IN EARLY 1993, Northern Telecom was on a downhill slide. Employee morale at the once-mighty Canadian telecom giant had sagged, revenue growth was stagnant, and the corporate strategy that had guided the company through its glory years of the 1980s was showing its age.
Enter Jean Claude Monty, ’70, who assumed the role of president and chief executive officer that summer. Taking the reins after a successful stint as chief executive officer of Bell Canada, Monty almost immediately got Northern Telecom moving again. With increased research and development investment and a renewed focus on customer and employee satisfaction, Monty led a turnaround that within three years had seen customer satisfaction levels soar from 67 percent to
85 percent and revenues climb from $8.1 billion to $12.8 billion (U.S. dollars).

The skill with which Monty revived Nortel was duly recognized earlier this year when Nortel’s parent company, BCE, Inc., appointed him its new chief executive officer. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed by the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, which has bestowed upon him the 1998 Distinguished Corporate Alumnus Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Reversal of fortunes
Reversing Nortel’s slide required Monty to make some tough decisions, among them the determination that the Brampton, Ontario-based company had pushed its old strategy to the limit."We had become almost too successful, and we had grown complacent," he recalls. "We felt the areas we were in would never stop growing. We had to do something drastic, and make hard choices to invest in new sectors of growth."

Among the hard choices was the painful decision to cut about 5,200 employees. "The whole issue was targeting lower costs," he says, "not only through attrition of employees [but] also [by] making choices on businesses that we saw as long-term [opportunities] for us."

Under Monty’s stewardship, Nortel sold off holdings that would be better managed by others and moved into new high-growth sectors, notably wireless technology and data communications. Wireless, including cellular, mobile satellite networks, and personal communications services, has surged from 5 percent of Nortel’s business in 1993 to 22 percent today. Data has grown from zero to 5 percent over the same period. And in June, Nortel positioned itself to move into the fertile territory at the intersection of voice and data communication when it purchased Bay Networks, a leading manufacturer of networking hardware, for $9.1 billion.

Leading onto the world stage
Monty accomplished all this with leadership characteristics he described in his address at the GSB’s convocation in June. What works for him, he told new graduates, is a combination of high energy, action, and empathy, or the ability to see the world as his customers, employees, and competitors do. Personal values that transcend the corporation and a strong sense of identity round out his recipe for achievement in business and beyond.

"Jean Monty is a great leader for BCE and the global telecommunications industry," says Richard C. Notebaert, Chicago-based chairman and chief executive officer of Ameritech Corporation, for which Nortel is a major supplier. "He focuses on the right issues–putting customers first and creating value for shareowners. And he brings a wealth of experience to the most promising competitive growth markets of the future–wireless and broadband."

One of the things Monty clearly believes in is globalization, and he has positioned Nortel and BCE to take advantage of the opportunities it offers. "There’s an explosion of technology and globalization," said Monty. "Almost anywhere in the world, countries wanting telecom technology want North American technology. Outside of the wireless technology, the top companies are really North American: Nortel and Lucent [Technologies], Cisco [Systems] and Bay Networks.

"Globalization is a search for growth, a search for opportunity and a desire to eliminate barriers to trade for the good of all concerned," he continues. "The information technology business has a significant amount to contribute. Most industrializing countries’ economies believe information technology must lead the development process, not follow it. It’s a very significant shift from the philosophy of the past."

Monty believes the most important geographical area of growth will be Western Europe, where Nortel currently enjoys 25 percent of its global sales. There, he said, countries will want to replicate what’s happened in North America information technology over the past five to ten years. "There’s no way the Europeans can afford to miss the opportunity to create the same environment for their businesses and their consumers," he says.

Don Schuenke, a Nortel board member since 1983, calls Monty a hard-working, natural-born leader. "He’s a very dynamic guy, [and] has tremendous energy. He’s in Europe one day, Washington the next, and he seems to wear it well," says Schuenke, who is currently chairman of the Nortel board, a nonexecutive position. "He also has great leadership qualities. People want to follow him. He’s collegial. He gets the group to participate in the process."

Married and the father of two sons, Monty, 51, enjoys golf and skiing in his off hours. In his new post, it’s a sure bet he will keep Montreal-based BCE in step with the ever-quickening pace of technological development.

"In high tech," he has been quoted as saying, "no growth is the kiss of death."

--Jeffrey Steele

 

 

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