The Association of U S West Retirees



Ex-US West chief forges ahead in Australia
Solomon Trujillo's brash style as head of phone company Telstra has antagonized many.  But his success is earning respect.
By Wayne Arnold, The New York Times
Denver Post
Friday, October 13, 2006

Sydney, Australia - Solomon Trujillo, who has drawn criticism over his running of Australia's dominant phone company, Telstra, might have expected vindication last week when he started the company's new high-speed cellular network three months ahead of schedule.  He ended up all wet instead.

Midway through a presentation by Trujillo in Sydney, fire sprinklers burst open, dousing the roomful of executives, analysts and reporters with fetid water.  The watery interruption to Telstra's big introduction, deemed an accident, nevertheless summed up how Trujillo's brash style has gone over Down Under.

Trujillo formerly led Denver-based US West and French cellular operator Orange.  The Denver Post reported in December 2002 that Trujillo left US West during its merger with Qwest, pocketing more than $71 million in cash and perks.

He was hired at Telstra in July 2005 as chief executive to prepare the Australian company for a giant share sale.  Since then, he has managed to antagonize not only Telstra's customers but also its biggest stakeholder, the Australian government.  Telstra's share price has slid more than 25 percent since Trujillo took over.  Prime Minister John Howard has questioned whether Trujillo deserves his $6.5 million salary.  And the government, instead of selling its 51.8 percent stake all at once, has decided to sell only a third of it.

Still, Trujillo's tenacity is starting to earn grudging respect from analysts, bankers and fund managers.  They now credit Trujillo, 54, and his managers with prying open the once-secretive company, uprooting its entrenched bureaucracy and starting to overhaul antiquated systems.

Trujillo imported three former US West colleagues and began reorganizing Telstra.  His complaints about how regulations were killing Telstra's profits prompted an early lecture from the government, with Howard later castigating Telstra's new management as "disgraceful."

Australians quickly took a dislike to Trujillo after learning that Telstra planned to eliminate many of its public phone booths and to shift more jobs to India and that it was keeping secret files on its employees.  In November, Trujillo introduced a revamping plan that included at least 10,000 layoffs, a fifth of Telstra's workforce.

Trujillo's team was also installing a third-generation cellular network with Ericsson.  Not only will the new network offer nationwide coverage with broadband download speeds, but it will save on equipment costs.

It was this network that Trujillo started last Friday.  "It marks a significant milestone that is likely to be noted, I believe, in Australia's history," Trujillo said before the sprinklers soaked his double-breasted pinstriped suit.

Afterward, he kept his cool.

After reconvening the presentation at a nearby hotel, Trujillo made it up to waterlogged analysts by telling them he was opening a tab for them at the bar.