Lonely Trujillo looks for tech solace to ease network pain

Having survived the wrath of hundreds of bitter and poorer shareholders at his first annual general meeting, Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo has been publicly revealed as feeling just a little like the only geek in the boardroom.

The candid insight into Trujillo's thinking and feelings was laid bare by Telstra chairman Donald McGauchie after a shareholder accused Telstra's current management team of failing to see major threats to its revenue base because it had removed technologists in favour of accountants and management consultants.

"Mr Trujillo must feel lonely at board meetings," the shareholder said, further alleging it was hard to understand how Telstra's current management team decided on technology strategies when it had "no knowledge of technology".

Visibly ruffled by the castigation, McGauchie hit back that Telstra has now "instigated a search for new directors with technology skills", to keep Trujillo in the counsel he is accustomed to.

"He [Trujillo] won't feel quite as lonely in the future," McGauchie said.

The hunt for three new directors to arrest the company's slide into network and management legacy will also force a 52 percent increase in funds for board remuneration - a request which clearly failed to impress many shareholders who have seen their self-funded retirement capital eroded by Telstra's lacklustre share price.

One technical bungle shareholders demanded answers for included so-called "cable cancer", a condition where insulating gel surrounding many communications cables reacts with the conductive core causing corrosion and service degradation.

Asked if the manufacturer or supplier of the cable could be sued for compensation, and why shareholders should carry the cost of the bungle, McGauchie responded that the option of litigation had been examined on its merits and ruled out.

"It looks like one of those bad decisions that gets made from time to time," he said.

Trujillo was more forthcoming, saying his new chief operating officer Greg Winn had actually brought segments of decaying pipe to a board meeting to illustrate the problem to senior management.

"I share your concerns about the network," Trujillo said.

Managing director of Telstra retail ISP BigPond, Justin Milne also came in for a personal serve from Trujillo after an angry stockholder questioned why, after several months and numerous written complaints, Telstra had been unable to fix a broken link on BigPond's home page relating to child safety on the Internet.

"Let me apologize - I will follow this up," Trujillo said, pointing out Milne to the aggrieved shareholder.

Saying BigPond had a customer feedback facility ready and waiting outside the auditorium, Trujillo then illustrated what he hopes will differentiate his new, customer-centric, IT-literate regime from those of previous years.

"I will ask Justin to visit [the customer service feedback booth] with you and deal with this specifically. And if you are not happy, we will find an alternative."

More alternatives, including what analysts expect to be a drastic restructure and realignment of Telstra's IT, technology, product and revenue management divisions, will be announced in mid November when the company's strategic review is made public.

"I like to say I have seen this movie before...," Trujillo said.

An attempt from the floor to move a motion to sack Telstra's current board and management was denied.

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