Calm, diplomatic and deep down a salesman. David Thodey, the meat in Telstra's Kaz sandwich, will be in familiar territory in his new role as Telstra's chief executive officer.
David Thodey (Credit: Telstra)
Thodey's time at IBM Australia, including as its managing director between 1999 and 2000, were defining years. But his move to a second tier position within Telstra was, according to Kaz founder, Peter Kazacos, a clear indication he had bigger plans.
"My view is that to move from being the head of IBM to a second tier role within Telstra wouldn't be enough. He's adapted and survived Sol, who was a tough guy," said Kazacos.
Kazacos worked closely with Thodey after Telstra's $333 million acquisition of Kaz in 2004 when the telco's chief was Ziggy Switkowski. While initially heading up Telstra's mobile division, by 2004 Thodey had taken on his most recent role as Telstra Business and Government Group managing director, as well as a spot as Kaz Group's chairman.
It's no secret the integration of Kaz was difficult, and ultimately never finished before being sold last month to Fujitsu Australia for $200 million. A source who worked with Thodey and Kaz's former CEO Mike Foster during that period said Thodey was most notably a "pragmatist" who was ultimately more constrained by Telstra than Kaz, which Thodey recognised had potential.
But it was his time at IBM, which Kazacos and others credit for his different approach to Sol: "Deep down, David's a salesman and he's gone through the IBM way of doing that," said Kazacos.
Thodey spent a total of 22 years at IBM in various sales, marketing and communications roles.
"The biggest thing he did — and I don't think it's been matched by any previous or subsequent IBM MD — was that he was always approachable and was very passionate about business partners. He has got a good way of getting things resolved," said Kazacos. "You'd rarely see David lose his cool, but you would know when he's upset."
A former Queensland government chief information officer said that during Thodey's stint as IBM's MD he brought about cultural change for the better at Big Blue with his focus on "business outcomes for customers" and ensuring projects were delivered on time in a period when IBM "wasn't in the best shape".
But Thodey's time at IBM didn't pass without blemish. Thodey headed up IBM during the era of enterprise-wide outsourcing deals, which were characterised by low margins and rewards that typically came in the latter part of the term.
A former staff member who worked at IBM Australia at the time recalled IBM's former US chief Lou Gerstner's visit to Sydney during the 2000 Olympics.
"He tore shreds off IBM because Services (at the time called IBM Global Services) was dragging down the company's performance," the source said. "Of course, that was done in a diplomatic fashion, but you can imagine the version that David got."
They added that while Thodey wasn't exactly an "inspiring" leader, he was well liked.