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Nortel hires CFO...again

For the second time in a year, Nortel Networks brings in a new CFO who's actually an old CFO returning to the company.

Nortel Networks announced on Thursday that it has re-hired Peter Currie for the job of chief financial officer, a position he first held a decade ago.

Currie, who worked at Nortel in various finance positions from 1979 to 1997, will replace William Kerr. Currie served as CFO of Nortel from 1994 to 1997. Most recently he has been CFO for the Royal Bank of Canada. He will assume his new post Feb. 14.

The CFO switch comes at a time when Nortel is trying to put a year-long accounting scandal behind it. Earlier this month, the company released a series of financial restatements for 2001 through 2003, which were overseen by Kerr. The company is still being investigated by U.S. and Canadian authorities.

Wall Street analysts were unimpressed with Nortel's selection for CFO.

"Today's announcement of the appointment of Peter Currie as the new CFO is the first in what we expect to be many changes within Nortel's executive staff," Lehman Brothers analyst Steven Levy said in a research note to investors. "Our only disappointment is that Mr. Currie is actually a long-time Nortel employee...and not a true 'outsider'."

Levy noted that this was the second "new" CFO Nortel has appointed in the past 12 months that has actually been an "old" financial executive of the company.

Kerr, who had served as Nortel's controller at one time, was appointed CFO in March after Nortel fired its top three executives, including CEO Frank Dunn, CFO Douglas Beatty and controller Michael Gollogly.

Nortel also announced today that its current controller, MaryAnne Pahapill, has resigned to take another job. While Kerr and Pahapill had been appointed to these positions on an interim basis, the timing of these changes has caused some concern.

"At a time when Nortel needs stabilization in its financial accounting and reporting group, this change raises new questions about the company's ability to deliver the financial reports necessary to bring it back into compliance with regulatory requirements," Levy said in the note.

Nortel expects to release unaudited financial results for the first and second quarter of 2004 by the end of January. Reporting of the results had been delayed due to the financial scandal.