RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Nortel Networks Chief Executive Officer Mike Zafirovski commemorated his first anniversary at the helm of the struggling networking firm with a webcast for stockholders on Wednesday. And he joked the opening year of his tenure has been challenging.

Noting a year had passed, Zafirovski cracked that it had been a “pretty good decade,” according to media reports.

How so?

Despite a largely new management team, a focus on new products such as WiMax, a partnership with Microsoft to develop Internet phone products, and efforts to slash costs, Nortel stock remains around $2 a share.

“All Nortel, All the Time,” a blog site devoted to Nortel, described Zafirovski’s talk this way: “CEO Mike Zafirovski kicked off the company’s annual investor day with his typical mixuture of enthusiasm, bullishness and optimism.”

Zafirovski, who was a former top executive at Motorola, is placing a huge bet on WiMax, and one of his new hires backs the move. “North America, for a change, won’t be five years behind this one,” said Nortel Chief Technology Officer John Roese, All Things Nortel reported. Roese was named to the CTO post in June as part of Zafirovski’s company-wide management shakeup. “We could see 4G in North America at the same time 3G is being deployed,” he said.

4G is a refernece to fourth-generation broadband networks; 3G is third-generation, or the current technology used in emerging multimedia wireless networks such as upgraded offerings from Cingular, Verizon and Sprint.

4G WiMax is promosing true wireless broadband over wide areas.

Also in the webcast, Zafirovski remained committed to the rebuilding of Nortel with a special focus on an increase in operating margins.

In a letter posted on Nortel’s website in September, Zafirovski offered an overview of his “outside-in and inside-out” strategy:

“The development of our strategy has the twin goals of identifying key priorities for winning in the market and substantially growing earnings. The approach is both outside-in and inside-out. We have evaluated market trends and customer requirements such as network complexity, integration of applications, improved productivity, commercialization of services and the need for more bandwidth to drive profitable new services.”

Some spending will increase under Zafirovski’s efforts. To further help boost its cause, Nortel also has picked a new advertising agency — McCann Worldgroup out of San Francisco. TSN Media Intelligence recently reported that Nortel spent $8 million in advertising in 2005.

Meanwhile, the roster of management changes at Nortel grew by one earlier this month when Susan Shephard, chief ethics and compliance officer who had been hired by former CEO Bill Owens, announced she was leaving.

Also this week, Moody’s Investors Service reported that Nortel’s pension fund is underfunded – $3.1 billion, to be exact.

For more on Nortel’s marketing plans, see:

For coverage of Zafirovski’s webcast, see:

The Globe and Mail of Toronto also covered the story:

For an interview with Nortel’s CTO, see:

For the CEO letter, see: