MORRISVILLE,Frank Plastina has returned to his Triangle roots with a similar mission: to help grow a telecommunications company.

“My driving ambition is to continue the profitability and to grow the company,” Plastina told WRAL Local Tech Wire about his new job as chief executive officer of telecom gear manufacturer Tekelec. “The executive team is doing a very good job. Positioning us to get to the next level is my responsibility.”

Plastina, who spent 15 years at Nortel and worked four of those as Nortel’s chief executive in RTP, replaces Fred Lax as Tekelec’s CEO on Feb. 6. Lax chose not to relocate from California when Tekelec chose to transfer its headquarters to Morrisville.

In its most recent quarter, Tekelec (Nasdaq: TKLC) reported $148.1 million in sales and a net profit of $8.7 million, or 12 cents a share. Of its sales, 41 percent took place in international markets.

International sales will get a great deal of attention from Plastina. Tekelec recently announced the renewal of a major contract with Alcatel, which is based in France but operates internationally.

“We had strong success in India last year, and 40 percent of our sales are outside of the United States,” Plastina said. “There’s no question that other markets are growing faster than the United States. Tekelec is going to go after those growth markets.”

Tekelec recently announced plans to expand operations in Russia. Last August, Tekelec acquired a routing software firm based in Germany. The company also bought out minority shareholders in its Santera Systems subsidiary in August.

All those moves fit with Plastina’s goals of growing Tekelec, which employs some 1,700 people. Of those, 650 work in the Triangle.

“Definitely, that’s the plan,” he replied when asked if he anticipated making more acquisitions.

Plastina, who lives in Cary, was certainly familiar with Tekelec before he took his new job.

“Tekelec is a tremendous company and is financially strong,” he said. “What I like about it, and this goes back to my days at Nortel as a competitor of Tekelec, is that the company has a great reputation. They have technology talent and high quality products. They are really a leader.”

Plastina joins Tekelec from investment firm Warburg Pincus, where he had worked as an executive-in-residence since leaving Nortel in 2002. He took over Proxim, a Wi-Fi company based in California that Warburg Pincus had invested in, but the firm went bankrupt and was sold last July.

“I was sent there to take charge and turn the company around,” he explained but noted that Proxim lost a $30 million patent infringement case that predated the Warburg Pincus investment. “That was the key” to the company’s demise, he added.

Plastina returned to Warburg Pincus, commuting to its New York City offices, and he was all ears when approached about the Tekelec job.

“We first started talking around Thanksgiving,” Plastina said. The fact that Tekelec was relocating its corporate headquarters to North Carolina made the job even more appealing, he added.

“It will be nice to drive to work for a change. That’s icing on the cake,” Plastina said, noting his Warburg Pincus and Proxim jobs required constant out-of-state travel. “I can jump right in with Tekelec already being a North Carolina company and now that the move is behind it.”