Ciena welcomes ex-Nortel employees into the fold
New CEO gives spirited welcome to more than 1,000 ex-Nortel workers
There he was, the British-educated chief executive of U.S.-based Ciena Corp., wearing a Team Canada sweater on the stage at Scotiabank Place.
But if the new Ottawa employees of Ciena were surprised at the ostensible clash of cultures, they weren’t letting on. Instead, they cheered a spirited speech by Ciena CEO Gary Smith and a rousing music and video celebration of the $ 774-million takeover of Nortel Networks’ optical assets.
For many there was relief that getting bought by a small company could mean fewer risks and integration troubles than if a big player like Nokia Siemens Networks had won the asset auction.
“The last years have been tough but we are finally coming out of a long tunnel,” said Geoffrey Greene, a long-time Nortel employee.
“Part of me is sorry to see a great Canadian company go. But this gives us a second life and Ciena was the best outcome of all the alternatives. We have a great opportunity in front of us.”
Ciena is the upstart Baltimore company that launched as Nortel was approaching its 100th anniversary and then ran circles around the struggling giant for a decade.
Yesterday, it worked hard to make the new employees feel good and embrace the new “Ciena Accelerated” slogan.
Ciena human resource experts visited Nortel operations repeatedly before the deal officially closed, making job offers. A buddy system was set up to kindle employee-level relations between two companies that spent much of the last decade fighting employee and patent hijacking charges in the courts and new deals in the market place.
The takeover almost doubles the employee base of Ciena to 4,200 and increases sales by 160 per cent to $ 1.6 billion.
“We are a growth company and we are going to be No. 1 in the global market. It’s all up to us,” Smith told the crowd.
The combined Ciena-Nortel was first in North American sales last year and third, behind Huawei and AlcatelLucent, in global sales last year.
Smith urged the crowd to pursue new opportunities with speed.
“I want to see us take smart, calculated risks as we prepare for the future. I am a buff of Sir Winston Churchill and his belief that attitude makes all the difference when we face challenges.”
Ciena broadcast the event to many of its 30 locations. One of the biggest is a 400person research operation in India.
More than 1,000 Ciena and Nortel employees from Ottawa and Montreal filled ice-level and lower-bowl seats. The washrooms were as jammed as at a Senators game.
The hot buffet luncheon was perfect for the conservative new decade. Not exactly in the same category as the legendary lavishly-catered blowout that Nortel threw for many of the same employees in 2000 when it was the free-spending giant of the global optical market, but no one was complaining.
“We haven’t had any parties like this in a long time,” said one employee who preferred not to be identified.
Still, there was more than just a little regret that the Nortel board of directors gave up the fight last June and decided to sell everything.
Many employees hoped that a scaled-down Nortel built around the profitable optical networking assets might emerge from bankruptcy protection.
“The federal government bailed out General Motors,” said one veteran engineer. “ But it wouldn’t throw a lifeline to save Nortel and all the leading technology developed in Canada from being broken apart.”
But mostly it was just relief that the endless rounds of layoffs over the decade and 14-months of uncer- tainty in bankruptcy protection were finally over.
“ Even our customers seem relieved at the combination with Ciena,” said Al Lounsbury, a sales executive. “They have been just as uncertain about the future as we have been.”
Ciena has a track record for rapidly expanding in boom time and chopping aggressively when business turns down.
‘Even our customers seem relieved at the combination with Ciena.’
AL LOUNSBURY, sales executive
But it signalled Thursday that it is committed to Ottawa for the long term. It will lease Lab 10 at the Carling Avenue campus for 10 years for $7.2 million annually.
If the Nortel campus is sold to the federal government or some other buyer, Ciena can’t be moved for the first 30 months of the lease and then only after another 30 months’ notice.
The future owner of the campus would have to pay Ciena a $33.5-million U.S. termination fee in the sixth year.