John Roth: Northern Telecom's Net Game

Lucent Technologies may have stolen the telecom limelight in the past couple of years, but John Roth's $7 billion purchase of Bay Networks has put his Northern Telecom at center stage. The June 15 deal unites $15.5 billion Nortel and $2.2 billion Bay, joining a nimble old-line maker of telecom gear with a cutting-edge data-networking firm.

For Roth, 55, a technologist who has led Nortel since last October, the merger is a fast way to take advantage of the Net's explosive growth. He's betting that Bay's engineers will help Nortel design systems that merge voice, data, and video transmissions on the Net. If successful, the effort will make current phone-switching systems look like antiques. Even before then, the deal creates a single supplier for voice and data gear.

Following technology markets is Roth's stock in trade. A 30-year Nortel veteran, the onetime design engineer ran the Canadian outfit's R&D arm in the early '80s and helped launch its wireless business. He also advises Canada's Prime Minister on science and technology.

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