Telstra leads tech advances by taking risk: Thodey

Telstra CEO David Thodey has said the incumbent has maintained its leadership position in mobile technology advances through risk taking, and putting its investments on the line.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telstra's growth lies through risk taking and leading technology advancements, according to CEO David Thodey.

Thodey, who announced his retirement in February, took to the stage during a keynote from Hans Vestberg, CEO of Telstra's network vendor partner Ericsson, to explain Telstra's long-running partnership with the Sweden-based company.

(Image by Josh Taylor/ZDNet)

Telstra and Ericsson have worked together on 17 "world firsts" in telecommunications, including rolling out 4G in the 1800MHz spectrum band, and "LANES", the prioritising of 4G traffic for emergency services.

Thodey admitted to Vestberg that the negotiations weren't always easy for Ericsson.

"We're tough on you, we want a good deal, but we want value on price. We want something that is going to be of value for our customers," he said.

"I think we're right at the cusp, or at the centre, of an incredible change. The telecommunications industry is the enabler. I see such wonderful opportunities for societal, personal living. I get excited. I feel good and there is a long way to go."

As the largest telecommunications operator in a country with a large land mass but a relatively small population, Thodey said that taking risks and growing the company is crucial.

"If you're not growing your customer base, and you're not really pushing out there, then you're not going to win," he said.

"We've adopted new technology faster than many other operators around the world, and we put ourselves at risk.

"For us, it is about geographic expansion, it is about the new age of digital media, we see enormous entertainment -- video content -- exploding. But also, we are trying to get into trying to change health information systems, how to enable new industries."

Thodey said that telcos need to keep reinventing themselves.

"You've got to find a different model, and you've got to keep innovating, and you've got to keep finding ways of pushing forward," he said.

"For us, we look at an ecosystem of partners that can work with us. Sometimes it is one partner, sometimes it is multiple partners, but you've got to have a shared vision."

In the companies that Telstra partners with, Thodey said the telco looks for shared values first, rather than just the technology.

"We do business to make a difference, not just profit. We like profit, and we like market cap growth, but we look for shared values, and second we look for capability," he said.

"The third area is innovation, and we've done a lot of things together. What you're looking for is someone who is going to challenge you. I want you to tell me what I have to do differently, and how I can be different. That's what a good company should [do]."

Telstra should never fall behind, he said.

"We pride ourselves on that, because we don't want to be in the back seat. We want to be driving in the front seat; it's more fun."

Josh Taylor travelled to Mobile World Congress as a guest of Ericsson.

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