Lumen CEO Kate Johnson is drawing on her experience at Microsoft to turn around a $20 billion business

March 22, 2023, 11:26 AM UTC
Lumen CEO Kate Johnson on green background.
Lumen CEO Kate Johnson.
Courtesy of Lumen

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Foot Locker CEO Mary Dillon has big goals, South Korea is in a “gender war,” and Lumen’s new CEO starts to execute a turnaround job. Happy Wednesday!

– Slow turn. In November, Kate Johnson became the CEO of Lumen Technologies, an enterprise telecom and networking company. The $19.6 billion-in-revenue business is ranked No. 179 on the Fortune 500, placing Johnson among the 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs who are women.

Johnson came to Lumen after four years at Microsoft, where she served as president of Microsoft U.S. With a $45 billion P&L at Microsoft, Johnson’s financial remit is actually smaller as a Fortune 500 CEO, but she’s now the one in charge of the transformation of a legacy enterprise tech company.

“It’s a telecom company that’s moving into the digital era and needs to be transformed,” Johnson said of Lumen, formerly known as CenturyLink, in one of her first interviews since becoming CEO. Its core offering is network services and connectivity alongside cloud services.

Lumen CEO Kate Johnson on green background.
Lumen CEO Kate Johnson.
Courtesy of Lumen

Lumen has mainly grown its business through mergers and acquisitions, including the $34 billion acquisition of Level 3 Communications in 2016. Johnson’s task now is to simplify the organization; her other two priorities are encouraging innovation and focusing on the customer.

“We’ll be working to do better in less ways—picking and choosing where to focus, instead of trying to do everything for everyone,” the Denver-based CEO says.

Johnson calls 2023 a “reset year” for the business. Her experiences at Microsoft and in senior and executive vice president roles at Oracle and GE are informing how she approaches the turnaround job. Seeing Microsoft pivot from selling legacy license-based products to becoming a player in cloud-based sales “was an incredible experience for learning how to change a company,” she says, from overhauling a product portfolio to adjusting go-to-market strategies to redefining customer relationships.

Still, with a full transformation at least a few years away, Johnson has a nearer-term job in front of her: “You have to run the company while you change the company,” she says.

Emma Hinchliffe

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