Monday, February 25, 2008

Endgame for Nils Melngailis of Lattelecom?

There are press reports citing reliable sources that a search process will be started for the vacant position on the Lattelecom board that opened when CEO Nils Melngailis was not re-elected as chairman. As things look now, the point of this exercise is to find a de facto replacement for Melngailis, who did not take the hint after his politically motivated expulsion from the chairmanship. There are no compelling objective (financial results-related) reasons for asking Melngailis to leave. Lattelecom has been doing as well as any fixed-line-only operator can do.
The government apparently wants Melngailis out because as an independent-thinking, Western-educated, experienced manager (a background with IBM Business Intelligence and Coopers & Lybrand), he proposed a management buy-out of Lattelecom to break the interminable indecision about the ownership of the company. Melngailis sees the interests of Lattelecom and increasing its value and competitiveness as his primary task and loyalty (had their been a clear ownership direction, this could have been different, for example, to make the company an integral part of TeliaSonera or whatever).
Look for Melngailis to leave once the government drags out its indecision about the half-assed MBO he still hoped for (The Blackstone Group buys 49 % of Lattelecom from TeliaSonera and waits for a chance to get the rest from the government?!). This could happen by April. Then some lackey will be found to formally run the company (unless the Swedes get worried about having their 49 % run into the ground) while whatever happens...
This whole black humor laced series of events should also be a warning to serious foreign investors to stay away from anything that has to do with Latvian government interests. Getting into any business with a government stake in Latvia is like rolling in the hay with a tar baby. You end up inextricably stuck to the thing and covered in itchy hay for your efforts.

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