New Telecom Chief

To bolster its management ranks in advance of its privatization next year, Germany's Deutsche Telekom has tapped Ron Sommer, head of Sony Europe, to be its new president. The move underscores the German monopoly's determination to get itself into shape to compete against European, Japanese, and American rivals when Germany's market opens to competition in 1998. Sommer, 45, immediately declared he was up to the task: "I am not afraid of any competitor," he says.

The new boss is an internationalist and a techie. An Israeli-born German citizen, Sommer earned a doctorate in math at age 21. He worked for computer maker Nixdorf--now part of Siemens--both in Europe and the U.S. During Sommer's stint, Nixdorf was one of Germany's hottest tech companies. In 1980, Sony tapped him to manage sales of commercial electronics in Germany. In 1990, he was made president of Sony's U.S. operations, and in 1993 he returned to Germany to run its European business.

Sommer seems confident he can prepare Telekom for the onslaught of competition. "No one has a clear strategic advantage worldwide," he says. "This is a marathon, and we're only in the first mile." To keep pace, he will have to slash the 230,000 workforce at Telekom and vastly improve its service. The stakes are high: Telekom will be one of Europe's biggest-ever privatizations. Global investors are getting the jitters as rivals prepare an attack on the German market that could depress Telekom's value. The pressure on Sommer will only rise.

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