A telco boss who can say no. That's the great virtue of Jens Alder, the 45-year-old chief executive of Swisscom (SCM ), Switzerland's top telecom company. When rivals were bidding sky-high prices for third-generation wireless licenses in Europe, Alder pulled his German unit, Debitel (DTELF ), out of the German auction. As Vodafone (VOD ) and Deutsche Telekom (DT ) shelled out billions for acquisitions, Alder kept cash-rich Swisscom on the sidelines. "We do not attempt to play a consolidator role," he says.
Solid Swiss self-restraint--and it's paying off in spades. Swisscom's earnings have held steady over the past year, while those of many other telcos have slumped. The company has no net debt, and its shares outperformed the Dow Jones Stoxx telecom index by almost 40% in the first four months of 2002.
Some critics say the soft-spoken Alder, a keen skier, has been this successful only because Swisscom is 62.7% government-owned and enjoys a near-monopoly in fixed-line service at home. But so does France Télécom, which has performed miserably. Alder is preparing for more intense competition by paring down costs. It's that old Swiss caution kicking in again.