America’s Newest Export – Telecom CEOs

US telecom companies, big and small, have been wheezing, desperate to get out of a slump that followed the bursting of the bubble. Look at Lucent – a company that nearly invented the industry is now competing with Chinese upstarts. AT&T, gone, part of SBC. Many fell victim of less than stellar management, others to hype, and some simply could not keep up with times. Still, those who trolled their executive corridors are much in demand globally. Vodafone hired Arun Sarin, a former Pac Bell and AirTouch executive as its CEO. European wireless carrier Orange hired Sanjiv Ahuja, an alumni of Telcordia Technologies to be its CEO. And now Telstra, the Aussie-incumbent has hired Sol Trujillo, former chief executive of US West (unceremoniously dumped by Broadbandit, Joe Nacchio) to be its new chief executive.

Trujillo will take up his position on 1 July 2005. He will replace Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who will step down on 1 July 2005. The 53-year-old former Bell-head and his wife Corine, will be moving to Australia from California to take up the role. “We have to migrate to IP .. I wish it were simpler but it is not,” he told Sydney Morning Herald.

Telstra’s culture will change. Customers must come first, Trujillo said. Internal bureaucracies, political theories, executive rivalries, or even the regulators will be challenged. “You try to eliminate things that are not adding value to customers.” Incidentally Ahuja took over as CEO from Trujillo at Orange SA. My theory on US telecom executives snagging big jobs overseas is that they have experience in dealing with slow-growing mature businesses, handling the financial markets, and more than anything deal with the regulators to massage policy in their favor. Those are vital skill sets when every operator – wireline and wireless – is walking in each other’s front yard.

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