Nortel taps Mike Zafirovski as new CEO, president

Von Matt Hamblen

Nortel Networks Corp. Monday appointed Mike Zafirovski to be its new president and CEO, effective Nov. 15.

Zafirovski will succeed Bill Owens, 65, as president and CEO at the networking company. Owens took the position 19 months ago while continuing to serve as board vice chairman of the embattled company. A former U.S. Navy admiral, Owens implemented financial and management reforms at the company, which operates out of Brampton, Ontario, but has clients in 150 countries. In 2003, it reported $9.8 billion in revenue.

Zafirovski, 51, most recently worked at Motorola Corp. where he served as president and chief operating officer from 2002 until this past January. He arrived at Motorola in 2000 after 25 years at General Electric Corp., where he served as president of three separate divisions.

"Bill is leaving a company uniquely positioned for the future that can capitalize on vital opportunities around the world," Zafirovski said in the Nortel statement.

Board chairman Harry Pearce said Zafirovski "can now build for the future on the strong foundation Bill Owens has given us," and praised Owens for re-establishing stability at Nortel.

When Owens took over Nortel in early 2003, U.S. and Canadian regulators had required the company to audit financial results for several prior years. Those audits later showed that company earnings had been manipulated largely to trigger bonuses for top executives, and several officials were fired, including former CEO Frank Dunn. The company earlier this year restated its earnings results from 2001 to 2003.

In June, Nortel executives apologized to stockholders for the scandal and said the company is suing to recover the excess bonus payments.

"We are on a very stable, solid footing, with a rebuilt and strong senior management team," Owens said in a statement, adding that the company is "back to regular financial reporting and ... growing business in some of the most important markets in the world."

Zafirovski, a native of Macedonia, moved to the U.S. in 1969 and is a director of the board at The Boeing Co.

Nortel plans to discuss Zafirovski"s appointment in more detail at a news conference later on Monday.

"Owens did a good job of stabilizing the company," said Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc. in Boston. "Now, someone needs to grow it."