Qwest chief says company is open to offers

Qwest is leaving open the possibility that it might be bought by another service provider, according to remarks by the company's chairman and CEO at a lunch of local executives.

"We're looking at every opportunity as we look at the consolidation that is going on in our industry," said Richard Notebaert at the Executives' Club of Chicago. "And that's all I'd better say about that."

After losing its bid for MCI to Verizon, Qwest is trying to regroup and focus on high quality customer service, he says. "We were really bummed out about the MCI thing, but then we got over it. Every employee looks through the windshield not the rearview mirror," Notebaert says.

Notebaert said the repeated offers and counter offers for MCI was wearing on him and his executives. "It was an experience of heightened frustration. By the time you do it for the fourth time, it's a little sad."

Notebaert, who used to run Ameritech and later Tellabs, both based in the Chicago area, told the group that when he joined Qwest in 2002, morale was so low that employees wouldn't wear their work uniforms with the company's name on them to and from work. Qwest workers referred no new business to the company via friends and acquaintances, he said. "Employees were embarrassed about where they worked," he says. Last year the company store sold more than US$1 million in company-logoed clothing and employees referred $42 million in new sales, he says.

The company's debt has been reduced from US$27.5 billion to US$10.5 billion. "The situation was so dire some of the local newspaper reporters had a pool going on about when we would go bankrupt," Notebaert says. But since then, the company has restated its finances for 2001 and 2002 and resolved an investigation into its finances by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

He says he has worked on creating a culture of excellent customer service for the company and has had some success, according to surveys he cited of customer satisfaction. The company had a dismal reputation for service before he was hired. "If you asked people to rank the top 10 providers in the 14 Western states, they might have put us somewhere about twelfth," he says.

Notebaert says he has tried to boost the company's image by encouraging employees to volunteer in their communities as Qwest employees. The company reimburses them for the time they spend.

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