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David Moffatt will be Telstra CEO

There is no single candidate right now better suited to succeed Sol Trujillo as Telstra chief executive than the telco's current consumer marketing and channels chief David Moffatt.

commentary There is no single candidate right now better suited to succeed Sol Trujillo as Telstra chief executive than the telco's current consumer marketing and channels chief David Moffatt.

I'm so confident the telco's chairman Donald McGauchie and the rest of the board will recognise this fact and hand him the job when Sol leaves, that I've put my money where my mouth is and wagered the princely sum of $5 on the outcome with ZDNet.com.au telco reporter Suzanne Tindal.

I'll let Suzanne back her own horse in a separate article (she'll lose).

Moffatt (pictured, image credit from Telstra) won my vote for several reasons. Firstly, I agree with David Braue's argument that Telstra is likely to continue down the ambitious, necessary and relatively successful long-term path that Trujillo sent it on when he stepped on deck back in mid-2005.

Trujillo was a king-hit level international telco executive brought in to rejuvenate a Telstra that needed to shift onto a commercial footing (finally) after a long and uncertain period of being a quasi-government entity.

The telco needs a calmer and more Australian head that can execute on Trujillo's vision while warming Telstra's icy corporate heart.

As David mentions, so much changed under Trujillo's watch that the company doesn't need another visionary of his level (with all the American-style arrogance that came in the package and so annoyed the Australian public).

Instead, it needs a calmer and more Australian head that can execute on Trujillo's vision while warming Telstra's icy corporate heart.

Given Telstra's ignomious departure from Stephen Conroy's NBN tender process, that executive will necessarily need to focus on what has long been dubbed the telco's "Plan B": the ongoing upgrade of its Next G mobile network, IP core and strategic wired assets such as the HFC cable network.

Its detractors might not agree, but the construction of Telstra's Next G network was a stunning technical endeavour that gave the company a massive boost in the mobile war; a war that most of the rest of Australia's telco industry is only now starting to realise it is losing badly. (The pending merger of Hutchison and Vodafone is the most visible indicator of Telstra's success in this area.)

In this context there is no better candidate to take over Telstra as a whole than Moffatt, the man Trujillo tasked with overseeing the provision of services on the Next G network to consumers. Of course, Moffatt also manages the provision of broadband, fixed line and entertainment services to Australia's great masses.

Are you starting to get a picture for just how much of Telstra's revenue he is already responsible for?

But wait, there's more.

Moffatt is also Telstra's former chief financial officer and group managing director, finance and administration, a position he took up after being CEO at the Australia and New Zealand division of General Electric. He's also held roles with other large companies like Citibank and (get ready to tick one more box off, McGauchie) management consultancy Bain.

And to cap it off, Moffatt's been overseeing the rejuvenation of Telstra's retail strategy; which appears to have been drawn straight from the brain of Steve Jobs (the most visible example of this can be seen on George St, Sydney, where Telstra's ritzy T[life] store sits directly opposite Apple's flagship monolith.

Moffatt was reportedly seen as a strong contender to replace Trujillo's predecessor Switkowski

It's possible to make the argument that some of Moffatt's colleagues (for example business chiefs Deena Shiff and David Thodey or CFO John Stanhope) have similar qualifications, and they do, at least on paper. But in person they lack the leadership potential and human touch that Moffatt alone amongst Telstra's senior ranks seems to possess (in some measure).

Wholesale chief Kate McKenzie probably has the personality to do the job — but her public sector background is her biggest weakness and will likely rule her out for the hot seat.

There is also Moffatt's form with Trujillo and his ongoing dance with the CEO role, which started when Trujillo's predecessor Ziggy Switkowski was dumped back in December 2004. Moffatt was reportedly seen as a strong contender to replace Switkowski, although I suspect a lack of senior telco experience compared to his rivals let him down at the time.

When Trujillo stepped on board, The Australian reported that he quickly put Moffatt through some fairly stern paces, including a notice that he could lose his consumer chief role unless he met targets. I can testify that Moffatt and a number of other Australian Telstra leaders appeared a little more shaky than normal when presenting in public at the time; not hard to understand since the ground had clearly been cut away from under their feet.

However, Moffatt must have earned some board kudos for sticking with his lot and dramatically deepening his telco experience; we can assume, since he's still around, that he met most of Trujillo's targets.

The picture this all paints should be clear: unlike the last time around, Moffatt clearly has the experience and gravitas to step into Trujillo's shoes; and undoubtedly the effort of holding his ambitions down under Trujillo will have given him ample energy and patience to deliver results on a bigger scale.

Who are you betting on to succeed Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo? Got any inside info? Drop us a line confidentially or post your comments below this article.