Nortel has now lost more than $4.5 billion since Chief Executive Officer Mike Zafirovski took over at the end of 2005, pushing him to cut 18 percent of the workforce. Today he said he plans further reorganization aimed at saving as much as $400 million next year, freezing travel, ending salary increases and getting rid of at least four top executives.
The more than 32,000 people who work for shrunken telecom giant Nortel, its investors who have seen share value plunge from $20 to pennies in a year, and analysts following the firm awoke Monday expecting a financial tsunami of an announcement.What they got as Nortel announced a $3 billion red ink bath for the third quarter was a series of announcements that might slosh water out of a nearly full bathtub.Did a reorganization plan accompanied by some job trims and the booting of some top executives save the S.S. Nortel, or did management just reshuffle deckchairs on what many analysts are growing to believe is a business Titanic?
Deregulation and the optical boom
In 1983, due to deregulation, Bell Canada Enterprises (later shortened to BCE) was formed as the parent company to Bell Canada and Northern Telecom. Bell-Northern Research was jointly owned 50-50 by Bell Canada and Northern Telecom. The combined three companies were referred to as the tricorporate.
As Nortel, the streamlined identity it adopted for its 100-year anniversary in 1995, the company set out to dominate the burgeoning global market for public and private networks.
In 1998, with the acquisition of Bay Networks, the company's name was changed to Nortel Networks to emphasize its ability to provide complete solutions for multiprotocol, multiservice, global networking over the Internet and other communications networks. As a consequence of the stock transaction used to purchase Bay Networks, BCE ceased to be the majority shareholder of Nortel. In 2000, BCE spun-out Nortel, distributing its holdings of Nortel to its shareholders. Bell-Northern Research was gradually absorbed into Nortel, as it first acquired a majority share in BNR, and eventually acquired the entire company.
After the Internet bubble
Nortel Networks Corp (NYSE: NT) stock price (source: ZenoBank.com)
In the late 1990s, stock market speculators, hoping that Nortel would reap increasingly lucrative profits from the sale of fibre optic network gear, began pushing up the price of the company's shares to unheard-of levels despite the company's repeated failure to turn a profit. Under the leadership of CEO John Roth, sales of optical equipment had been robust in the late 1990s, but the market was soon saturated. When the speculative telecom bubble of the late 1990s reached its pinnacle, Nortel was to become one of the most spectacular casualties.
At its height, Nortel accounted for more than a third of the total valuation of all the companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). Nortel's market capitalization fell from C$398 billion in September 2000 to less than $5 billion in August 2002. Nortel's stock price plunged from C$124 to $0.47. When Nortel's stock crashed, it took with it a wide swath of Canadian investors and pension funds, and left 60,000 Nortel employees unemployed.
CEO John Roth retired under controversy to be succeeded by former CFO Frank Dunn. Despite some initial perceived success in turning the company around, he was fired for cause in 2004 after being accused of financial mismanagement. Dunn and other former Nortel officers have been accused of engaging in accounting fraud by the SEC (for more information, refer to "Accounting scandal").
Retired United States Admiral Bill Owens was hired as the CEO to replace Dunn. In late 2004, Nortel Networks returned to using the Nortel name for branding purposes only (the official company name was not changed).
Nortel acquired PEC Solutions in June, 2005, renaming it Nortel Government Solutions Incorporated or NGS. The wholly-owned subsidiary provides information technology and telecommunications services to a variety of government agencies and departments.
On August 17, 2005, LG Electronics and Nortel signed an agreement to form a joint venture to offer telecom and networking solutions in the wireline, optical, wireless and enterprise areas for South Korean and global customers. Nortel owns 50 percent plus one share in the joint venture.
Here are some key dates in the company's history:
May 1, 2000 - BCE Inc (BCE.TO: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), Canada's biggest telecommunications group, completes spinoff to shareholders of 35 percent stake in Nortel, worth about C$88.5 billion ($75.6 billion)
Feb. 15, 2001 - Nortel cuts 2001 earnings and sales forecast in half, blaming severe erosion in U.S. economic conditions. The warning triggers a 33 percent drop in its stock and brings class-action lawsuits.
May 29, 2002 - Nortel plans to cut 3,500 jobs and sell more assets as it pares its revenue forecast.
June 4 - Nortel shares collapse to decade-long lows on concerns a new financing will further dilute its stock. Cash-hungry Nortel raises $1.49 billion June 7.
Oct. 23, 2003 - Nortel reports a quarterly profit, but says it will restate results going back to 2000.
March 15, 2004 - Nortel says it will likely restate results for a second time and delay filing its annual report.
April 5 - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission launches a formal investigation into Nortel's accounting
June 29 - Nortel exits manufacturing business, sells plants to Flextronics International, transfers 2,500 staff.
Sept. 30 - Nortel cuts almost 10 percent of its staff, 3,250 jobs, and vacates offices worldwide.
Jan. 11, 2005 - Nortel restates its results and says 12 senior executives will repay $8.6 million of bonuses.
Oct. 17 - Motorola's No. 2 executive, Mike Zafirovski, is appointed CEO, promising renewed growth and focus.
Feb. 8, 2006 - Nortel says it will pay $2.47 billion to settle two class-action suits from its accounting scandal.
Feb. 7, 2007 - Nortel slashes 3,900 jobs and shifts 1,000 positions to lower-cost locations such as China and India.
Oct. 15 - Nortel pays $35 million to settle civil charges filed by the SEC related to its accounting scandal.
Feb. 27, 2008 - Nortel says it will cut 2,1000 jobs as it faces persistently slow demand for its products.
Sept. 17, 2008 - Nortel cuts revenue forecast, plans another round of restructuring and the sale of its Metro Ethernet Networks business. It says it may also look for a partner to develop fourth-generation wireless technology.
Nov. 10 - Nortel announces 1,300 layoffs, a freeze on salary increases and a review of its real-estate portfolio after posting a $3.4 billion quarterly loss.
Nortels Chickens Roost
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Nortel Slash & Burn
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