Nokia CEO says Alcatel-Lucent approvals are ahead of schedule

  • Bloomberg News.
  • Tuesday, September 22, 2015 1:38pm
  • Business

Nokia Chief Executive Officer Rajeev Suri said government approvals for the $17.6 billion takeover of Alcatel-Lucent are progressing faster than expected, with key nods from China and France remaining.

A meeting Tuesday evening with France’s Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron aimed to tackle the issue, with Suri seeking to show he can navigate between French jobs, the investments he’s pledged and the savings he’s promised investors. The progress with approvals and integration planning, months before the deal is set to close next year, is “remarkable,” Suri said in an interview in Paris.

“I like turnarounds, big change projects,” Suri said ahead of the ministry gathering. He plans to unveil, starting next month, how the integrated company will be structured, who will run its units and which key products will help Nokia grow faster.

In an industry that’s seen its fair share of failed mergers, the 47-year-old India native plans to pull off combining companies with distinct cultures and products, ensuring that Alcatel-Lucent’s more than 50,000 employees are smoothly converted into Nokians. While it’s too early to detail job cuts or site closures, Suri said he knows he’ll have some “heavy lifting” to bring together the companies’ overlapping wireless-network assets.

Suri can pull some tricks out of his playbook of successful takeovers and turnarounds. The executive saved Nokia’s networks unit from the brink of bankruptcy after a troubled combination with a Siemens business, and the division now boasts better profitability than bigger rival Ericsson. To do that, he said he’s had to reorganize operations in some 90 countries, and deal with regulators and unions there. He said he’s learned several lessons.

“You have to minimize disruption in a tough environment — just make decisions and go back to business,” Suri said. Part of that is having a smaller team of core decision-makers while calling others to weigh in on specific topics, as well as leaving the businesses that perform well alone, he said.

Suri said the Alcatel-Lucent integration may be easier than the turnaround at his last job, mainly because the companies have less overlap and he’s got a strong balance sheet. Still, in France, a failure to win over French workers, unions and officials would likely water down the cost cuts and revenue gains the executive is seeking.

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