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Global Crossing: Who's in Charge?

Global Crossing Ltd. (Nasdaq: GBLX) announced this morning that CEO Leo Hindery was leaving his post "by mutual agreement" after seven months on the job. The new CEO is Thomas J. Casey, a founder of the company who sits on the board.

It's the carrier's third CEO change in 18 months. In March, Hindery replaced Robert Annunziata, who had inherited the post in February 1999 from Jack Scanlon. This has led observers to question whether the revolving door isn't part of a deeper identity crisis that could ultimately hurt the company.

"I'm starting to wonder who's in charge over there," says Tim McElgunn, senior research analyst at Stratecast Partners. "And given the confusion, or at least the distraction, of this, I wonder how it will affect their ability to execute a strategy."

For its part, Global Crossing says "no problem." According to Casey, the carrier is on target to meet and probably exceed its earnings estimates, including over $1 billion recurring adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) for the year and third-quarter revenues between $435 and $440 million.

Also on track, he says, is a strategy focused on selling IP services to large enterprise customers worldwide. Data services revenues, Casey says, are up "over 100 percent" year over year. "We're fully financed, in very good shape, and we'll continue to execute on our plan."

Nevertheless, by midafternoon Global Crossing shares had fallen more than 11 percent to hit a new 52-week low of $20.13 before rising slightly to $21.06.

"This hasn't been well received," says Mike Smith, managing director at Stratecast, while conceding that Nasdaq's larger problems have something to do with Global's falling share price.

The root of Global Crossing's problem, analysts say, is a penchant for shapeshifting that the firm shares with a range of emerging carriers. Over the past two years, for example, it's moved from being primarily a supplier of undersea cable to getting involved in the incumbent LEC (local exchange carrier) business through its purchase of Frontier Corp. -- which it sold this summer -- to recasting itself as a provider of large enterprise data services.

And even that role seems shifty. Late last month, Global Crossing sold its Web hosting subsidiary, Global Center Inc., to Exodus Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: EXDS) for roughly $6.5 billion. In doing so, it jettisoned one of the key services that made up its telecom portfolio -- at least as stated in the company's latest 10-K/A filing with the SEC.

And continually, in the background, a changing executive scene plays out. "The makeup of the executive team could someday make a Harvard Business School case study," says Smith. "The changes have been very extensive."

Other emerging carriers are suffering similar identity crises, with results that range from successful to disasterous (see MFN Bids for New Role and ICG's Sinking Ship). "These carriers identify market opportunities and pursue them before they have a well-defined strategy in place," Smith says.

Leo Hindery touched on the issue himself in a news conference this morning. "It's a difficult time in the sector. A lot of companies are trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up... Global Crossing knows what it wants to be when it grows up."

Perhaps. But Global Crossing's going to have to prove it can stay the course. In the worst case, analysts say, Global Crossing could wind up having a highly valuable network infrastructure and no services to run on it. "If they keep going like this, I wouldn't be surprised to see them become a footnote," says McElgunn. "A massive network like Project Oxygen, with no big company attached."

-- Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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