headlines”. What happens next, she says with admirable honesty is that “nobody really knows”. Since we talked, things haven’t become a great deal clearer with the exception that we all long for a brighter, post-vaccination future.

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