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Comms chips

Investors Grill Ikanos; Chip Biz Is No Picnic

How's this for a first day at work: You settle into the company's conference call and get a stern talking-to by a hedge fund manager or two.

Michael Gulett, an Ikanos Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: IKAN) board member, got announced as the company's CEO yesterday afternoon, then quickly got peppered by a couple of irate investors during Ikanos's second-quarter earnings call. (See Ikanos Flips CEOs and Ikanos Reports Q2.)

At issue was the chip vendor's failure to turn a profit despite holding what it says is a commanding lead in VDSL.

"It just blows my mind that you can't be a profitable company at this level," one fund manager said on the call.

It probably didn't help that Ikanos delivered a disappointing forecast for its third quarter: revenues of $24 million to $26 million, compared with $31.7 million predicted by analysts, according to Thomson First Call .

Gulett, a member of Ikanos's board, is the company's fourth CEO in three years. He's succeeding Michael Ricci, a former Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) executive who took the Ikanos job about a year ago. (See Ikanos Names CEO.)

Table 1: A Brief History of Ikanos
Fiscal Year* CEO** Earnings (Loss) Per
Share (GAAP)
2005 Rajesh Vashist $0.13
2006 Daniel Atler ($0.82)
2007 Michael Ricci ($1.16)
2008 Michael Gullett ($0.59)*
* Ikanos's fiscal year ends in December. ** CEO at the end of the fiscal year. Source: Company reports, Thomson First Call




Gulett said he's reluctant to simply cut costs, because that would mean cutting into the R&D that's given Ikanos a top spot in the VDSL market. "That position is very hard to come by, and we will not jeopardize that position," Gulett said.

The other alternative is to expand revenues by getting into other markets, something Gulett indicated he'd like to continue pursuing. Ikanos is already in the home gateway market and recently began talking about the Passive Optical Network (PON) chip market as well. (See Ikanos Goes for the Gateway and Ikanos to Demo GPON.)

"I define success as profitability in one business before you move onto others. So, as you go around thinking about your future strategy, that is certainly my most aggressive vote: Prove that you can run a profitable business before you can grow into adjacent businesses," said John Fichthorn of hedge fund Dialectic Capital Management.

Ikanos does have some substantial customers among carriers and equipment vendors. A few mentioned on the earnings call include Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG), KPN Telecom NV (NYSE: KPN), NTT Group (NYSE: NTT), and Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM).

Gulett's name might ring a bell around Silicon Valley, as he's run companies including Tzero Technologies Inc. and ARC International plc (ARC Cores) (London: ARK) recently.

He was also president and chief operating officer of Virata, a company that made DSL chips. Virata merged with Globespan in 2001 to become GlobespanVirata. In 2004, Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT) bought the whole thing but declined to change its name to GlobespanVirataConexant. (See Conexant, Globespan Merge and Conexant, GlobespanVirata Complete Merger.)

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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