We were also disappointed. Lewis, ex-chief exec of GTS/Ebone, who retired in April 2002 after selling that carrier to KPNQwest (see KPNQwest Buys GTS Biz), is a longtime mover and shaker in European telecom. He headed Equant as it was taken over by France Telecom SA (NYSE: FTE) in 2000 (see Global One, Equant Announce Merger). Before that, he'd been CEO at Mercury Communications and held influential management posts at Cable & Wireless (NYSE: CWP) and British Telecommunications plc (BT) (NYSE: BTY; London: BTA).
Who better to discuss "What's Next for Europe's Alternative Carriers?" Unfortunately, Lewis says a strict confidentiality agreement pertaining to a "financial project" in Europe and Asia precluded any public speaking.
Interesting stuff. Considering that an NDA didn't stop Lewis from holding forth on the future of Europe's PTTs in online pub Total Telecom last month (after he notified conference management he'd be absent from Lightspeed), we figured something was up. Perhaps he was embroiled in negotiating a big deal, like maybe the sale of a European alternative carrier?
We even had one picked out: FLAG Telecom Group Ltd. (OTC: FLHLQ), which had previous dealings with GTS when Lewis was there (see GTS Saga Spells Caution in Europe). FLAG's got lots of assets, a big restructuring plan, wobbly management, and a big interest in Europe/Asia undersea links (see FLAG Completes Asian Loop, FLAG Emerges From Chap. 11, and FLAG Ready to Fly Again). FLAG's also looking for a CEO. Sounds like it's right up Lewis's alley.
Then we thought maybe Lewis was ducking angry litigants. The sale of GTS and its subsequent demise fostered a lawsuit by 103 former GTS shareholders, which is being evaluated by a judge in U.S. District Court in New York. The complaint, which one of those suing says is not a class action suit but instead a multiple-plaintiff suit -- a "mass action" -- accuses Lewis and other execs of securities fraud. The group says the execs sold GTS mainly for personal gain, knowing it was unlikely to survive as a shareholder entity. Could Lewis have bagged out on Lightspeed for fear of being confronted by an angry mob?
We finally caught up with Lewis on his mobile this morning, as he was en route to a weekend in the country. He graciously agreed to address our concerns. Here's what he said:
- On negotiating a big deal: "I'm not involved... I wasn't aware of any sale... FLAG's not going to be sold. They've recapitalized and hired Mark Spagnolo, they're repositioning, adding retail to their wholesale approach, and they're searching for new top management."
- On maybe joining FLAG as CEO: "I'm very happily retired. I mean, it's 3:30 on a Friday afternoon and here I am heading away for a weekend in the country. I enjoy doing some self-indulgent things now."
- On why he could write a column about PTTs and not speak at Lightspeed: "I wasn't under NDA... on traditional telecom." Apparently, though, speaking on financial restructuring of alternative carriers was a no-no.
- On the lawsuit: "Some are accusing the GTS board of conspiring to sell the company for substantially less than it was worth. It's about to get thrown out of court." Lewis says the GTS execs got substantial value on the deal for shareholders and that every big deal is fraught with litigation of some sort.
— Mary Jander, Senior Editor, Light Reading