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Trujillo's tale not black and white

It's important to acknowledge Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo's successes as well as his failures.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor
commentary Telstra's very public stoush with the nation's top politicians dominated headlines in the Australian telecommunications industry this week.
Renai LeMay, ZDNet Australia
The telco's chief executive Sol Trujillo is currently embroiled in a war of words with, among others, Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello over the government's plan to install former telco exec Geoff Cousins on Telstra's board.

This controversy and others have ensured Trujillo has not exactly garnered much goodwill with the Australian public since he took the reins at Telstra in mid 2005.

However, reputation is not everything, and to judge Trujillo's performance it is important to look more deeply into his impact on the nation's largest telco.

With this in mind, your writer spoke with Telstra last week about the telco's progress in creating a new dedicated small business division -- dubbed Telstra Business.

The unit was announced late last year and focuses on better serving small and medium businesses (SMBs) -- a sector often neglected and misunderstood by telcos.

The outcome of this conversation with Telstra's SMB chieftain Deena Shiff was surprising.

For starters, your writer found Shiff willing to eat humble pie about Telstra's mistakes in the past. The executive acknowledged historical problems in areas such as service and product offerings, and vowed to rectify them.

Shock! Shiff even talked about a desire on the part of small business to have more personalised contact with Telstra. Her department has this year established a number of dedicated call centres around Australia to address this need.

Trujillo's hand can be seen throughout the effort to create the new SMB division.

For example, Shiff was quick to mention the CEO's so-called "market-based management" approach to conducting extensive research into its customer base.

She also claimed there was an aura of excitement among the ranks of her unit's employees. Telstra staff are popularly imagined to have a hard time of it due to retrenchments and management reshuffles.

"Everyone's working pretty hard [in Telstra Business]," Shiff said during the interview. "But it is exciting, because the customer group is so much part of the culture and the economy within Australia, it's very easy to identify with and feel passionate about the needs of the customers that you're serving."

Heady and inspirational words indeed -- particularly coming from Telstra.

Of course, Shiff's view represents just one side of the story, and your writer would be keen to hear from SMBs about their experience of buying services from Telstra.

But an important point to take away from this week's Telstra coverage is that not all the news regarding Trujillo is bad. The executive appears to be having a positive impact in some areas.

Your writer feels the best approach is to acknowledge his successes as well as his failures.

What do you think of Sol Trujillo? Is he exactly what Telstra needs or just an arrogant American? Drop me a line directly at renai.lemay@zdnet.com.au.

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