Tele2 banks on new CEO to cut costs

In what looked like an amicable parting of ways, Tele2 announced that CEO Anders Nilsson was stepping down. On a conference call, Nilsson said he wanted "to take a break and focus on other things in life." He explained that this would mean spending more time with his family and, as a keen sailor, more time at sea.

Nilsson's replacement was unveiled today as Tele2 outsider Kjell Morten Johnsen, who takes over the reins on September 15. Johnsen's resume includes chief operating officer at VEON (formerly VimpleCom) and head of Telenor Europe.

The handover appears to have been carefully planned. Nilsson apparently indicated to the board earlier this year that he was considering stepping down, but would only do so once a "solid succession plan" was in place. Johnsen, as far as Tele2's board is concerned, is that plan.

Carla Smits-Nusteling, chairman of Tele2 board, spoke in glowing terms about the departing Nilsson, who was instrumental in merging Swedish cable operator Com Hem (which he headed up) with Tele2 in 2018.

"The integration was supposed to be three years but took one," said Smits-Nusteling. "It created a lot of shareholder value and made the company stronger and better prepared for the future."

Johnsen is responsible for leading Tele2's "next transformation phase," which includes delivering (and improving) on an existing plan to cut annual operational expenditure by "at least" 1 billion Swedish kroner (US$100 million) over the next three years.

The former VEON man will also note that the Tele2 board would like, thank you very much, some top-line growth amidst the cost-cutting.

Smits-Nusteling thinks Tele2 has made the right move with an experienced external candidate like Johnsen who can see things with "fresh eyes."

"We wanted someone who knows the telecom industry: someone who can be on top of the operations; and a great leader that can energize the team," she said. "Kjell has a huge amount of experience and can help us develop new initiatives."

Nilsson has not entirely disappeared over the Tele2 horizon. He is still available, should Johnsen want him, as an advisor.

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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