Ericsson considers non-telecoms candidates for CEO replacement: source

REUTERS/Stig-Ake Jonsson/TT News Agency/File Photo

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Struggling mobile networks giant Ericsson could try to hire a chief executive with no track record in the telecoms industry after looking beyond the obvious candidates, a source familiar with the matter said.

Swedish business daily Dagens Industri suggested that defence firm Saab’s chief Hakan Buskhe could be in the running for the job in a column titled “Will Saab’s boss save Ericsson?”.

The source would not confirm that Buskhe, who has been in the top job at Saab since 2010, was being considered but did say that the search had extended beyond those frequently named in media speculation, most of whom have telecoms experience.

“I understand there is a person on the short list but that it is not so easy to get the person concerned,” said the source, who declined to be named or give any further details.

Ericsson, Saab and Buskhe all declined to comment.

Ericsson has been without a permanent CEO since ousting Hans Vestberg in July. The sense of crisis around the company deepened last week when the world’s biggest maker of mobile network equipment reported a 94% plunge in quarterly operating profit and tumbling sales.

The names often cited as contenders in recent weeks include company insider Hakan Eriksson, an executive based in Australia, former Ericsson CFO and current Stora Enso boss Karl-Henrik Sundstrom as well as Johan Wibergh, the CTO of Vodafone who spent nearly two decades at Ericsson.

Asked whether experience at Ericsson was a requirement for the board in choosing a new leader, the source said: “In my view it should be a person with great industrial experience and knowledge, whether within telecoms or another sector is not so important.”

Buskhe: no Ronaldo

Buskhe, 52, has a track record in high-tech businesses and close ties with Marcus Wallenberg, vice chairman of Investor which is a major shareholder in both Saab and Ericsson.

Buskhe has been credited with turning Saab around by broadening its international exposure at a time when European Union defence budgets were falling and securing groundbreaking deals for its fighter jets in emerging markets like Brazil.

Investor said on Wednesday that the priority for Ericsson was to find the right CEO.

“I know the board is working very hard with the question,” Investor CEO Johan Forssell told Reuters, adding that Ericsson Chairman Leif Johansson has already laid out his criteria for the role.

“It requires a strong leader, a person who understands technology and a person with good strategic abilities.”

Swedish media have reported that some candidates have turned down approaches due to the terms or worries over the future of a company which is slashing thousands of jobs and faces fierce competition from Huawei and Nokia.

One Swedish fund manager who owns Ericsson shares said he was surprised to see Buskhe’s name mentioned but that he had the relevant research and engineering profile.

“It may not be possible to get a Ronaldo or a Messi to Ericsson right now, so we may have to settle for someone further down the list,” said the fund manager, who asked to remain anonymous.

“From the main owner’s perspective, Buskhe is a good name – they have worked with him for many years.”

($1 = 8.8100 Swedish crowns)

(By Olof Swahnberg; Writing by Mia Shanley, additional reporting by Johan Sennero, Helena Soderpalm and Eric Auchard; editing by Keith Weir)

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