Honorary degree citation - John A. Roth
By: Mohsen Anvari, November 2000
Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you John Roth, president and chief executive officer of Nortel Networks Corporation.
Born in Calgary, John Roth grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta, and came to Montreal to study at McGill University, where he earned a Bachelor of Engineering in electrical engineering and a Masters in engineering.
He began his professional career with RCA Montreal and in 1969 joined Nortel, then known as Northern Electric, as a design engineer. Over the next three decades, he held a range of management and executive positions, where his leadership had a significant impact on the development of Canada's high-technology industry.
In the mid-1980s, as President of its Bell-Northern Research subsidiary, he was in charge of the company's global network of research-and-development labs. In the early 1990s, he established Nortel Networks as one of the world's leading wireless network suppliers. He was named chief operating officer in 1995 and, in 1997, became president and CEO.
Mr. Roth's rise through the corporate ranks reflects his outstanding leadership abilities as well as his vision. Immediately on assuming the leadership of Canada's high-tech flagship, he issued a manifesto for change. He called for a "Right-Angle Turn" away from the past. He set out his vision of a new foundation for global communications and began leading sweeping changes in his company's way of doing business.
A safe and steady 100-year-old maker of telecom equipment for a handful of the world's largest telephone companies had to be transformed. It had to become an aggressive supplier of networking gear for thousands of Internet-related network operators. It had to compete with aggressive and fast-moving high-tech firms in California's Silicon Valley.
Not everyone in global communications shared the vision he described in 1997. But by setting his company on a bold new course and steering it into the heart of the Internet Revolution, John Roth effectively transformed the communications industry worldwide.
By making the right decisions at the right time, he also boosted Nortel Networks sales by 44 percent between 1997 and 1999 to $32.7 billion (Canadian). As CEO, he has strengthened the company's position at the core of Canada's technology environment and ensured Nortel Networks can continue contributing to Canada's economic development.
John Roth's leadership skills have been given shape by a passionate commitment to Canada. He has been an active participant in the public policy process, addressing economic and social issues important to Canada's future. He is committed to making Canada the world's most connected nation and a leader in the new global economy.
Under his leadership, Nortel Networks traditional support for education has expanded and become the focus of its corporate citizenship activities. The company is contributing about $25 million (Canadian) this year to expand capabilities for science, math, and technology education.
He has served on the Prime Minister's Advisory Board on Science and Technology and is chair of the Premier of Ontario's industry advisory board for the Access to Opportunities Program. He is also a member of the Premier of Alberta's external advisory committee on information and communications issues and a member of the policy committee of the Business Council on National Issues.
Through his participation in public and industry forums and organizations, he has worked to keep high-tech jobs in this country so that Canada can offer its young people opportunities at the forefront of global technology and business. Most recently, he co-chaired the Canadian EBusiness Opportunities Roundtable, a joint public and private sector initiative examining what Canada has to do to prosper in the new Internet economy.
Since becoming CEO, John Roth has received many awards and other forms of recognition from public and industry organizations around the world. These have recognized his business accomplishments, his industry leadership, his support for education, and his contributions to Canada and the world.
He received the Emerging Markets CEO of the Year Award in 1998. In 1999, he was presented with the New York Hall of Science Distinguished Leadership Award for the Application of Technology to Telecommunications and Education. Earlier this year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Queen's University and received the IWAY Award for public leadership for his contributions to the advancement of Canada's information society and the development of its high-tech industry.
For his success in transforming Nortel Networks into a 21st century powerhouse, he was recently named Outstanding CEO of the Year 2000 by a panel of business peers and academics.
Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you John Roth, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.