• United States
Editor in Chief

The new Nortel looks to a bright future

Feb 23, 20043 mins

Nortel hosted its annual analysts meeting last week in Boston to review what President and CEO Frank Dunn called tremendous 2003 results and to extol the company’s position in its key markets.

While we weren’t invited to the general morning session, we had the opportunity to meet with Dunn and many of his top lieutenants. To a person they were brimming with enthusiasm about future prospects.

All of which might seem strange given Nortel finished 2003 with sales of $9.8 billion, down 7% compared with 2002. But considering the recent past, that amounts to a great stabilization. Nortel sales crested in 2000 when the company topped the $30 billion mark, and then plummeted 37% in 2001 and another 40% in 2002. Seven percent is a relative dip.

Dunn says of last year the whole market was down and points to fourth-quarter sequential growth of 25% as a sign that Nortel is on the right track. “Business momentum is up,” he says. “Progress is about all the things we’ve done. All the contracts we’ve signed. We’re taking share. It will take time for our gains to be reflected in the numbers.”

The company has been fundamentally overhauled. Two out of three employees are gone and Nortel is currently finalizing a contract that will result in it exiting the manufacturing business all together. In the new company, one out of every three employees is in research and development.

“We stopped talking to customers,” Dunn says of how the company lost its way. Malcolm Collins, president of the enterprise group, echoed that: “Two years ago, of the top 100 customers, we touched 20 of them. Now we direct touch all of them.”

With Nortel’s carrier wireless business booming, Nortel’s enterprise business is only 24% of sales today, and while Dunn admits “the game is over” in vanilla corporate data networking, he says convergence is an inflection point that represents opportunity.

Convergence isn’t just about VoIP, he says, it’s about multimedia over IP. Technology will make it possible to get people more engaged, from employees to customers and business partners. But getting there will involve rethinking architectures, flattening out networks to reduce latency and building in more security and reliability.

Dunn and Collins see that adding up to a chance for Nortel to shine in everything from multimedia communications gear to VoIP solutions and core backbone equipment.

Time will tell if the future will be as bright as the picture they paint, but the company at least seems to be back and focused.