Magazine article Newsweek International

Recovering from the Tech Bubble

Magazine article Newsweek International

Recovering from the Tech Bubble

Article excerpt

Among the class of new CEOs at struggling European technology giants, none will be more intriguing to watch in 2003 than Deutsche Telekom's Kai-Uwe Ricke. He shares almost nothing with his flashy and argumentative predecessor from Sony, Ron Sommer, who had always remained something of an outsider in the notoriously political company. The son of a former Telekom chief, Ricke is a born insider.

He inherits huge problems, including a huge debt load from years of splurging, a slow-growth business and a hierarchical company culture dating from when Telekom was an arm of the post office, a monolith with more staff than the German Army. For all Sommer's talk about the New Economy, he built on the old tradition, controlling the company through a team of feared lieutenants. Sommer hired Ricke away from a competitor in 1998 to run the fast-growing conglomerate's mobile-phone business. He soon came to see him as a potential successor and promoted him to chief operating officer in 2001.

Ricke is emblematic of the next generation of European tech leaders. The challenge they face is to fix mistakes made during the boom years without discarding the enthusiasm and vision that accompanied them. Since taking over in November, Ricke has gotten rid of Sommer's gang and put the heads of the company's four main business divisions on Telekom's management board. By loosening the grip of the CEO's office on a company with 256,000 employees, he hopes to set the stage for a cultural revolution at Telekom. "I want a new leadership style," he told his top execs on Dec. 12, during a 10-hour sit-down in the "fishbowl," a round, glass-lined meeting room at the Bonn headquarters. "I want to encourage open and controversial discussion, but then I expect swift and speedy decisions."

Ricke doesn't have a lot of time. …

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