Currie took over the CFO chair one year ago to help Nortel recover from several years of financial scandals and mismanagement. Between February 1999 and April 2004, two of the three men who held the title of Nortel CFO were fired for cause. (See Nortel CFO, Controller Step Aside and Nortel CFO Out .)
Table 1: Nortel's CFO : A Retrospective
|Name||Appointment month-year||What happened?|
|Peter Currie||February 2005||Announced in February 2006 that he would leave his post as of April 30. No successor was named|
|William Kerr||April 2004||Stepped aside in January 2005, following several delays with Nortel's earnings statements|
|Douglas Beatty||July 2002||Terminated for cause in April 2004 in connection with a management scandal|
|Frank Dunn||February 1999||Became Nortel's CEO in Nov. 2001. Terminated with cause in April 2004|
|Wes Scott||April 1997||Became vice chairman of Bell Canada in Feb. 1999|
|Peter Currie||June 1994||Joined the Royal Bank of Canada as executive VP and CFO|
|Martin Mand||February 1990||Retired in June 1994|
|Terry Nickerson||February 1988||Appointed as executive VP, finance and operations, Northern Telecom World Trade in 1990|
|Source: Light Reading, company reports|
So Currie, for the second time, is leaving Nortel on good terms. Obviously a glutton for punishment, Currie had previously held the Nortel CFO post between 1994 and 1997, leaving then to join the Royal Bank of Canada.
In a prepared statement, Currie said: “I believe that I have achieved at Nortel what I returned to accomplish. We have transformed the finance organization, significantly strengthened internal controls, and improved the balance sheet.”
While Nortel is more financially stable, it is still figuring out what it wants to be when it grows up.
Nortel claims to competes with the likes of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), but the company's market capitalization is barely bigger than that of Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR).
It ceded broadband access to smaller competitors. It is playing second fiddle to Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) in the rollout of wireless networks. And now it has designs on IPTV, though it has no products to speak of in that space, and sources suggest it will have to buy something fast. (See Sources: Nortel Planning IPTV Acquisitions.)
So, is Nortel's CFO departure a promising sign that the Canadian turkey is about to splash out some cash for some acquisitions? Or is it another detour on the company's long, wobbly road to recovery?
Wall Street's stock hawkers are split down the middle.
One view is that Currie's exit will curb Nortel's M&A appetite. "While Mr. Currie plans to stay on to ease the transition to the new CFO, we believe his departure in the midst of a companywide restructuring is nonetheless disruptive, and it will likely further slow the company's progress on executing on its plans," writes Inder Singh, an analyst with Prudential Equity Group LLC .
But one man's disruption is another's opportunity. "We believe his departure is likely due to Nortel looking to be more aggressive in pursuing growth via M&A given the likelihood that most restructuring initiatives and internal financial controls are likely in place," writes UBS Research analyst Nikos Theodosopoulos.
Somewhere out there, shrugging his shoulders, Citigroup telecom analyst Michael Genovese offers this view: "We are not surprised since, like former CEO Bill Owens, he specifically joined the company 2 years ago to restore financial controls and credibility, and this task has largely been accomplished."
Nortel shares were down $0.66 (2.49%) to $25.82 in early afternoon trading today.
— Phil Harvey, Managing Editor, Light Reading