Global Economics

Denmark Telco Improves with Age


More than a century old, GN Store Nord has weathered many changes in the telecommunications industry to emerge as a hot prospect

GN Store Nord is a rare corporate phenomenon—a hot growth company that's 137 years old. The Danish company started in 1869 as the Great Northern Telegraph Company, morphed into an unwieldy conglomerate, then slimmed down to focus on phone headsets, especially cordless ones enabled with Bluetooth remote technology. A good move: Profits almost doubled last year to €112 million, while revenue rose almost 20%, to €744 million.

GN also has cash in the bank to fuel the next growth spurt. This October it sold its ReSound hearing aids business in a €2 billion deal with Switzerland's Phonak. Although the hearing instrument business was profitable, to keep it competitive GN needed to make a substantial investment. Company management decided the money could be better spent developing headsets.

HIGH MARGIN AGENDA

"We did the divestment to get focus," says recently installed Chief Executive Officer Toon Bouten, who has 100 days to come up with the company's new three-year strategy. "It's going to be a very straightforward business plan," he promises. A former general manager of Philips Consumer Electronics Europe, the 47-year-old Bouten also built Compaq's consumer group for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and spearheaded an initial public offering for Swedish online employment agency Jobline International.

Among the items on Bouten's agenda: outsourcing as much as possible; building the consumer side of the business; and winning more name recognition in Europe for GN's Bluetooth Jabra headset brand, which already is a big U.S. seller. Bouten is commissioning exclusive Danish design company Jacob Jensen for more items like the Jabra JGX10, a silver-colored, 12-gram Bluetooth headset that looks more like sleek jewelry than a routine item of wireless technology.

Available for about €143, it's the kind of high-margin product Bouten wants more of. "The business is extremely design sensitive," says Bouten. "Without it, you just have a commodity product."

Sains writes for BusinessWeek from Stockholm .

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