JDS Uniphase Corp. was for several shining years one of Canada's leading technology superstars, posting blazing growth as it rode the surging demand for fibre-optic network parts. At its peak, the company employed 10,000 workers in Ottawa.
Less than three years later, JDS Uniphase is a shadow of its boom-era self with only 580 workers left in the capital -- and the last cuts haven't even been made.
"There will be some," said Jozef Straus, JDS chief executive officer and co-chairman. "Most of it is done. A large degree is done."
The collapse has been extraordinary, exceeding that of higher-profile domestic communications gear maker Nortel Networks Corp. JDS makes specialized parts, sitting near the bottom of a long supply chain on which it depends, whereas Nortel's implosion was somewhat cushioned by its much broader product catalogue.
Today, restructuring continues as JDS tries to position itself for an eventual recovery, protected in large part by the $1.23-billion (U.S.) of cash on its balance sheet.
But analysts don't think the firm will post a profit until mid-2005 -- almost two years away.
The company already has lost money for the past 17 successive quarters.
Over this period of more than four years, JDS piled up $67.26-billion of red ink -- reflecting massively overpriced acquisitions -- on $6.52-billion of sales.
Looking at such stark numbers, an observer might be tempted to declare 1999's $6-billion merger of Ottawa-based JDS Fitel Inc. and San Jose, Calif.-based Uniphase Corp. and the $18-billion addition of SDL Inc. of San Jose in early 2001 disastrous failures.
"No, no regrets," Mr. Straus said. "Let's put it this way: We had a tremendous amount of growth here and I was extremely glad we provided opportunities for many, many people in Ottawa.
"On the other hand, you always want to create some degree of sustainability and legacy, moving forward. This would have happened whether this is Uniphase or not Uniphase. We are just mimicking the response of the entire industry."
JDS has said its goal is to break even, excluding some costs, by next June.
The market for optical networks experienced the biggest boom during the telecommunications bubble -- a modern-day gold rush -- and has suffered the most harrowing collapse. A new Raymond James & Associates Inc. report suggests that while network traffic is up 20 per cent from last year, less than a quarter of network capacity is being used.
Ottawa's technology industry soldiers on. Nortel still employs about 6,000 workers, down from 15,000 at the manic peak of the boom. Total technology employment crested at about 70,000 in 2000, according to figures from Statistics Canada. The number fell to fewer than 50,000 last summer but has once more jumped, pushing toward 60,000 as numerous startups take on talent discarded from the bigger names.
"Very few people packed up shop and left town," said Jeffrey Dale, head of the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation. "People stayed and created their own opportunities."
Meanwhile, Mr. Straus works to keep Ottawa relevant within JDS, whose true base and all other key executives are in San Jose, though the company still lists both cities as official co-headquarters. Ottawa represents about a 10th of the company's work force, a total of 5,500 down from a peak of 29,000, in early 2001. The city is a key to its future as the bulk of research and development is conducted in the Canadian capital.
Mr. Straus said JDS is working with its customers -- such as Nortel -- to help telecommunications companies reduce network costs. JDS itself is trying to ease its reliance on data transport between cities, the hard-hit long-haul segment. Optical networks -- which carry data on pulses of light over strands of glass -- within cities are becoming more important.
But Mr. Straus -- a scientist at heart with a physics PhD from the University of Alberta -- worries financial constraints could have a longer-term impact.
"Ten or 15 years ago, we positioned ourselves pretty good, exploiting the waves as I used to call [them]" he said. "So we ride the waves. Today, there are no waves, so we kind of are skimming on the water.
"You always have to take into a strategic positioning what base sciences or base knowledge you need to sustain to provide a springboard to create waves if the waves are available.
"Clearly, I am always worried that something may be beyond the corner which we don't see and can beat us over the head -- that's a standard worry of every CEO and every technical guy."
Networking and fibre optics are expected to eventually flourish again, as current capacity is slowly used up and demand for more emerges. JDS is left little choice but to wait. Its famous stock -- which made many investors and employees including Mr. Straus very rich -- languishes at about $4 (Canadian) on the Toronto Stock Exchange. It is down 98 per cent from its $219 all-time high, reached in March, 2000.
Despite the decline, most analysts still think it's overvalued. In fact, only one analyst among 27 surveyed by data provider Bloomberg LP rates the stock a "buy."
Gabriel Lowy of Blaylock & Partners LP is one of 15 analysts that rate the stock "sell."
"Recovery remains elusive -- as does profitability," Mr. Lowy said in a recent report. "By any valuation measure, we believe the shares are extremely overvalued."
The long hard road for JDS continues, the sad tale of a Canadian success story swept up in something much larger than itself, only to be spit out and left to claw its way back to some semblance of health. But between boom, bust and recovery, Mr. Straus said he wakes each morning relishing the "opportunity to create" and insisted JDS will never totally abandon Ottawa for San Jose.
"I don't think so," Mr. Straus said. "At this stage, I would define it as impossible. [Nothing in]life is ever impossible but . . ."