Viavi Solutions board chairman Rick Belluzzo: Hardheaded and softhearted


Viavi Solutions board chairman Rick Belluzzo: Hardheaded and softhearted

Like many business executives, Viavi Solutions board chairman Rick Belluzzo relishes big opportunities, such as the chance to contribute to the creation of a new generation of Hewlett-Packard laser printers or the Microsoft XBOX gaming system.

“I like to see companies be built and create things that change people’s lives. That’s pretty exciting,” said Belluzzo, 62, who grew up in Santa Rosa and returned to live here in 2011.

But the alumnus of Montgomery High School and Santa Rosa Junior College says leadership means more than focusing on performance. It also involves striving to do right by people.

His business philosophy is summed up as “Hardheaded & Softhearted,” which also is the title of a 2013 book he wrote with executive coach and speaker Krish Dhanam. The phrase comes from HP co-founder Dave Packard, who Belluzzo once heard say, “To be a successful leader, you need to be hardheaded and softhearted.”

Belluzzo recently ended six months as the interim CEO of Viavi, a Milpitas-based company with $232 million in revenues last quarter. He stepped in last August after Viavi announced the departure of CEO Tom Waechter, who had been with the company since 2007.

Viavi, formerly known as JDS Uniphase, employs about 475 workers in Santa Rosa as part of its Optical Security and Performance division. Among the local products are color-shifting pigments used on the currency of more than 100 countries to thwart counterfeiting.

For Belluzzo, the hardheaded part of leadership means seeing challenges clearly and showing determination to solve vexing problems. Being softhearted means treating people with respect.

A difficult lesson in these concepts came in 1989. Belluzzo was then a young HP division general manager overseeing production of the world’s first laser printer priced under $1,000.

Success relied on getting a really good price for the device’s print engine, which in turn required a commitment by Hewlett-Packard to Japan’s Canon Inc. to buy higher volumes of the component than was justified by the marketing forecasts.

Belluzzo made the commitment. The printer went to market, but sales stayed in line with forecasts and HP was soon trying to cope with an inventory buildup of more than 350,000 units. The only solution was for Belluzzo to go to Canon and plead to reduce output.

In Japan, difficult negotiations produced a new agreement with reduced output in return for a slightly higher price for the print engines.

The Canon officials then sought one more thing, namely for Belluzzo to go to the affected factory and personally apologize for the financial pain he was about to bring on its workers by the slowdown. He agreed.

“I had to be accountable for that,” he recalled. He wrote that the experience was “sobering and humbling” and caused him to see “how my decision impacted a company, a community and many lives.”

In the end, he said, the printer project was a “grand success,” work increased at the factory and HP’s relationship with Canon was preserved.

While having worked for two of America’s top tech companies, Belluzzo counts as modest both his beginnings in Santa Rosa and his achievements as a public school student.

He was the son of an Italian immigrant who first came to the U.S. as a prisoner of war in 1944. His father, Joseph Belluzzo, a machinist, is credited with popularizing soccer in Sonoma County and with forming the Santa Rosa Youth Soccer League in the late 1960s. Joseph Belluzzo died in 2009, but his portrait can be seen today on the exterior of The Press Democrat’s downtown Santa Rosa building, selected as one of 50 most influential people in the county because of his efforts to promote the game he loved.

The son admits he wasn’t much of a student at Montgomery High, so much so that a guidance counselor once suggested that he next pursue trade school rather than college.

But in the summer after graduation, he began to make changes, including getting a job and losing 50 pounds. At the junior college, he became a straight-A student.

“Santa Rosa JC was just a gift for me,” he said. His experience showed that late bloomers still can succeed and “you can transform yourself.”

He graduated from Golden Gate University in San Francisco and began working at Hewlett-Packard in 1975 as a financial analyst. He left the company nearly 23 years later in 1998 as an executive vice president. The Wall Street Journal said his rise through the ranks earned him the nickname “Rocket Rick.”

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Posted on 21 Mar 2016