Ziggy Switkowski - Growing Telstra from Down Under

This CEO has a PhD in nuclear physics. He’s not the head of a high-security rocket science plant, but the CEO-cum-managing director of Australia's largest mobile telecommunications carrier, Telstra Corporation Limited.

This CEO has a PhD in nuclear physics. No, he’s not the head of a high-security rocket science plant, nor is he the chief of an aerospace engineering company. He’s only the CEO-cum-managing director of Australia's largest mobile telecommunications carrier, Telstra Corporation Limited.

Fifty-three year-old Dr. Zygmunt (Ziggy) Edward Switkowski took over the leadership of Telstra in March 1999, replacing the retiring Frank Blount.

Under Switkowski’s leadership, Telstra - with more than 4.7 million subscribers - has emerged as an undisputed behemoth in the communications and information service industry.

Its digital CDMA (code-division multiple access) network has helped expand Telstra’s wireless coverage to over 96 percent of the population. In addition, Telstra’s GSM international roaming covers approximately 90 countries around the world.

Telstra also has CDMA agreements with carriers such as Hutchison, Austar, Primus and of course, its arch-rival Cable & Wireless Optus, which Switkowski once served as CEO. WAP services for CDMA will be introduced in early fiscal 2001, while international roaming on the CDMA network is scheduled to start by the middle of this year.

Switkowski has already started to roll out the company’s broadband ADSL (asymmetrical digital subscriber line) plans. The ADSL network is targeted to encompass 90 percent of the population within two years.

Switkowski vehemently believes that cultivating customer satisfaction is paramount in today’s highly competitive environment. With the deregulation of telecommunication companies, customers are offered boundless choice and they demand no less than first-class communications products and services.

In his address to CEDA (Committee for Economic Development of Australia) in Sydney last June, the Melbourne-raised CEO averred that Telstra is “moving to a new level of customer relationships while simultaneously focusing on efficiency”. Frontline business units will be structured around customer segments so as to drive the performance of its infrastructure services and propel next-generation services. Switkowski is determined to make Telstra synonymous with focused customer care and swears that customers’ demands for unique solutions tailored to their needs will be met.

Last year, Telstra spent AU$4.3 billion (US$2.19 billion) on infrastructure development to ensure customers had access to the available communications technologies.

In light of the current popularity of data traffic over voice, Switkowski has chosen to reduce Telstra’s dependence on traditional voice services that yield low margins.

The CEO has instead decided to devote its resources to the development and deployment of wireless services across Asia.

The CEO has instead decided to devote its resources to the development and deployment of wireless services across Asia. Telstra’s recent alliance with Richard Li’s Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW) is a reaffirmation of this focus.

The US$3.55 billion alliance will see the duo form a quilt of mobile, infrastructure and business services ventures. They will jointly work on the creation of what is billed as Asia Pacific’s first regional mobile company, an Internet protocol backbone network for wholesale services, as well as on the establishment of a regional, and potentially global, network of Internet data centers.

It looks like Switkowski doesn’t intend to lose out, even for a moment, in the electronic communications revolution. – Ariel Tam, ZDNet Asia