Werner's Romancing the Phone at Qwest

Former cable engineer Tony Werner made a full-time return to Denver last week, this time wearing the colors of a cable rival: Qwest Communications International Inc.

Werner — the former chief technology officer at Tele-Communications Inc. and more recently at AT&T Broadband — joined Qwest last Wednesday as executive vice president of strategic technology. His move follows a six-month stint as CEO of Aurora Networks, an optical start-up headquartered in Santa Clara, Calif.

Qwest last September hired another high-profile cable figure, Cox Communications Inc. executive vice president David Woodrow, to head its Qwest Digital Media unit.

In one way of thinking, Werner's jump to Qwest completes a round of trading places with Greg Braden, the man who succeeded him at AT&T Broadband when Werner left the MSO on Oct. 13, 2000.

Werner, a former "cable guy," can now be considered a "phone guy." It's the other way around for Braden, who worked at U S West (now part of Qwest) before joining MediaOne Group Inc., which AT&T Corp. later acquired and folded into AT&T Broadband.

Of course, calling Werner a "phone guy" would be a dubious description at best. That's because voice-based services represent only the tip of Qwest's technology iceberg (and just some of what Werner will be expected to do at his new job).

In his new role, Werner — who reports to Qwest president and COO Afshin Mohebbi — will oversee physical plant that competes directly against dozens of AT&T Broadband cable systems he rebuilt during his tenure at the MSO, including those in Salt Lake City and Denver.

At the same time, his new job is to audit Qwest's somewhat decentralized functions and then reassemble those assets into a more cohesive unit of voice, video and data technology.

For Qwest, persistence has apparently paid off. Before he settled on the Aurora Networks job last fall, rumors swirled that Qwest was among a number of companies vying for Werner's services when news spread that he would leave AT&T Broadband. Werner declined comment when asked how long he had been in employment discussions with Qwest.

According to an Aurora press release, Guy Sucharczuk will handle the company's CEO and presidential duties. Sucharczuk, an Aurora founder, has held the chairman and COO slots at the company for the past seven months.

Werner is still a member of Aurora's board of directors, a company spokeswoman said last Wednesday (June 6). A Qwest spokesman declined to comment on that matter.

Despite Qwest's status as a large-cap company, it also embodies an entrepreneurial spirit, which played a large part in Werner's decision to come aboard, he said.

And Qwest is a service provider, not a technology vendor, which perhaps make it a stronger match for Werner's overall career experience.

Working for a network operator "is an area that I feel the most comfortable in and the area that I like working in," Werner said.

He also said living and working in Denver full-time would also be a plus. At Aurora, Werner toggled back and forth between the optical firm's Denver and Santa Clara offices.

Considering his extensive work with digital-video technology over cable, Werner could be an instrumental component in Qwest's future moves involving very high-speed digital subscriber line (VDSL), a technology that allows telcos to offer digital-video services over copper lines.