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Ben Verwaayen, former CEO of BT Group, is coming home — so to speak. He is going to replace Alcatel-Lucent CEO Patricia Russo and Chairman Serge Tchuruk. The Franco-American company has proved to be a corporate mismatch that makes the unlikely pairing of Kid Rock & Pamela Anderson seem normal (Hat-tip: Jesse Kopelman). The news was reported by the Wall Street Journal. Philippe Camus, a French executive, will be the new chairman of the Franco-American telecom maker and will be based in New York. Verwaayen, on the other hand, will be based in Paris.
Verwaayen worked at Lucent Technologies before taking the helm of British Telecom in 2002. Like Alcatel-Lucent, BT was in heap of trouble and was slip-sliding away to nowhere. Using time-tested tools — purge and surge — the no-nonsense Verwaayen left the London-based telecom operator earlier this year. He also pushed hard on BT’s 21CN network strategy, but so far the results have been mixed.
At the time of his resignation from BT, he told the Guardian: “My biggest joy is people today are proud to work in BT. When I came here people felt miserable and did not want to talk about [the fact] they worked at BT with their neighbours.” Can he pull off an encore with Alcatel-Lucent?
He is going to have a much tougher time. Despite its legacy and strong incumbent connections Alcatel-Lucent is on a slippery slope. The company is facing strong competition from win-at-any-cost Chinese vendors, slowing markets, outdated technologies and more importantly, a bloated cost structure.
His biggest challenge won’t be that: he will have to figure out how Alcatel-Lucent will deal with his no-nonsense, plain-speaking style of management and a democratic approach to the executive suite. I got to see some of that first-hand when I visited him in London while working on a story for Business 2.0. He will need to change the culture of Alcatel-Lucent if he wants to save the company. If he does, then he is indeed a miracle worker. What’s his next move? I bet he goes and buys a consulting company and builds the company future around that.