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When asked what Gary Smith expects of his staff he replies: Tenacity. Honesty. Drive. And one more thing: Humanity.

“I always look for collaborative people, people who are willing to listen to opinions that are different from their own,” he said. “Part of my job is to provide a platform, so people are comfortable speaking up if they have a different point of view.”

Smith has led the networking systems, services and software company since 2001, which coincided with the global telecommunications industry downturn. He stuck to the company’s “people first, best-of-breed technology” to transform Ciena from a niche business to a diversified global industry leader, headquartered in Hanover.

Smith was appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s National Security Telecommunication Advisory Committee in 2011 and remains a member.

Smith was raised in the industrial city of Birmingham, England where his parents were factory workers. At 16, he moved to London and worked as a photographer and bartender before taking a job selling telephone systems. Later, he earned an MBA from Ashridge Management College in the UK and worked at INTELSAT and Cray Communications. He served on the board of directors of CommVault and Avaya.

Going forward, he wants the company to avoid complacency.

“We have great perseverance, and we very much have a ‘challenge and disrupt’ mentality,” he says. “That’s what will allow us to grow the business the right way for all stakeholders.”