Telstra to stay on course with new CEO

David Thodey says NBN talks were 'taxing, trying, satisfying'

Andrew Penn said to expect business as usual when he takes the reins of Telstra from departing CEO David Thodey on 1 May.

Telstra this morning announced that Penn, the current CFO, will replace the retiring David Thodey as CEO starting 1 May.

Thodey took the reins from former CEO Sol Trujillo in 2009, after initially joining Telstra in 2001.

Penn has been at Telstra for three years and was previously group chief executive of insurance company AXA Asia Pacific Holdings.

“Over the last three years, we’ve developed a very clear strategy, and I’ve been part of that as a part of the team and therefore you should expect no substantial change to our direction,” Penn said on a conference call this morning.

“In particular, we must continue the journey to put the customer at the heart of everything we do. It really is our single most important part of our vision.”

“The international arena will be an important area for growth for us,” said Penn, adding that he has a particular passion for the opportunities that exist in Asia.

Telstra will continue a shift from its roots as a telephone company into a global technology company, he said.

“Telstra is going to become increasingly global. It’s going to become increasingly technology. But it will always be fundamentally at heart a company which is connecting people with the things that they love and the people that they love …”

Penn has big shoes to fill after Thodey doubled Telstra’s value to more than $80 billion during his five years in the role of CEO.

“I’m a little daunted by the challenge ahead … and following David’s legacy but I’m very excited and I’ll approach it with great enthusiasm,” said Penn.

Thodey will remain CEO until 1 May and then will stay on until late August in an advisory capacity. On the call, Thodey said he plans to spend some time overseas and then come back and explore his options.

“I look forward to contributing maybe in a non-executive role going forward,” both nationally and internationally, he said.

Thodey said he had been thinking about retirement for some time. Telstra took a few months to search for replacement both inside and outside the company.

NBN talks were ‘taxing, trying, satisfying’: Thodey

Telstra CEO David Thodey lays out the telco's Wi-Fi strategy.
Telstra CEO David Thodey lays out the telco's Wi-Fi strategy.

Thodey said one of his biggest challenges while serving as CEO was negotiating the National Broadband Network (NBN) contract with the government.

“When I became CEO, the whole scenario was difficult,” he said.

“The government had decided to proceed with the build of the NBN. We had to go through a number of negotiations and understand how that would work in terms of their build and that transition, and the relationships were not open and transparent at that time, and there was little trust I think between the company and the government at that time, and also I think with regulators and other people in the industry.

“So it took time to go through building that trust, but also the complexities of a rebuilding of a national bit of infrastructure that had been privatised. There were so many regulatory considerations, legal considerations, commercial considerations, that it was just very complex and it took us … two and half years.

“It was taxing, trying, satisfying, but I think we got through that and we came out with something that both parties could live with.”

Besides the NBN, Thodey said his biggest challenge has been uniting the company around customers.

“With a company the size of Telstra, getting every part of the company aligned and a part of that journey has been both challenging but incredibly satisfying.”

Read more: Turnbull pays tribute to Thodey

Thodey said he had no regrets, but there are things he’d like to have done more including further improvements to customer service and greater gender balance and equity.

“Overall, I feel pretty satisfied.”

Thodey announced his departure with Telstra in a strong financial position.

The Australian telecom powerhouse last week announced strong financial results for the half-year ending 31 December, and earlier this week opened a multi-million dollar “Customer Insight Centre” to showcase its products and services.

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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Tags leadershipleadership changenational broadband networktelecomTelcoAndrew PennTelstraNBNAndy PennCEODavid Thodey

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