Not a great day for local tech companies in RTP. Nortel (Northern Telecom) is shedding another 1,300 jobs in an effort to stay afloat.

I worked at Northern for nearly seven years (I started at Team10 for any old-timers out there). Back then it was an incredibly vibrant can-do company with a really nice and committed workforce.

In the late ’80’s, early ’90’s Northern had a lock on digital telephone switching equipment. Profits bulged as management got fat and sassy. Profligate spending on some rather ridiculous ego-driven projects became the norm.

Unfortunately, upper management’s vision couldn’t keep up with that of the folks cranking out telco gear. Their top-of-the-heap attitude blinded them to what could and eventually would happen. I remember meeting with the top-dogs in RTP in ’91 trying to convince them that one of Nortel’s bread-n-butter products, the DMS-10, would be replaced within years by cheap, rack-mounted computers using commodity components.

That day eventually came to pass finding Nortel poorly prepared. By that time, I had moved on to help bootstrap a couple startups.

The lessons of Nortel – especially what missteps to avoid – have stayed with me all these years. Those lessons aren’t particularly grounded in Nortel’s culture but are more reflective of common attitudes found in many institutions (“too big to fail” for one).

If the Council does follow up on my call for a Citizen’s Budget Board, I will volunteer and apply the lessons of Nortel, my successful entrepreneurial experience and my diligent efforts to help set the Town’s finances on a firm grounding to bear.

To any remaining Nortel folks that stumble on this entry – good luck and god-speed.

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