In addition to golf, chocolate and family, any list of Patricia Russo's favorite things should apparently include stress. Nothing else could explain why she took a position as president of Eastman Kodak in 2001, when the company was in a tailspin. Nor will anything else explain why, just nine months later, she returned to her former employer, Lucent Technologies, to become its CEO when the company was probably worse off than Kodak.
Today Russo, 53, is primed for more stress. Lucent is set to merge with its French competitor Alcatel to form a global telecom technology company. She has already been criticized for throwing in the towel on Lucent. To her, there are no better options. "Over the years, I've worked for large companies, and coincidentally, they happened to have been in industries that have gone through pretty radical change," says Russo. She got a first taste of crisis management when Lucent was part of AT&T. She took over the money-losing business-systems division and made it profitable. Now she will become CEO of the new, as-yet-unnamed multinational, based in Paris.
The dotcom crash nearly killed Lucent. Although telecom has rebounded, as Russo gets set to run the new outfit, she faces culture clashes and a market that is still undecided about the marriage. It is likely she will rely on her composure, dealing with each obstacle in turn. "You have to be careful not to let the snowball roll over you," she says.