Ericsson CEO Fends Off Cancer and Competitors
Angel Ruiz beats disease and stays in the cellular technology race.
Try lasting a decade at the head of an industry giant in one of the most competitive sectors in the world in its most cutthroat market. Try battling stage three colon cancer for a year.
Then try doing both at the same time.
Angel Ruiz has been there. He was named CEO of Plano-based Ericsson North America in 2001, shortly after his cancer diagnosis.
“The management at Ericsson, I guess you could say, had enough faith in me,” Ruiz says. “I was actually going through chemotherapy when they gave me the opportunity to run North America for them. So, I went through nine months of chemotherapy, and, thank God, I’ve been healthy since then. I’ve been clean.”
Nine years and two revolutions in cellular technology later, he’s still at the helm. “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good,” the soft-spoken, 54-year-old executive says with a smile.
When Ruiz took over the Swedish telecom giant’s North American operations, North America lagged behind the company’s Chinese market. Following a bumper 2009—41 percent growth spurred by a $1.13 billion acquisition of Nortel’s wireless business, plus multibillion-dollar deals with AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon—it is now Ericsson’s largest.
With a background in electrical engineering, Ruiz has brought that discipline’s precision and focus to Ericsson’s U.S. operations, and the discipline has paid off.
from this issue
The growth last year was an anomaly in an industry reeling from withering demand for new wireless networks. Ericsson’s non-North American sales dipped by 5 percent in 2009, while competitors Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia Siemens Networks saw double-digit declines.
Ericsson’s success doesn’t surprise Sumit Majumdar, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas who studies the telecom industry. Ericsson continues to lag behind competitors technologically, but it has avoided the cumbersome mergers and over-expansions that have plagued others, he says.
“The technological leapfrogging, anybody can do that today,” Majumdar says. “The trick is to be disciplined in the overall business model. Ericsson has that overall discipline compared to the other companies in this game, like Alcatel-Lucent.”
The challenge now is for Ericsson to maintain its top position in North America as the industry transitions to fourth-generation (4G) wireless standards, something Ruiz says it is well-prepared to do.
“With the success that we now have, we just have to execute,” Ruiz says. “If we can execute on all the business we’re now sitting on, and that we’ve won, then we’ll be a great company.”