Telstra, Sol and the dog and pony show.
February 27th, 2009 · Greg Atkinson · 2 Comments
It is no surprise that Sol Trujillo is leaving Telstra after years of under achievement and I suspect few people in Telstra will be sorry to see him go. Shareholders, consumers and the Government can only hope that the next CEO will be a little more interested in the future of Australian telecommunications and less about his or her pay packet.
I wrote one year ago in Sol’s Magical Mystery Tour of Telstra about how CEO’s are like management consultants these days and Sol like many consultants, was big on spin but actually achieved very little. Sol liked big presentations, big programmes and big promises but as I wrote in the aforementioned blog, if Sol and his team left Telstra before their “transformational programme” was completed then shareholders should be worried. Sol and his so called three amigos have bailed out of Telstra to cover their backs because when their transformational plan fails to deliver what is was suppose to, they can use that classic excuse “it was all okay when we left”.
Business analysts like dog and pony shows. Most of them do not really understand how telecommunications companies work and so Sol’s grand plans and promises to turn Telstra around were music to their ears. They punched some numbers into their models, spreadsheets and calculators and wrote glowing reviews of Telstra but for once I was not fooled. I sold my Telstra stock in 2008 because I could see Sol was one of those “all spin” executives I had bumped into during my years working in telecoms, and that he would at best do little to help the company and at worst send it backwards.
What has Telstra gained by having a overpaid CEO and his overpaid consultant pals running the show for the last few years? Well not much really. Very little strategic planning is actually driven by network operators like Telstra, they do not develop 3rd generation mobile networks or come up with new mobile handsets. They cannot wave a magic wand and stop people moving from old fixed line connections to mobiles or reverse the trend in people going online to seek information.
What a company like Telstra does is plan how to deal with industry trends and implement the best solutions to meet the demands of consumers. All of this planning would take place even if the CEO was Mr Ed: The talking horse. This is because the modern CEO is more often than not, a showman and politician.
As a showman Sol excelled. I swear that at some of his presentations I was waiting for his to vanish in a puff of smoke or for one of his sidekicks to juggle razor sharp swords. There were plenty of great presentation slides and enough waffle to make even Kevin Rudd proud. As a politician he had the same gentle touch as Attila the Hun. He managed to get most of his staff offside, (and sacked a lot of them) annoy two Federal Governments and irritate investors.
Telstra is worse off because of Sol’s Magical Mystery Tour. Telstra should be rolling out a high speed broadband network by now and be locking themselves in as the undistributed broadband provider. They should be on friendly terms with the Labor government they helped elect and be getting some favourable nods in their direction. They should be using their broadband penetration to drive mobile subscribers to them by offering unlimited Telstra mobile content download over their high-speed Telstra fibre broadband network available in all major cities.
Sadly for all Australians, a true broadband network is years away and the next CEO will spend a great deal of effort in building bridges with the Government, other telcos and investors.
Well there is no use in thinking about what might have been. The good news is that Sol is leaving (with a bagful of money) to join his three amigos around the camp fire back in the U.S. There they can chuckle out loud about how they sold those thickhead Aussies the old “transformational programme” routine and plan their next venture. As a final “moving” tribute to Sol Trujillo I dedicate to him the Theme from Blazing Saddles (when singing along consider the “West” as being Australia and the “outlaws” as being the government)
He rode a blazing saddle
He wore a shining star
His job to offer battle
To bad men near and far
He conquered fear and he conquered hate
He turned our night into day
He made his blazing saddle
A torch to light the way
When outlaws rule the West
And fear fills the land
A cry went up for a man with guts
To take the West in hand
They needed a man who was brave and true
With justice for all as his aim
Then out of the sun rode a man with a gun
And Bart (insert Sol) was his name, yes Bart (insert Sol) was his name
Farewell Sol, don’t bother to write!