Interview with Mike Lagunowitsch, Presence Networks, Hong Kong

It was a clear, very beautiful morning in Sydney. Mike brought the Pitts biplane up to about 4,500ft, and you could literally reach out and touch the mountains from the open cockpit and passenger seat. I came close to better appreciating the words of the classic poem that is understood by pilots, and very few others;

Mike Lagunowitsch, the pilot, a friend, and former colleague at Sprint Australia and Sprint China, is one of the few people I know who can really step away from the job, and escape into complete indulgence in life. Then almost like flipping a switch he returns to being one of the most enthusiastic, aggressive visionairies in the telecommunications industry.

Savageau: Mike, what are you doing these days? Been a long time since we had a chance to catch up.

Mike: I live in Hong Kong and am building Presence Networks in Asia Pacific/India. We provide presence based, secure IM Unified Comms delivered as SaaS for telecommunications carriers and large enterprises.

Savageau: What attracted you into technology and the telecom business?

Mike: At University in the ‘80s I did an Industrial Training year, and was subsequently hired by an early email and network access provider. I was assigned to a network services team, building and troubleshooting X.25 packet switching networks. It was a real apprenticeship in hierarchical peering protocols and the telecoms business. Subsequently I did similar job for a US carrier that operated in the global market. These foundations still serve me well. I also developed relationships that I have kept and which have been incredibly important in my career.

Savageau: What makes technology-related industry more interesting than other careers?

Mike: For me it’s the speed of acquisition, application of knowledge, and the creativity that’s enabled. It’s just unprecedented. And it will only get faster and more innovative. The implications are mind blowing.

Savageau: What are some of your most memorable projects?

Mike: I was based in Jilin province China once for a project where we had to install some very sophisticated Class IV laser DWD Muxes. The venue was very near the North Korean border. Problem was that the data centre was in a remote place several miles from the closest train station. It was February, about nine feet of snow, and a complete mess everywhere. Roads were absolutely unusable by trucks.

To solve our transportation and logistics problem we hired a wooden cart pulled by a massive hairy yak. This modern transportation system ultimately hauled the crated mux to our customer’s site. A few days later after sorting out grounding, power stability and replacing broken windows, we actually got it up and running. Amazing. It was a wonderful international joint effort between Chinese, US and Canadian engineers, with me as the token Brit – all pulling together to get the job done. A real can-do team effort. Lots of smiles and “gwangshi building” beers were consumed after that job.

I also worked with a team of Russian engineers in Moscow. I was amazed that they had laid and lit fibre in the sewers across the city. The network was huge. Later when in Sydney, Australia we were building a dark fibre network in the CBD but couldn’t find the right skills in the local market. So I flew down some of the team of Russian engineers to get the job done. They did the job in half the planned time. They had something to prove, and their level of professional pride and work ethic was incredible. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting their team manager again. He was passing through Hong Kong this past January, and of course meeting him and catching up was really nice for me. We hadn’t seen each other for ten years but had got back in touch via the social networking tool LinkedIn over the last year.

Savageau: You are British, but have chosen to live your life in the international community – any particular reason why?

Mike: Actually I carry dual nationality & passports – British by birth and Australian by choice. I grew up in the UK, but my father was from what is now Belarus. From an early age I was encouraged that the “world was my oyster” to “stand on my own two feet” and “go explore”. I have had some wonderful cultural experiences being in the international telecoms industry. These have helped me understand how to work with other cultures and recognize the limitations of nationalistic and protectionist attitudes. It’s important never to forget your roots and culture of course, but in the current world we live in fostering tolerance and having the ability to cross culturally collaborate is critical. It’s also fun and I love the variety of cuisines.

Savageau: What professional goals are still out there for you to achieve?

Mike: I would love to combine my interests in technology and aviation.

I think we are at the tip of the iceberg with the current generation of computing and service technologies. Ironically I think the current global economic climate will accelerate the rate of technological innovation that drive efficiencies in how we collaborate, force the development of new business models and help eradicate mindless bureaucracy. I so want to be a part of this change.

Savageau: Any emerging technologies or applications that really excite you?

Mike: I’ve been curious about Artificial Intelligence since University days. With today’s early collaborative technologies, increases in computational and storage performance, increasingly sophisticated search engines, and with a permanently wired generational mindset starting to enter the labour pool the opportunities to creatively engage this somewhat fringe technology are very exciting. Of course AI is no match for natural stupidity but maybe the latter can serve as inspiration.

Savageau: Do you have suggestions for young engineers who are looking not only for a great career, but also the chance to bring excitement into their jobs?

Yeah. Don’t be afraid to take risks, especially now. Recognize the limitations of material things and don’t go chase a job for the sake of money. Identify and play to your strengths. Be creative and apply your skills to help solve the really critical issues of today; disease, population growth, extinction of species – animal and plant, government’s and corporation’s exploitation of finite natural resources. Despite the current military conflicts and economic challenges these are the BIG issues of today the ones that will deliver truly exciting returns. Technology alone is not the answer but it can be a critical enabler for rapid positive change that will benefit everyone in society.

Savageau: Final message to the tech community in California?

Mike: Continue to harness technology to create and innovate in all areas. Remain the world leader in these areas. Thwart senseless bureaucracy at all levels. Openly collaborate with all cultures, learn from them to develop technologies/services that benefit everyone. The money will follow.


I’ve known Mike for just about 17 years. We’ve walked the streets of Beijing, Sydney, London, HongKong, Tokyo, and Washington DC together, talking about technology, culture, and visions of the future. Hong Kong is lucky to have him. I look forward to getting him to Long Beach some day, and having the chance to catch up on all topics in tech and life.

And he does an awesome reverse negative “G”stall in the Pitts at 10,000 feet.

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