BARCELONA, Spain — The entire telecom industry is anxiously waiting to see if Ericsson CEO Börje Ekholm can turn around the Swedish equipment vendor, which has been struggling with increased competition from Chinese vendors and the maturing of 4G networks.
During an on-stage interview at Mobile World Congress, Ekholm tried to reassure the industry that he believes it’s possible for Ericsson to become No. 1 again. “Everyone wants to be first, and it’s hard to be first,” Ekholm said. “But we will be first.”
However, the discussion was short on specifics of how that will happen. Ekholm compared Ericsson to Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba (Ekholm is a member of Alibaba’s board). “Alibaba is both an innovator and a disruptor,” he said. “We [Ericsson] may be an old company, but we are a leader in connectivity. And I think we are an innovator.”
But he also acknowledged that to be an innovator, Ericsson must take risks but still focus on the bottom line. “We are in the business of making money,” he said.
Ekholm went on to acknowledge that the company’s success is dependent upon its customers, many of which were in the room during the on-stage interview. “We value your partnerships,” he said.
Ekholm does have a tough road ahead. In January, the company cut its annual dividend by 73 percent, the firm’s first dividend cut since 2008. At the time, Ekholm said the reduction was necessary in order to invest in areas of growth and help the company regain its financial footing.
The company is also in the midst of a cost reduction plan. Launched in 2014, the plan is intended to save the company more than $1.05 billion in expenses by the end of 2017. The company is expected to meet that goal by mid-year.
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