Report: Alcatel-Lucent CEO Combes to depart for Altice in July

Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) CEO Michel Combes will move to French telecom group Altice SA in July, according to a report from French magazine Challenges. The report, which did not cite its sources, said that billionaire Patrick Drahi, who owns Altice, is hiring Combes to take charge of Altice development in Europe starting in September.

CEO Michel Combes


After Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) announced in April that Nokia would buy its rival for $17.5 billion (€15.6 billion), Combes said he would be stepping down as CEO of Alcatel-Lucent to avoid issues with the combination and transition. Combes said he wanted to avoid the mistakes of past mergers where egos clashed among the top executives. The vendors expect the deal to close in the first half of 2016.

"Since Day 1, I have said that this transaction would require a unified governance coming from the biggest company, Nokia," Combes told CNBC  in April, noting that Nokia's Risto Siilasmaa will serve as chairman and Rajeev Suri will be CEO of the combined company, and that they are the right people for those jobs. "I will in due course, step down, in order to make sure there is no interference. And of course they will leverage the skills and capabilities of Alcatel-Lucent."

Altice has been building up its European wireless business over the past year. In January shareholders in Portugal Telecom SGPS approved the $8.3 billion sale of Oi's Portuguese telecom assets to Altice. In February Vivendi's board agreed to sell the 20 percent it held in French operator SFR to Altice for $4.38 billion, hardly three months after Vivendi sold control of SFR to Drahi for $23 billion.

"Mr. Combes has already officially announced that he intends to step down from his current position as part of the proposed merger between Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia," Alcatel-Lucent said in a statement. "At this stage, no date has been agreed with the Board of Directors. Mr Combes' departure date will be officially communicated once it has been decided, and consistent with what Mr. Combes has stated on several occasions, his new responsibilities will be communicated when it is appropriate to do so."

Combes, a former CEO of Vodafone Europe, took over as CEO of Alcatel-Lucent in April 2013 after the company charged him with returning the company to consistent profitability after the tumultuous tenure of Ben Verwaayen.

Alcatel-Lucent has been nursing itself back to financial health after years of losses following the 2006 merger that brought together Alcatel of France and Lucent Technologies of the United States. Under Combes, the company has undertaken a massive cost-cutting effort called the "Shift Plan." The goal of the program has been to return the company to positive cash flow in 2015. Under the program, Alcatel-Lucent has focused on IP networking, broadband access, LTE and small cells, as well massive cutting of fixed costs and around 10,000 jobs. The company has also exited unprofitable managed services deals and sold assets worth around $633 million.

For more:
- see this Challenges article (translated via Google Translate)
- see this Mobile World Live article

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