Over the last three years, telecom-equipment suppliers such as Nortel Networks, (NT) Lucent Technologies (LU), and Sweden's Ericsson (ERICY) have spewed billions in red ink. Their sales plunged by two-thirds. Despite a 2003 rally, shares of all three remain 95% off their peaks. Against this grim backdrop, Serge Tchuruk, chief executive officer of Alcatel (ALA), has pulled off a remarkable feat of survival. Sure, the Paris-based telecom company suffered with the rest of the industry. But since 2000, Alcatel's revenues have fallen less than those of rival companies, making it the world's largest seller of telecom gear. Thanks to tight controls, the company generated operating profits in four of the past five quarters. It should be profitable on a net basis in 2004. Such results helped triple the value of Alcatel shares last year.
Credit fierce but steady Tchuruk, 66, the only leader among his peers to have survived the tech bust. He had to lay off workers and kill programs, of course. But he also kept research-and-development spending above 13% of revenues. Most important, he has ridden the broadband rocket thanks to Alcatel's dominant 37% market share in DSL broadband equipment. On Dec. 16, U.S. phone giant SBC Communications (SBC) Inc. announced it had chosen Alcatel as the lead supplier for an ambitious project to put fiber optic cables into potentially millions of American homes. Times may have been tough, but Serge Tchuruk was even tougher.
-- The only leader among telecom-supply company executives to have survived the tech bust, Tchuruk pushed his company up into the No. 1 position.
-- The company reported operating profits in four of the last five quarters, thanks to tight controls.