Can Thodey's nice guy save Telstra?

Can Thodey's nice guy save Telstra?

Summary: Thodey's dress sense was showed off last week at Telstra's half year results, which, like his leadership style, is so different to that of his predecessor. But can the dramatic change in pace save Telstra?

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TOPICS: Telcos, Telstra
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commentaryThodey's dress sense was showed off last week at Telstra's half year results, which, like his leadership style, is so different to that of his predecessor. But can the dramatic change in pace save Telstra?

Telstra CEO David Thodey

Telstra CEO at the half year results
(Credit: Ben Grubb/ZDNet.com.au)

Thodey was dressed conservatively in a dark suit and grey tie as he took the stand in Sydney last Thursday morning to face the impertinent questions of a pack of reporters and a separate phalanx of analysts.

He wore a fashionable set of the slightly elongated rectangular glasses that became the height of eye wear style in 2009, and his shirt was pristinely white. A touch of frost greying his temples was the only real sign that the CEO was in his mid-50's, as opposed to being 10 years younger.

The unusually tall and thin Thodey towered over the room from the right of the raised stage that Telstra constructed deep in its corporate centre at 400 George St. The overall impression one first gets of the CEO, I have heard various people mention, can be a bit spooky as he darkly looms over you with his piercing eyes.

Thodey's dress sense in general contrasts subtly but importantly with that of his predecessor, Sol Trujillo.

The former Telstra CEO often wore different coloured ties with varying patterns, and he had a wide repertoire of flamboyant suits ranging from light grey to blue, pinstriped, black and more. Even the colour of his shirts changed to match the rest.

Trujillo's attire, combined with his shorter but bulkier stature, his power moustache and his highly expressive bushy eyebrows (just check the multitude of photos out there if you don't believe me) tended to give you the impression of an executive who was a combination king-hit prize fighter and some form of insurance salesman.

And their personalities don't match. Trujillo's tenure at Telstra was characterised by his bombastic, take no prisoners nature, while Thodey's much more reserved nature wouldn't seem out of place visiting his aged grandmother — with flowers in hand.

However, ironically given Trujillo's extroverted approach, Thodey's performance delivering Telstra's half-yearly financial results last week revealed the executive's growing level of comfort in a forum that so often appeared to play to his predecessor's weaknesses.

Trujillo never quite mastered the business and technology press, and his appearances at Telstra's question and answer sessions were peppered with antagonism and hostility as his American brand of humour and propensity for answering legitimate questions with marketing guff fell flat in front of the critical fourth estate audience.

For all the charm, Thodey did, after all, deliver a mediocre half-yearly financial result last week.

Thodey, by comparison, last Thursday charmed the pants off Australia's press and analyst corps with his oh-so-Australian brand of understated humour.

Where Trujillo might have gotten defensive about the dozens of questions asked about Telstra's ongoing and highly secretive negotiations with the Federal Government and National Broadband Network Company, Thodey played honest and to the heart. The negotiations were "very complex", he repeated gently over and over again, attempting to coax the press into believing there was nothing worrisome about them.

Asked whether the talks were distracting Telstra from its business, he quipped that Telstra did have some staff working on it, but "thankfully, we have another 35,000 people in the business".

Later on Thodey joked about Telstra's customer service that he would love to have customers delighted with the telco. "I am sure there are some out there," he chuckled.

And the CEO's honesty was at times startling — he simply admitted he was in the dark. "I do not know the answer to that," he said in response to a question about pending government legislation.

The remarkable thing about Thodey's charm offensive — witnessed up close — is that it appears to be genuine. The CEO had many journalists in the half-yearly results session chuckling along with him, where Trujillo's brash jokes and back-slapping camaraderie with his frequent guest star partner CEOs might have won him a few forced smiles at best.

Journalists loved to poke fun at Trujillo — as the many newspaper cartoons featuring him will attest. But Thodey has the sort of charm that makes those questioning him feel as though he's letting them be part of his crowd. You're not supposed to be too harsh on me, his beguiling smile appears to suggest, because after all, we're all insiders, party to the same secrets.

And it bodes well for Telstra in some regards.

As Thodey has been at pains to point out, Telstra desperately needs to move its customer service into the 20th century and stop ending up on the front pages of newspapers for botches like sending bills to deceased former customers.

The gradual exit of several of the telco's more publicly rambunctious staff from its ranks over the past year has no doubt been due to Thodey's influence, as has the commencement of the healing process with Telstra's unions.

And, of course, the exit of Trujillo and then-Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie from the telco last year was emblematic of the fact that Telstra was fighting a losing battle with the Federal Government over regulation — and consequently getting punished more than many of its shareholders thought necessary. Thodey has already done much to heal that rift.

From this, one thing is clear. Thodey's natural inclination is to be the nice guy.

But one other thing remains in question. With declining revenues and earnings, limited growth opportunities in a market that is rapidly becoming commoditised and subject to huge levels of government intervention, an inevitable separation of its wholesale and retail operations looming and a need to plough its growing cash pile into investment, Telstra is currently facing a raft of challenges the like it has never known.

For all the charm, Thodey did, after all, deliver a mediocre half-yearly financial result last week that led many analysts to question where growth in the telco's businesses would come from. It's a question that Trujillo always had an answer to.

But with the NBN negotiations being the elephant in Thodey's room, it's currently hard for the CEO to take charge of Telstra in the way he would like to. The future is just too uncertain.

Will Thodey's simply playing the nice guy be enough for Telstra?

Topics: Telcos, Telstra

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16 comments
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  • Go for a skiing trip

    Thodey needs to take Conroy on a skiing trip. Apparently, that is how this Government does business!
    anonymous
  • commencement of the healing process with Telstra's unions.

    I don't know where that has come from but it appears to be far from the truth. Telstra is still bent on punishing the award staff for not taking up the non union offer it made 18months ago. those who were forced onto the "ECA's" end up with a 12.5% pay rise over 3 years with the award staff offered only 10.5% and a "take it or leave it" coming from the top. industrial action is continuing behind the scenes which will most likely escalate.
    anonymous
  • Cool heads please.

    Mr. Thodey is indeed a gentleman of genuine and epic proportions. In fact he is so gentle and full of genuine humility at times you wonder if he understands that he controls one of Australia's largest and most powerful companies.

    Is is nice to have manners and to treat people with dignity but it is a fact that humans, being what they are, sometimes see this as weakness and use it to their own advantage. We have all heard of the bully kicking sand in your face at the beach.

    It is popular to demonise Sol but Sol challenged authority and rules that he considered unjust. He considered that the only way to change a bad law was to oppose it and this attitude was not happily received by a stand over, born to rule and dominating Government.

    People wish Mr Thodey well with his exemplary and civil attitude, yet it remains to be seen if the Rudd Government allows fairness to invade its negotiations with Telstra. The Bible does say that the meek will inherit the Earth but the question is has Mr Conroy read the Bible.

    The crux and crucial test will come on the 22nd of this month when the most vile unfair and company destroying regulation is introduced for debate in the Senate. If Conroy's blackmail and annihilation of Telstra is allowed to pass in the Senate industry in Australia will have seen a sad day.

    Let us be truthful and honestly review the history of the NBN Co. Before last election Mr Rudd promised the Australian people a FTTH NBN. It was gleefully accepted by Australians and Mr Rudd subsequently won the election. He was then told that for the NBN to be a financial success, Telstra would need to be eliminated as a competitor to the NBN.

    This presented some problem for Rudd, Conroy and the ACCC because for the NBN to avoid being a gigantic white elephant it must be a monopoly, something that Telstra opponents has castigated Telstra for in past years. Worse, the NBN would need to confiscate Telstra plant and equipment and incredibly Telstra customers also.

    Additionally, and in a display of absolute blackmail and threat Conroy threatened that unless Telstra self destructed Telstra would be forced to sell its cable, sell its half ownership of Foxtel and as the final act of bastardisation Telstra would be denied access to future access to spectrum, the absolute lifeblood of Telstra's future.

    The stakes are high. The future of the Rudd Government to some extent depends on their delivery of the promised NBN. Telstra have one million four hundred thousand voting Australian owners. If the Rudd Government is reasonable and can come to some mutual agreement with Telstra with happy agreement by both parties all will be well but if not Mr Thodey must abandon his Mr nice guy image and attitude and engage in battle which will be fierce and culminate at the next election.
    anonymous
  • Lol... like clockwork

    No Syd... quite simply NBN tenders were sought. Telstra forwarded a non-compliant bid and the other bidders weren't up to scratch.

    That's why we now need an NBN.

    If Telstra and your hero hadn't played games, with the others not coming up to scratch, Telstra would have won. But they didn't please don't again attempt to rewrite history.

    Also, Sol peddled lies about the ACCC and was in charge when Telstra broke the law by not allowing Telstra's competitors PSTN access, as they are allowed. Stop praising him.

    Here's what I asked you and said at another blog and strangely, you are yet to answer, lol -

    "Simple question - DO TELSTRA CONTACT YOU OR YOU THEM, IN A WAY THAT THEIR AVERAGE CUSTOMERS (such as me) DO NOT HAVE SUCH CONTACT?????? (cont...)

    Now before you lie and say no, we obviously already know the answer. So come clean! (cont...)

    I look forward to stunned silence here and your further share driven lunacy at another blog soon" {END}.

    Look that's exactly what you did, lol...
    anonymous
  • Ho ho ho

    I never seen anyone write more crap in my life. Telstra is in a complete mess, because Sol's strategy of taking on the government completely backfired. It was a screw up of monumental proportions. As was his ill-advised transformation (much of which is being cancelled)....

    I find it absolutely hilarious that idiot shareholders like you Sydney still believe he was good for the company. He created so much ill-will that people on multiple levels will be overjoyed to see Telstra be completely nailed by the government.

    As i have said before, I am just only too happy to be supporting a true Australian company (not one partially owned by foreign shareholders) in iiNet. Brilliant company, great prices, great value proposition, outstanding customer service. It doesn't take a lot to please your customers and Telstra doesn' t have and will never have this.

    I noticed your shares took another 5% hit....
    anonymous
  • Thirty pieces of silver.

    With apologies to William Shakespeare.

    Friends, Australians, countryman lend me your ears, I come to explain Sol not to praise him.

    Some efforts that men do lives after them the good is oft forgotten with their departure.

    So let it be with Sol. RS has said Sol was evil and RS is an honourable man.

    So are they all, all honourable men, though opponents with deadly intent to destroy Telstra.

    Sol was a citizen of the the USA but the honourable men, as RS, knew Sol was Mexican.

    Sol's plan for Telstra to lead the world could not fly as so many other companies,all honourable men, wanted his destruction.

    The twisted lies and self seeking advantage was clear to all, but these devious pretenders were honourable men. Not one, but all.

    Sol has departed, sped away by cumming selfish cheats that saw the Government handouts and though bloated were all honourable men. Especially RS who holds the dagger but honourable and accepts no blame.
    anonymous
  • Finally cracked

    Could be time for another cruise, Sydney?
    anonymous
  • Short and sweet, lol...

    Lol anon.

    I had a typical long winded reply to Sydney, dismantling his every lie, but after your short but perfect response, it isn't needed.

    I will just add that I have never called Sol evil or Mexican, those are blatant lies conjured up by a man who can see shares he purchased at $7.40 now worth a pitiful $3.10 and no light at tunnel's end.

    So please Sydney, either supply evidence to support your accusations or if you have any decency what-so-ever, be honourable just this once and forward a retraction (I won't hold my breath). Anyway...

    You legend Anon, lol...
    anonymous
  • Hi Ho.

    Yes indeed Anonymous, Alaska in May. Just trying to introduce a little levity into the proceedings.
    anonymous
  • The greatest gift of humanity is to be able to see another's point of view.

    Forgive me Lord I know not what I did.

    RS as a very positive indication of my serious intentions of goodwill to you, I hereby without reservation, retract honestly and completely whatever it was that has caused you serious distress. It was not my intention or wish to be so cruel as to cause you mental anguish.
    anonymous
  • POV

    Oh Sydney, there is absolutely no distress or anguish. Don't give yourself too much credit, lol...

    But there is amazement... at just how anyone (you) can invent stories/lies and then claim someone else (me) said these lies!!!!

    This really is odd, in a funny, yet desperate way...

    Plus it really puts your entire argument, which in its entirety amounts to nothing more than FUD and mistruths, which revolve around your TLS portfolio, in to total perspective.

    So please continue to comment daily, totally devoid of any factual evidence. Well after all, that's exactly what you've been doing for 5 years now, so.

    Ooh and BTW - you didn't answer me again! So with your new found Thodey like openness and in the spirit of fair play. Just so that we all know exactly where your comments are once and for all coming from...

    Please tell us about any "extra contact" (you know what I mean Syd!!!) between Telstra and you, other than what would be considered normal, between company and shareholder/customer...
    anonymous
  • Cloak & Dagger.

    Hey RS who are you (or who do you think you are) CIA, KGB, FBI or Russian Secret Service.
    anonymous
  • Sydney the expose`

    Syd I'll answer you. I am the one who is sickened by continued TLS greed and lies - there satisfied?

    Now about my question, to you! It was a very simple question Sydney and going by your utterly ridiculous answer, well... it is obviously a resounding YES...

    You are obviously in constant contact with Telstra.

    Well, of course you are, for Telstra to have arranged a NWAT bio, radio like interviews etc with you, you must be. But this is obviously just the thin edge of the wedge.

    How often do you and Telstra communicate. Hourly? Daily? Once a week?

    13/2 you said - "please RS forget your pretense that my small shareholding in Telstra is the driver for my, at times, support of Telstra".

    So lets look at this claim a little closer now!

    You have finally confessed to ZD's worst kept secret that you are a TLS shareholder, with a mere 70 000! shares (so you said on NWAT). Almost all bought at T2, so over $518,000.00 worth of TLS which are now worth just $217,000.00 (no wonder you want to blame, Howard, Rudd, Samuel and RS, lol).

    You are also a registered active Telstra supporter (as also mentioned previously on NWAT). Are you the president too?

    You also comment (pretty much) daily and always (not at times) in support of Telstra. You have never once said a bad word about Telstra or a single good word about thier competitors.

    Now we discover that you also have personal contact with Telstra (PR department?) on a regular basis.

    So, for you to come here and claim to being nothing more than a concerned citizen, is an absolute crock and clearly shows you to be a very dishonest and conniving human being.

    In fact all this makes you, the most blatant and comprehensive, "disparaging opponent of each and every one of Telstra's opponents. One who comments exclusively for his own financial benefit".

    Time for the glue factory Syd, the "complete dirty truth about you", is now out!
    anonymous
  • Hang on, help is on the way.

    Good gracious RS, you are more seriously troubled than I thought and certainly far beyond my capacity to be of assistance to you.

    Therefor I have consulted with a friend, over coffee, ( so there will be no charge to you RS as the consultation was gratis) with great knowledge and experience in problems that can become delusional and serious if allowed to continue without treatment.

    I have presented the history of your hatred to my expert friend and after due consideration and deep deliberation he has concluded that it is probable that you, sometime in the past, have had conflict with Telstra and he would guess that you were, at some stage, an employee by Telstra.

    I do hope that you are not offended that I have sought explanation and help in this matter but at times your thought processes expressed through you vivid attacks do need solution. Perhaps you could make peace with Telstra and eliminate your hatred for Telstra stakeholders.
    anonymous
  • Yeah, yeah...

    Sydney why is it that anybody who isn't like you, you accuse of being troubled or mentally disturbed?

    In other words, the millions of Aussies who can simply accept Telstra, warts and all!

    Millions who do not do, as you and just 3 or 4 others do - lie, cheat, misrepresent themselves, never accept facts and of course, "own Telstra shares"...?

    Perhaps it's time the very small number of you, to wake up to yourselves and actually understand who has the actual problem!

    Plus, you still didn't answer me, and then typically, got all defensive and ridiculously evasive A G A I N, lol.

    So how often do you and Telstra contact each other hourly, daily, weekly?

    It's not a trick question!

    Just be truthful... for once in your miserable, Syd/Telstra, clandestine existence!
    anonymous
  • Wrong again - at least you are consistent!

    Ooh BTW Syd, unlike you ... who has TLS shares to make him lie, totally misrepresent himself and make ridiculously biased, always pro-Telstra comments (and as we have recently determined for sure, you are as thick as thieves and in constant contact with Telstra) I have no such skeletons, lol...

    I've said all along and I will say it again (and sworn on a stack of bibles or Telstra shares, you pick) I am a Telstra customer x 5 (for now anyway - you and the other greed boys, NOT Telstra, may have clinched my decision to change, when my contract is up - think about it) and an Optus customer x 1.

    Comms (and anti-greediness) are just a hobby; I do not and never have worked in IT or ICT for Telstra or any other Telco/ISP AND NEVER WILL. I have no shares and no association what-so-ever with any company or anybody, even remotely associated with any Telco or ISP.

    DO YOU OR WILL YOU EVER, FINALLY UNDERSTAND? Stop clutching at straws, because not everyone is as dishonest as you!
    anonymous