Telecom Two Step.


People moving in harmony is key in the new world of communications takeovers.

SUCCESSFUL ACQUISITIONS ARE AMONG the most difficult things to do in business. For employees, they are hard to live through, as Nadia Mansour, a survivor of several Silicon Valley takeovers, well knows.

So last January, when the rumor mill revved up during Lucent Technologies' purchase of Mansour's employer, Ascend Communications, her chief concern became how the merger would change the way she worked. "At Ascend, it was as if I was running my own company. Anything I wanted to do, any idea that we thought would work, we would just get it done," she says. She hoped that the new parent company would not impose new ways of doing things.

She decided to take her worries to the top. During a meeting of the newly combined firm's sales force, she asked Carly Fiorina, president of Lucent's Global Services Provider division, whether the autonomy she was accustomed to at Ascend would continue. "I don't see anything that will hold you back," Mansour recalls Fiorina replying, in front of 30 other Ascend executives. "And if there is, just give a call."

Today Mansour, the former Latin America sales director at Ascend, is vice-president of Lucent's new InterNetworking Systems Latin American division. So far, she is happy, but her initial fears highlight the challenges Lucent faces as it tries to meld the different technology and corporate culture of Ascend. Those challenges won't disappear for Lucent and others in the business of selling telecom equipment, a historically conservative and slow moving industry that must now keep up with the growth of data traffic and the demands of the Internet.

"Culture is the big issue in these acquisitions," says Kevin McClelland, senior associate at Broadview International, a M&A bank focused on the technology sector. Lucent's success with Ascend depends on the ability to blend existing technologies, but first and foremost to maintain the creative talent. "In some cases, that can make or break the deal, says McClelland. "And in some cases it doesn't break until long after the deal happens."

Digital Age demands. Lucent is not the only telecom supplier trying to make things work with a new dance partner. Canada's Nortel picked up Bay Networks in a $US9 billion deal, changing its name to Nortel Networks in the process. Alcatel of France acquired Xylan Corp., a switching equipment provider, for $2 billion, while Siemens, the German telecom...

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