Telstra's AGM: A day to remember

This morning, Telstra executives are limbering up behind the scenes as they get ready for their big yearly showing toshareholders at the annual general meeting.

commentary This morning, Telstra executives are limbering up behind the scenes as they get ready for their big yearly showing to shareholders at the telco's annual general meeting in Melbourne.

Fashion: Will Sol go for a light suit
as he did at the investor day ...


But what can onlookers expect from the event, one of the pivotal days in the annual calendar of Australia's telecommunications industry? has been there before and can provide some impressions.

Shareholders, some still reeling from flights from other capital cities, will likely push past the union mob shoving pamphlets in their faces outside the entrance of the John Batman Theatre and, after enjoying a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit, sit down with the knowledge that they will likely be in that position for a very extended period.

Before them will sit the raised dais upon which Telstra's finest will strike their poses, a luminous — most likely blue — backdrop casting a subtle glow over chief executive Sol Trujillo and his sidekicks. Its flashy panorama and dim interior will allow no question as to who the stars of the day are.

At this stage a low chit-chat will start to buzz around the room like a horde of gnats, rising with the expectation of the day's revelations.

Chairman Donald McGauchie, oozing his suave officialdom with each breath, will greet shareholder and preempt the CEO's comments with a short address.

Then the twang Telstra watchers have grown to love or hate will take the stage as the main act, CEO Sol Trujillo, his suit eyed by the fashion-conscious — last year grey, with white shirt and blue tie — slides to his feet. Touted by some shareholders as "godlike", he will turn on his charm and explain how his management has transformed Telstra into a money-making machine.

Or traditional dark with upbeat tie?
(Credit: Telstra)

After various presentations, shareholders, shifting in their seats, eyes wide at the assault of information, will start to get excited as the long-awaited question and answer session begins. There are those who will latch onto the microphone as their soapbox, making love to it, speaking monologue after monologue, until catcalls from the floor drive them to "ask the bloody question".

Some pointed questions will come from suited experts from professional organisations. Others, more irately phrased by those less formally dressed, will bring a more personal note to the field.

"I'll have to virtually put this as a BigPond rip-off," one man with a green t-shirt and red jacket said last year to gathered Telstra bigwigs about price discrepancies between Telstra and other internet service providers. "I've even recommended a friend to go to Optus," he complained.

Sentiments matching those of a famous comment at a past AGM are sure to surface. "We have had it with you people, you couldn't even run a chook raffle," one shareholder said several years ago, while others are sure to decry the state of regional telecoms in Australia.

The Telstra executives will parry such questions using statistics from the company's last results and current policies. Sol may call on any group managing director (Justin Milne is likely to make an appearance) to tackle specific issues in their area.

However, at no past AGM has Telstra had to tackle the bear which is the government's national broadband network. At this AGM it must.

Donald McGauchie
(Credit: Telstra)

Questions on the much-discussed network will come flying out of shareholders' mouths, whistling past Sol's head to slam against the glassy background. Eyes will watch every twitch of his thick eyebrows for clues as to whether Big T will lodge a bid next week to build the network or not.

The risks entailed in not lodging a bid, or of lodging a bid and falling into a swamp of regulatory muck are likely to be shouted to the roof by the union attendees. Shareholders will count the risks and their money in their heads as the debate rages.

With Sol as the centrepoint accompanied by a healthy security contingent, the dance will continue until the "items of business" begin. Directors that the CEO of the Australian Shareholder's Association, Stuart Wilson, calls "interesting characters" will be re-elected and Sol will find out exactly how much his shareholders think he's worth.

As the formal business ends, management will sigh in relief and quickly disappear before passionate and verbal shareholders can rush them and stick in their wordy claws in the tearoom outside the main event.

You can watch Telstra's AGM live from the telco's web site.