By Corey Moss

Recently, on a bright morning in Washington D.C., history was made as the iconic device Polycom is most known for since their inception was donated to the Smithsonian National Museum of Amercian History.

1. Polycom’s iconic SoundStation 2. Polycom CEO Mary McDowell signs document with Polycom Co-Founder, Chief Evangelist and SounndStation inventor Jeff  Rodman (l) and Hal Wallace, Associate Curator, Electricity Collections (r) looking on.

A grand day for the company co-founded by Jeff Rodman and colleague Brian Hinman in 1990, with a singular vision of transforming a simple device – the speaker phone – into an indispensable business tool. The SoundStation was introduced to the market in 1992, and in 1998, through it’s acquisition of ViaVideo Communications, Inc., Polycom re-entered the video market with the introduction of the ViewStation.

Polycom Viewstation

And the rest, as they say, is history.

On the same day after witnessing history at the Smithsonian, I, along with several others, were invited to a roundtable discussion in Washington D.C. with Mary McDowell, who Mary McDowell bio.jpgcame to Polycom as its CEO in September 2016 after the acquisition by Siris Capital, where she was an executive partner. She brings a strong telecommunications industry background holding numerous executive roles at Nokia as Vice President and General Manager, Mobile Phones, Chief Development Officer and EVP & GM of their Enterprise Solutions. Her entire career, in fact, has been in the technology industry, where she began with Compaq Computer Corporation in 1986.

In short, a rich background in technology and product, leading to her talking at the roundtable about being the first product CEO at Polycom while others were sales oriented. The product along with the form factor and “go-to-enterprise” professional grade become parts of the big picture and in fact, she said that in her first Polycom meeting she couldn’t wait to dig in and get to the products discussion, her nuts-and-bolts, while all were focusing on other subjects. You immediately notice her energy when talking about the company, the products and solutions, as well as the future. Mary McDowell, after a little over a year, appears to be firmly at the helm of Polycom.

First, watch this video of Mary McDowell appearing on CNBC’s Squawk Box where she talks about the company’s switch in strategy along with the future of video conferences, as artificial intelligence enters the marketplace.

Knowing the direction

  • Looking at ‘competitors as partners’

Let’s face it, these days it’s a fact that strategic partnerships are a key to growth and success more than ever before, and soon the days of doing it all on your own will be gone, as will many of the companies that continue to subscribe to this way of doing business. This discussion would of course include strategic acquisition, however the focus here is on partnering.

Polycom however has broadened the discussion by partnering with those who could very well be considered competitors in the UC&C market. Microsoft has of course been the strongest and most visible of these partnerships for the company, truly transforming collaboration as Polycom provides direct integration with more than 40 voice, video, and content solutions that integrate with Skype for Business, SharePoint, Exchange and Office 365.

Zoom however could well be looked at as the most interesting partnership of all. In May of this year, Polycom and Zoom announced a partnership to, as specified, bring the power of video collaboration to more businesses worldwide. This from the article:

“Strong partnerships and open standards have always been the foundation of the value we bring to our customers,” said Mary McDowell, CEO of Polycom. “For 26 years, Polycom has served as a leader in business communication, providing our customers with legendary audio and video quality. Our partnership with Zoom allows us to extend those capabilities to a greater customer base and ensures our mutual customers have a great, flexible video experience.”

We talked about Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan at the table, and how it’s his mission to first and foremost bring happiness to all of Zoom’s users. Mary smiles when talking about Eric, and I talked about my relationship with Eric and Zoom as well, discussing the true strength and notoriety of this partnership for Polycom and the cloud videoconferencing company named a Leader in the Gartner 2017 Meeting Solutions Magic Quadrant – to go along with Microsoft.

Blue Jeans is the most recent, and another interest for Polycom end users. With Blue Jeans, Polycom has broadened the cloud videoconferencing play where it’s called Video-as-a-Service + Polycom, a strategic move for a company doing end-points the right way.

(More on another company in the “competitor” discussion in Part 2).

  • All about the brand

When you talk about the brand, for the most part it’s a no-nonsense conversation, in fact it has to be. Seated at the table listening to Mary McDowell talk about it, the seriousness of the subject was unmistakable. In fact it’s one of her prime targets as she talked about Polycom being a “storied brand” and that the brand had stalled. Her mission is to bring back growth to the story where she also talked about double digit growth, as in where the company is not now, and needs to get back to. There were financial questions directed at her which she fielded, again with all seriousness as the goal for Polycom, along with technology and strategic partnerships, is strengthening the ship financially.

  • Accentuating some of the positives

Of course, with the serious discussion comes a look at the positives. Two of them have already been addressed here, one being the partnering discussion, and the growth potential this brings, which Polycom has taken quite a lot of pride in and looks to be one of Mary McDowell’s continuing strong focuses for 2018. The product discussion is, as I’ve said, her nuts-and-bolts. Pano, for one, is a product which has received industry notoriety (since its launch at InfoComm 2017), and while being another product in the ever-growing content sharing category, Pano shows yet another dimension of Polycom in their total UC and collaboration makeup. In fact, when discussing hardware, Polycom made a true splash in June with Pano for content sharing, placing the company in the “positive” discussion of hardware when talking about the ongoing (or never-ending) hardware/software discussion. At the table, Mary referred to Pano as “essentially the Apple TV for the conference room.”


The Polycom Trio represents one of Polycom’s collaboration cornerstone products, and Mary McDowell spoke of it as a true modern day collaboration device. Polycom over the years since introducing the SoundStation has launched certain true market-impact type products, and the Trio without a doubt represents one of them. In fact, this device in itself represents Polycom’s history as the modern conference phone turned 25 with the introduction of the the Trio 8500 (along with the VoxBox).

The collaboration discussion, which agreed upon has gone out pretty far and wide with the mass amount of technologies on the market these days, is of course a very important one to Polycom as they have become laser focused to being that company which provides a true overall collaborative experience – that being with their current statement ‘Unleash the Power of Human Collaboration.’

Serious statements, positive outlooks and a new major industry company CEO fully dedicated to the company, its products, and direction – along with its history.

More to come in Part 2.

Header photo: Mary McDowell at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History talking about the SoundStation donation and Polycom history. 


With over 20 years in audio visual integration and IT/computer sales and consulting, Corey Moss is the owner of Convergent AV. Corey writes for the publication and hosts/produces podcasts – The AV Life, The Collaboration Factor and Convergent Tech Talk. He has written for numerous industry publications about AV, IT, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), cloud and software, IoT, cybersecurity and more. He has also conducted interviews with AV and IT executives and global influencers.