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Marconi opens new building with confidence in the future

| Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Marconi executive Joe Pajer exuded confidence Tuesday as he opened a new research and development building — the fifth futuristic facility to be constructed on the technology company's Marshall Township campus.

"Despite these difficult times in the marketplace, we are proud to be opening this new facility, which houses one of the world's best engineering teams, right here in Pittsburgh," said Pajer, executive vice president for routing and switching products — who is, in effect, London-based Marconi plc's top executive in North America.

Before questions could be asked about an unfinished sixth building — a steel skeleton lurking at the back-end of the complex — Pajer took up the issue.

"We will finish that building as the market turns around," he said, with an emphasis on "will."

Since July 4, 2001, when Marconi executives in the United Kingdom dropped a bombshell about massive financial losses, newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic have been writing Marconi's obituary. After a top-level management shake-up, a restructuring that resulted in the layoff of 10,000 employees worldwide, and the selling of nonessential business units, a share of Marconi's stock costs less than a quarter.

Even so, walking through Marconi's new building, which bustles with a horde of multicultural engineers, and talking to Pajer about the company's latest product innovation — a switch-router with a turbo-charged name BXR-48000 — it seems that reports of Marconi's demise are greatly exaggerated.

The 113,000-square-foot building has room for 400 employees. In total, Marconi employs 1,300 on its 101-acre campus, said Pajer, who joined predecessor Fore Systems in 1998, a year before its purchase by the U.K.'s General Electric Co., which was subsequently renamed Marconi.

Like the four men who founded Fore in 1990, Pajer is a product of Carnegie Mellon University, who went on to marketing and product management positions with AT&T Consumer Products (now Marconi competitor Lucent Technologies) before being hired by Compaq, where he was director of product planning for its Deskpro PC product line.

With the BXR-48000, Pajer said, a tradition established by Fore Systems of building high-capacity, reliable, flexible and secure telecommunications gear is continuing.

"It is the largest (capacity) single switch-router on the market today," he said. "The (chief technology officers) of the big service providers — Sprint, Verizon, SBC — will tell you that the finest products in the industry are coming out of Pittsburgh."

The new switch-router can move the same amount of information — voice, data and video — as a dozen of Fore System's original products.

"What we do in two racks takes other vendors 5-12 racks," said Tom Murray, vice president of marketing.

The BXR-48000 is now in testing with British Telecom and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

The new building borrows design characteristics of its four siblings, which are a blending of protuberances jutting out at sharp angles, contrasted with cylindrical and sloping elements. The campus is laid out in a shish kebab fashion. Each unique building is connected to the other by a quarter-mile long hallway, with the cafeteria serving as the central hub.

"The flavor of the design is intended for the buildings to be diverse, yet somewhat cohesive," said Alan Weiskopf of Perfido Weiskopf Associates, which designed the campus in conjunction with a San Francisco firm.

"This building was designed with the input of our engineers with the support of innovation as the primary goal," said Don Scleza, vice president of engineering services.

Rakesh Thapar, the research laboratory platform director for the BX-48000, said he is pleased to have his group on the main Marconi campus. For the past two years his people have been in office space in McCandless awaiting completion of the new space.

"These labs are an engineer's dream, starting right with the floors and doors," he said, pointing out the 8-foot-tall security doors that allow engineers to wheel 7-foot equipment racks in and out without having to disassemble them, and the anti-static floors necessary due to the constant shuffling in and out of employees.

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