Boss's departure surprises workers
Notebaert called a breath of fresh air after Nacchio
James Paton, Rocky Mountain News
Qwest employees said they'll miss Dick Notebaert, describing their boss as a gung-ho CEO - maybe too much of a cheerleader at times - who replied personally to e-mails and heartily greeted them in the hallways.
Taking a lunch break outside the Qwest tower Monday, they credited Notebaert with stabilizing the company and called his open, easygoing style a breath of fresh air after Joe Nacchio.
"People are pretty pleased with him and with the positive changes he's made," said Alan Wilburn, a sales manager. "He seems to have re-established the company as a credible organization."
Notebaert's e-mail to staff unveiling his retirement surprised many at the Denver-based telco.
"I didn't see it coming," said Jim Ploger, a 10-year employee.
Ploger reflected on his first encounter with Notebaert shortly after the Midwestern telecom executive arrived in town in 2002. The technician found himself in an elevator with the new chief. Notebaert extended his hand, saying "Hi, I'm Dick," before casually conversing for a few minutes, Ploger said. Since then, Notebaert has remembered his face, if not his name, in a sea of 38,000 workers.
"I'm sorry to see him go," Ploger said, noting improvements Notebaert has made on the customer service front. "But he gave us five years. I think he wants to get back to Chicago. He's done a heck of a job."
Notebaert's decision comes on the heels of the departures of two other high-ranking executives, and caught many others off-guard as well, including the Communications Workers of America, Qwest's largest union. Its next contract talks with Qwest are scheduled next year.
"I'm shocked," said Annie Hill, vice president of CWA's District 7. "While I don't always agree with all the day-to-day decisions, boy, they (the three executives) have really pulled this company out from a real problem area."
Nelson Phelps, executive director of the Association of U S West Retirees, was much less complimentary. He cited a "significant deterioration of retiree benefits under Notebaert at a time he has received what we think is obscene in terms of compensation."
Still, Phelps said, "We certainly would give credit to Dick Notebaert for what he's done, quite frankly, in saving the company from sure bankruptcy.
"He obviously has turned the company around financially, and that's the good side."
One employee, who declined to give his name, said Notebaert's enthusiasm was at times a little excessive, but he said eventually it became contagious.
"He could be overly happy," the employee said, but still deserves kudos for "pointing the company in the right direction."
Employees leaving the building, some wearing Qwest shirts, highlighted the stark difference between Notebaert and his predecessor. Nacchio, ousted in 2002, was convicted in April on 19 counts of insider trading. One worker, who would not give his name, said Notebaert was "a lot more accessible than Nacchio."
Wilburn, the account manager who has been with the company since 1981, when it was Mountain Bell, put it another way. "After Nacchio," he said, "the devil would have been welcome relief."
Sent to employees Monday morning . . .
June 11, 2007
Good Morning -Last Friday, at a meeting of our board of directors, I informed board members that I am ready to retire. I also assured them that I will stay at Qwest until such time as they have selected my replacement.
I made this decision based on family and personal commitments to volunteerism, which are an extension, in my view, of our Spirit of Service. For the last five years, doing the right things for customers has been our daily focus. I believe that same Spirit of Service reaches into every aspect of our lives, and it is now what leads me on toward new commitments.
Thank you for letting me be part of this great Qwest team. I know that each of you understands the Spirit of Service in Action; after all, you have exemplified it every single day. That gives me great confidence that the momentum we have created is only the beginning of what you will achieve in the months and years ahead.
patonj@RockyMountainNews.com or 303-954-2544 The Associated Press contributed to this report.