Here Comes AlcaLu
The take on the Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU) and Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) merger in the mainstream press has been somewhat boring and mundane. Geez, you'd think these New York Times people would know a thing or two about a merger.
The Light Reading coverage was fine, mind you. (See Alcatel, Lucent Seal Deal, Alcatel/Lucent: First Reactions, and Alcatel/Lucent: No Job Cut Clarity Yet.)
Elsewhere, we've been treated to 14 different versions of the hackneyed "culture clash" angle. Now that's original! Alcatel and Lucent, culture clash, geddit? France, New Jersey. Oo La La!
You mean Tony Soprano has never had escargot? I just don't believe the cultural gap is insurmountable. In France, you have Fondue. In Jersey you have Ragu. Paris may have La Tour Eiffel, but New Jersey has the Pulaski Skyway. I'm telling you, there's something to work with here.
Light Reading, to be frank, is a little saddened by the prospect of Lucent going away. It's a bittersweet time. We'll be the first to admit, we had a lot of fun with Lucent in our day. (See The Last Laugh Is On Lucent, 50 Ways To Leave Your Lucent , Lucent Faces "Exodus of Nexabit Staff", Lucent Warns -- Again, and Lucent Supernova.) But then things just got, well, kinda boring. (See Lucent Snoozefest.)
Let me get nostalgic for a moment. There really was nothing like the Rich McGinn Days, or even the Just-After-Rich-McGinn-Is-Gone-But-Lucent-Is-Still-Really-Messed-Up Days. (See McGinn: McGone, McGinn Backed Lucent Competitor, McGinn Not Alone in Two-Timing Lucent, McGinn McFound, and Rich McGinn.) Remember the time, during the teeth of the telecom recession – when most people ran away screaming at the mention of "doped fiber" – Lucent had the audacity to unveil the LambdaRouter, a million-dollar all-optical switch? Didn't they get the memo that MEMS was over? (See Lucent's LambdaRouter Turns Japanese and No Riches From Optical Switches .)
And why can't we bring back Henry Schacht? He really knew how to fire people with a sense of humor. That guy was the Iron Chef of corporate restructuring. (See Layoffs Top 90,000, Large Lucent Layoff Looms, Lucent's Hopes Dimming, Lucent Ditches Chromatis, and Lucent: What's Another $8 Billion? )
Another good time was at the nadir of the Light Reading/Lucent relationship, when the marketing powers at Lucent decided to try to extend an olive branch to Light Reading. This entailed forcing us to drive two hours through rush-hour traffic down to their Holmdel location, where they lectured us for hours on the superior Lucent pedigree and the synergy with Bell Labs – all in a stuffy, windowless room that was low on oxygen and sans food. (See Lucent Tries On That Startup Look.)
After four, foodless hours on that infernal day, I was ready to tear fiber connections out of the LamdaExtreme demonstration. But the Lucent PR mavens weren't done – they were ready to give us our scoop. On the way out, they led the Light Reading delegation through a massive empty space that looked as if it had been ransacked by feral dogs. When we asked what happened, somebody from the Lucent PR team remarked nonchalantly, "Oh, that was the corporate library – we had to sell all the books."
No, the post-apocalyptic scene in the futuristic Holmdel building wasn't pretty. In fact, it resembled something out of a science fiction movie.
Pat Russo came back to Lucent for the rescue mission, and she quickly got down to the dirty business of corporate restructuring and at least put an end to the silly hijinks. Lucent's problems, however, always seemed bigger than any one person. There was the culture issue, the morale issue (when a company has lost more than two-thirds of its works over the course of five years, how do you keep them motivated?), and that large pile of toxic waste – the pension liabilities. (See Lucent Stands Pat.) But Russo, who succeeded in at least focusing on the right things, and giving Lucent that IMS story, did give us hope. And we gave her a Leading Lights award for her efforts. (See LR Names 2005 Leading Lights Winners.)
The comeback story, after all, looked as if it might have a chance...
But the Lucent movie has fizzled out into a sort of vague, unsatisfying denouement, with this anticlimactic merger. And it looks like Jean Reno is now playing a large role.
Yes, the bad ole Lucent days are gone. Now what's ahead of us? Months of corporate handwringing. Who will stay? Who will go? Is the center of power in Paris or Murray Hell? Whither Bell Labs? Is that transistor patent still worth something? Can they hock it on eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY)?
It's going to be as exciting as watching your grandmother's Ford Thunderbird being stripped for parts.
In the end, I'm afraid, this is mostly a sad story. There was a time, believe it or not, when Lucent was one of the most influential technology companies in the world. Now it may still be influential, but its merger partner will get the credit.
Hats off to Alcatel's Serge Tchuruk, as Alcatel is clearly the Tchampion in the transatlantic battle of incumbents. Alcatel is on the rise – with a winning edge router and an IPTV strategy – and will now be the telecom incumbent to beat.
Yes, this merger is probably better for the industry – though it's sure to result in more job cuts. Lucent, we hardly knew ye. We look forward to a new tomorrow. En Français.
— R. Scott Raynovich, Editor in Chief, Light Reading