Note: The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Mike Zafirovski, who failed in his efforts to turn around Nortel Networks, has a new job.

Mike Z has been hired as a “senior advisor” by The Blackstone Group, the firm said Monday. Zafirovski also was named to the board of Apria Healthcare, a provider of home healthcare services with $2 billion in revenues. It is owned by Blackstone.

The board seat is an additional one for Zafirovski, who also is a director at Boeing.

Mere mention of Mike Z can cause a lot of heartburn among former Nortel employees, especially those who lost jobs or whose pensions and benefits were hammered by the company’s bankruptcy and ensuing liquidation. Nortel once employed some 8,000 people in the Park. There were far fewer than that when he ran the company, but under his leadership Nortel’s fate was sealed. Nortel’s campus in RTP has since been purchased by Fidelity.

As for his new responsibilities …

“I am delighted that Mike will be supporting our efforts at Blackstone as a Senior Advisor and that his first responsibility in this regard is with Apria Healthcare,” Neil Simpkins, senior managing director of Blackstone, said in a statement.

After climbing quickly through the executive ranks at both GE and Motorola, Zafirovski was lured to the CEO job at Nortel in November 2005. He left in August 2009 when most of Nortel’s board (including former North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt) quit as the once powerful telecommunications gear maker foundered into bankruptcy.

Zafirovski received no severance at the time, according to Nortel. However, he later filed a $12 million claim against the company’s assets as it went from bankruptcy into liquidation. Nortel has since sold or agreed to sell virtually all its assets, including patents worth billions of dollars.

Zafirovski was seen as Nortel’s hope to right a sinking ship after his 2 ½-year tenure as chief operating officer and a board member at Motorola. But despite putting virtually an entire new management team in place and implementing Six Sigma management, Zafirovski found no solutions to the company’s many ills. When the financial crisis struck in 2008 and spilled over into 2009, Nortel declared bankruptcy in January. He and much of the board that hired him abandoned ship shortly thereafter.

About his new job, Zafirovski said in a statement:

“I am looking forward to serving Apria Healthcare as a board member and working with the executive leadership team to continue to expand Apria Healthcare’s presence in the home healthcare service segment. As health reform is implemented in the next few years, I look forward to sharing my experience from other industries with the team.”

When Zafirovski left Nortel, he told Canadian media: “I’ve told the board of directors I’ll give this job 100 percent and walk out with my head held high. Obviously I’m not going to be a CEO of a residual company dealing with patent assets and claims.”

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