Nortel’s Disintegration Big Story in 2009

Probably one of the biggest IT-related stories of the year has been the final dissolution of Nortel Networks, formerly one of the world’s leading purveyors of telecommunications equipment. This blog, among others, has followed the bankruptcy-driven auctions of Nortel’s various business units.

Jim Duffy of Network World recounts Nortel’s ignominious end in 2009. In chronologically tracing Nortel’s inexorable disintegration from the start of the year to the present, Duffy puts some context and perspective around the business-unit auctions that have taken place in recent months.

What we saw this year, however, was just the denouement of Nortel’s decline and fall. The decline had begun long before this year, and those interested in the broader sweep of Nortel’s history would benefit from articles that reach further back in time.

Nortel’s tombstone might record 2009 or 2010 as its official date of death, but the malignancies that occasioned its demise had been present for years. Mismanagement predated and conditioned the company’s death, and I would contend that it took concerted and prolonged dereliction and incompetence from the company’s board of directors and senior executives to deliver it to its sad fate. External factors gave the company a push toward oblivion, yes, but the company was its own worst enemy.

The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wasn’t exactly a cheery soul, but he offered a quote that seems particularly apt for Nortel: “Just remember, once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.”

Nortel raced down the hill, ultimately into a smoking heap, in 2009.

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