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Telstra lands former Nokia CEO Elop and Optus chief Russell

Ex-executives from Nokia and Optus have been brought into Telstra to head up its retail and new 'innovation' business segments.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor on

Telstra has announced two new members of its executive team: Ex-Optus country chief officer and consumer CEO Kevin Russell, and ex-Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

Russell, who is replacing Retail group executive Karsten Wildberger after the latter resigned in December for "personal reasons", will become group executive of Telstra Retail, making him head of the telecommunications provider's business, consumer, product, and stores business.

According to Telstra CEO Andrew Penn, Russell's experience as Optus' COO, CEO consumer, and country chief officer, as well as Hutchison Three UK COO and CEO and Hutchison Telecoms Australia CEO prior, will make him an invaluable addition to the Telstra team.

"We are looking forward to welcoming Kevin to the Telstra leadership team. He has an impressive track record working for several of the world's largest telcos in a range of demanding markets," said Penn.

"He has passionately worked to build customer experiences in new and existing major consumer brands and service business clients. He has managed major programs across national fixed and mobile networks and is well regarded in the local technology community."

Russell, currently the CEO of a tech startup based in Silicon Valley, said he welcomes the opportunity to work for Telstra, particularly during the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

"Telstra is committed to improving its service to its customers and to simplifying and strengthening its core business. These are key directions in which I believe my experience will be directly relevant," Russell said.

"More broadly, the market transition to the National Broadband Network and accelerating technology innovation presents growth opportunities and changing competitive dynamics requiring nimble execution."

The addition of Elop to the Telstra team sees the creation of a new role: Group executive of Technology, Innovation, and Strategy. Telstra noted that Elop will be responsible for leading the telco's "strategy to become a world-class technology company", based out of both Australia and the United States.

Elop has previously worked as president of the Microsoft Business Division and COO of Juniper, before becoming CEO of Nokia until Microsoft purchased Nokia's Mobile segment for $7.2 billion in 2013, and prior to Nokia's €15.6 billion acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent last year.

"Stephen will immediately add major firepower to our team with his extensive and deep technology experience and an innate sense of customer expectations," Penn said.

"He is a recognised international technology leader and strategist from across a range of global organisations."

The new "innovation" business will combine the CTO, chief scientist, Software Group, and Corporate Strategy under one umbrella, with Elop saying he welcomes the opportunity to work for such an "innovative" company.

"I have long recognised the Telstra team as one of the most innovative and insightful in the telecommunications industry," Elop said.

"Telstra has a strong focus on its customers, and a willingness to invest in advanced products and services to best serve those customers."

Telstra has been eyeing the broad category of innovation of late, with Penn last year saying that Australia's success as a digital economy relies on its ability to imitate Telstra's own innovation strategy.

Penn outlined the three drivers of innovation as being a combination of the move to mobile and consequently the Internet of Things (IoT); the widespread usage of cloud computing; and the rise of machine-to-machine (M2M) learning and artificial intelligence.

"The exponential growth in data, driven by a massive shift to mobile and the Internet of Things with the ability to store and access that data in the cloud in real-time and the computing power with advanced algorithms and machine learning -- these factors together are providing the capacity to solve almost limitless problems," the CEO said in November.

Penn described the four elements of Telstra's approach to innovation as being facilitating incubation, as it does through its own startup accelerator Muru-D; providing spaces for collaboration, such as its Gurrowa Innovation Lab; investing in human capital, including running hackathons in schools; and developing new technologies and methodologies, such as 5G.

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