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Nortel, Corning, and the $100B Deal That Wasn’t

Jerry Rawls, CEO of Finisar (FNSR), recounts the talks between Nortel (NT)  and Corning (GLW) to sell Nortel’s optical component business. This is a hallmark story of the bubble.

… The crazy thing is Corning, in ’99, had offered Nortel $100B in cash to buy this division. They turned it down because they thought it was not enough money. Now, in two quarters, their sales dropped from $1.4B to $23M. It was a crash that nobody could manage their way out of, all you could do was try to unload it, get rid of the division and make somebody else deal with it.

I believe Jerry mispoke – the deal was publicly discussed to be a stock swap where Corning would tender shares to Nortel, and it was in the summer of 2000. Even in the most alternative reality universe I don’t think a company could find $100B in cash to buy a product line generating $1.4B in revenue. The WSJ covered this at the time but the link is dead. Lightreading archives have some commentary.

Regardless, it is a great example of the craziness that surrounded the industry at the time. Bookham (BKHM) eventually swept in and assumed operations of the Nortel division. Today everything that was once Nortel is now completely gone. $100B to zero.

The interview with Jerry Rawls is very long, very detailed, and very good. Start here. It appears that Frank Levinson is answering comments as well.


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