Editor’s note: Mark Evans spent five years covering Nortel as a high-tech reporter for the National Post newspaper in Toronto. He writes a blog about the company called All Nortel, All the Time.

TORONTO, Canada – Mike Zafirovski, chief executive of Nortel, told employees Thursday that he is “absolutely confident” Joel Hackney, Nortel’s top executive at its Research Triangle Park campus, can “execute” his job despite a road rage incident involving a female University of North Carolina student last fall.

In an e-mail, which was published on the Web site “All About Nortel” and was confirmed by Nortel, Zafirovski said the company had investigated the incident, which it took “very seriously.” Actions were taken but specifics would not be disclosed, Zafirovski said.

Also Thursday, Nortel announced it would have to restate its earnings dating back several years for a fourth time. Nortel recently uncovered problems related to pensions and also to bookings of revenues. "Clearly, I’m not happy that we have to restate," Zafirovski said in a conference call. It’s the second restatement in his year and a half on the job.

Regarding Hackney, Zafirovski outlined what he said was an extensive review process of the matter.

“Nortel takes this incident very seriously and, for the last six days, Chief Compliance Officer Bob Bartzokas has led a rigorous review involving numerous external and internal interviews (the internal interviews were with employees in and outside of Joel’s organization),” Zafirovski wrote. “This process was comprehensive in nature and I want to assure you that we took full account of all the employee input and response we’ve received regarding the incident.

“Bob and the Compliance Committee completed their review and concluded the October incident was isolated. The Committee recommended certain appropriate actions and advised the board of directors of its findings and recommendations. The specific details of the actions will remain private, as they would for any Nortel employee.”

Zafirovski concluded the e-mail by saying: “I am absolutely confident of Joel’s ability to execute our business objectives, and he has given me his full assurance that he will hold to the highest ethical and professional standards expected of a Nortel leader.”

In the e-mail Zafirovski included a statement from Hackney: “I want you to know that I am taking full responsibility for the consequences of my actions. I have also communicated my personal apology to Ms. Ogden. I know this incident has caused embarrassment for my family, my employer and my co-workers. I am truly sorry.”

Hackney entered into a consent agreement that will see the charges dismissed in two months if has a mental assessment for anger management, completes 50 hours of community service, donates $500 to a family violence prevention center and three tickets to three home UNC basketball games next season to a children’s hospital charity, and writes a letter of apology to the victim, Alicia Ogden, a 21-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill student.

Hackney, 37, oversees 2,400 employees in Research Triangle Park and 10,500 Nortel employees around the world, and is playing a key role in the company’s efforts to transform itself into a leaner, more efficient and more profitable operation. His title is senior vice-president for global operations and quality.

The incident happened on Oct. 13, 2006 at the UNC campus following a “Late Night with Roy” event with UNC basketball coach Roy Williams. After Hackney allegedly pulled his Audi SUV in front of Ogden’s car in the parking lot, she honked at him. Hackney got out of his car, confronted Ogden and grabbed the side of her face. In an affidavit, Ogden said “I told him not to touch me and he responded that he’ll do what he wants.”

According a story in today’s Ottawa Citizen, Hackney reportedly dared Ogden to get out of her car and was charged with false imprisonment by restraining her.

The incident has prompted many Nortel employees to question whether Hackney should be fired if his behavior is seen as something that breaches the company’s code of ethics.

Nortel has determined it was an “isolated” incident.

“The company believes that Joel has accepted responsibility for the incident, is genuinely sorry that it happened, and that he is taking appropriate actions to remedy,” said Nortel spokesman Dean Mundy in a statement sent to WRAL Local Tech Wire.
The News & Observer quoted Hackney as describing the case as “such a minor thing that I haven’t been involved in it. It’s a parking lot argument, like 30 seconds."

However, his lawyer, Kirk Osborne, told the Ottawa newspaper that Hackney was misquoted.

“He regrets the whole unfortunate matter took place,” Osborne added in an interview with WRAL Local Tech Wire. “He is eager to complete the terms of the deferment agreement he has entered into, and looks forward to this case being dismissed.”

Hackney joined Nortel last year after a 15-year career with General Electric. His hiring was part of an extensive management overhaul done by Zafirovski, who took the helm of Nortel after the company had fired CEO Frank Dunn “for cause” in early 2004 after Dunn and a group of senior executives allegedly cooked the company’s books to trigger a lucrative bonus plan.