'winks or nods' in Notebaert ethics talk
Culture change put Qwest back on track, DU audience hears
By Joyzelle Davis, Rocky Mountain News
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Before he took the stage to deliver a speech on Friday to
the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business,
Qwest Chief Executive Dick Notebaert ducked into a campus
coffee shop for a bottle of water. The cashier, unaware of
whom he was talking to, asked Notebaert if he was there to
hear "the Qwest guy" speak.
"Then he said: 'He's here to give a speech on ethics,' "
Notebaert recalled to the audience of Daniels students,
alumni and sponsors. " 'Isn't that ironic?' "
Ironic because Notebaert was brought in to fix the
near-bankrupt telecommunications company in mid-2002 after
Qwest's credibility was tainted by missed revenue forecasts
and a federal investigation into an alleged $3 billion
The government has since charged seven former Qwest
executives, including former Chief Executive Joe Nacchio.
Under Notebaert's watch, Denver-based Qwest has strengthened
its finances -- increasing annual revenues last year for the
first time since the 2000 merger of U S West and Qwest --
and placed an emphasis on ethics and customer service.
"It takes 20 years to build a great reputation and five
minutes to wreck it," Notebaert said. "How long does it
take to get it back?"
Notebaert, who joined Qwest from telecommunications
equipment maker Tellabs, acknowledged that the company still
has work to do. But he said Qwest has made strides by
"celebrating whistle-blowing" among employees who have
witnessed potential wrongdoing, encouraging communication
and establishing a culture that doesn't tolerate "winks or
Notebaert's speech was of particular interest to the
audience at Daniels, which received millions of dollars from
cable pioneer Bill Daniels to incorporate ethics into its
One of the audience members asked Notebaert if excessive
executive compensation might have motivated the spate of
highly publicized cases of corporate misconduct in recent
Notebaert replied that a diligent board of directors should
employ performance goals and external consultants to
determine appropriate compensation. Earlier this week,
Qwest said it paid Notebaert a package valued at more than
$14.8 million, including stock-option grants of nearly 5
million shares with an estimated value of $13.2 million.
"We are moving more and more toward performance-based vs.
pulse-based" pay packages, he said.
- 3 cents