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What Went Wrong at Nortel

As any CEO will tell you, acquiring a company is only one half of the M&A battle. Integrating new staff, systems, and products can stretch even the most successful firms. If you are going on a spending spree, à la Nortel, you have to be able to deal with the consequences.

Nortel has also been heavily criticized for spreading its resources too thin, as opposed to forging leadership around a specific technology. Whereas Cisco has successfully hammered areas such as wireless LAN switching, Nortel has come under fire for its broad product portfolio.

Former Motorola (MOT) executive Mike Zafirovski was parachuted in to save Nortel in 2005, but has presided over its death throes. The CEO recently told Canadian lawmakers that the credit crunch precipitated Nortel's descent into bankruptcy protection, although the firm had been wrestling with plummeting sales well before its Chapter 11.

Zafirovski was undoubtedly dealt a difficult hand when he took over Nortel, but at least one analyst thinks that he could have played a more pragmatic game.

"He could have sold pieces of the company off earlier," said Vanessa Alvarez, also of Frost & Sullivan. "Now they are going for a firesale, but they could have got some decent value."

There have already been rumblings of discontent about Nortel's yard sale. The sell-off to Nokia Siemens Networks reportedly been opposed by a group of Nortel creditors and suppliers.

Despite its many problems, Nortel's technology still has plenty of advocates. The equipment manufacturer, for example, is the second largest supplier of Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) infrastructure in the world, and is widely used by Verizon Wireless.

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