Monday, 10 August 2009

Bon chance, Mike, it's Nortel your fault...

It came as no surprise to read that Mike Zafirovski has finally stepped down from Nortel Networks. It can only be imagined that the last few years must have been a pretty torrid time for the former Motorola executive, culminating in Nortel now being forced to sell off its key operations.

Zafirovski took on the CEO role back on October 2005 when Nortel was already in trouble, ahead of the mega mergers that saw Alcatel unite with Lucent and Nokia with Siemens Com. Even as far back as then analysts strongly recommended that Nortel should merge with someone else to gain the size it needed to compete: now the other vendors want Nortel but only parts of it, as the company enters into some sort of "cash in the attic" exercise to flog off any valuable trinkets still remaining.

I always thought Zafirovski was brave to take on the role (albeit no doubt handsomely rewarded for his efforts). I met Nortel year after year at 3GSM/MWC, and each time I felt that the story was the same: "Yes we believe we have reached the end of our financial restatements", and "yes, we're on the brink of recovery and are getting our house in order/seeing the light at the end of the tunnel", were the ongoing messages. The company had already suffered years of financial problems before Zafirovski took the helm, and some of its key former executives had, it seemed, been engaging in accounting trickery. Now, Zafirovski departs, defeated but unbowed, thwarted by yet another financial crisis and a tough competitive landscape.

We'll have to wait and see where he'll go next. Surely he must be sick to death of trying to haul back vendors teetering on the edge of the abyss; maybe he'll try an operator role this time?

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