Telstra changed so much internally under Sol Trujillo's watch that it seems likely the company's next CEO will be drawn from a small pool of executives who are already well practised in the Way of Sol.
Ex-US president George W. Bush was widely
lambasted for a variety of reasons during his eight years in the
Oval Office, but some historians believe Dubya will be more kindly
judged by history after the immediate shock of his transition has
well and truly worn off.
Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo (Credit: Telstra)
Will Australia be so kind to Sol Trujillo — or his
For all the vitriol thrown at Trujillo heaped upon the past few
years, he has been very successful at doing the thing he was
brought onboard to do: make money for Telstra's shareholders. He
confirmed this as his raison d'etre at last week's World Mobile
Congress, when he
countered attacks from Skype and Google over Telstra's lack of
openness by pointing out that "I have a responsibility to make
And if that meant stifling the evolution of Australia's
telecommunications along the way, so be it; every war has its
weapons, and its casualties. Yet while analysts and observers
dissect Trujillo's legacy — which, by the way, also included a
major structural transformation project and the launch of
Telstra's critical Next G mobile network — all eyes will be on
his replacement to see whether we can expect more of the same, or a
completely new direction.
While the latter might seem appealing as a way of reviving
Telstra's flagging and all-important share price, I reckon two
things are certain. First, that Telstra will choose to continue the
path that Trujillo set it on: consolidating its infrastructure and
refocusing its broadband efforts around Next G in the wake of
Telstra's NBN embarrassment. Second, that the person to do this
will come not from some massive global talent search, but from
within its own internal ranks.
Trujillo was imported to bring global perspective to a newly
privatised but highly parochial Telstra, presumably to put it in a
position to consolidate its chokehold over Australian
telecommunications and extend its business across the Asia-Pacific
region like its competitors are doing.
It may be persisting with
its acrimonious anti-government posturing and its dismissively
anti-union stance, but Telstra still changed so much internally
under Trujillo's watch — and still has so much of his vision to
realise — that it seems unlikely that the company can afford an
infusion of fresh blood and ideas right now.
That narrows down the list a fair bit: with most of the
executives named in
ZDnet's top-10 list currently based overseas, it seems
reasonable to assume that the next CEO will be drawn from a
small pool of Telstra executives who are already well practised
in the Way of Sol.
That would include David Moffatt, currently group managing
director for consumer marketing and channels; Kate McKenzie, group
managing director of Telstra Wholesale; Michael Rocca, group
managing director of Telstra Networks & Services; Deena Shiff,
group managing director of Telstra Business; and David Thodey,
group managing director for Telstra Enterprise and Government.
While Telstra has 15 key divisional executives, these five stand
out because of their relative depth of experience in Telstra's
core areas — areas such as mobile and wholesale. Both will be
essential to Telstra's business going forward: mobile content and
overseas expansion will strengthen Telstra's Next G story, while
wholesale expertise will be critical to preserve the role of
Telstra's nationwide network and shape its relationship with the
NBN as it is eventually built.
Moffatt's involvement with Telstra's large-scale and
innovative fixed and mobile content-based business would seem to
make him a serious contender for the job, particularly given his
previous experience as CFO. Deep financial expertise would give him
extra marks in helping Telstra navigate the global financial
downturn relatively unscathed.
My money, for what it's worth, is on Deena Shiff, who led Telstra Wholesale through the formative years between 2001 and 2006
McKenzie's legal and regulatory experience, as well as her
current role in Telstra Wholesale, give her many of the core skills
for the job, but extending this into new growth areas might put her
a bit outside of her comfort zone; mobile and content strategy,
among other things, will be critical.
Rocca's seniority, expertise, and familiarity with Telstra's
most important business would put him in good stead, since he has
the technical chops that many of the others lack. However, years
spent so close to the coal face may well limit his forward
Thodey has previous experience running Telstra's mobile
division, and now has strong big-business credentials as a
relationship manager. His previous role as CEO of IBM shows he has
the wherewithal to run a large business, and his services expertise
would mean he's intimately acquainted with Telstra's
capabilities. His weak spot is lack of consumer expertise — and, I
presume, familiarity with content and the other things that drive
consumers wild — would be a weakness since Telstra's strategy
seems heavily built on shock-and-awe tactics.
Thodey and Moffatt seem like standout candidates, but my money,
for what it's worth, is on Shiff, who led Telstra Wholesale
through the formative years between 2001 and 2006. A Trujillo
appointee to her current post, she can be counted on to continue
the Way of Sol.
Her 20 years of experience in legal and regulatory
issues make her well-prepared to continue Telstra's battle against
government regulation; her wholesale expertise will inform
infrastructure strategy and flavour Telstra's role with regards to
the NBN; and her business experience puts her in touch with the
real-world needs of real, paying customers across both fixed and
US voters re-elected George W. in 2004 despite his flagging
popularity, because there was a sense he — like Trujilo — had
started something only he could finish. Yet while his successor was
clear months before the actual US election, the result of
Telstra's executive search is far less certain.
While the NBN
decision will be the year's most newsworthy story, expect a level
of interest in Trujillo's successor not unlike that afforded to
the Oscar race this past weekend, when months of hype about Heath
Ledger and 'Slumdog Millionaire' proved right on the money. While
they were sure things, however, the race to be Trujillo's
successor is still wide open.
Who are you betting on as Sol's successor, and why? Can
Telstra afford a change in direction? Does it need even one?