7 revealing quotes from David Thodey on everything from piracy to purpose

Outgoing Telstra CEO David Thodey. Photo: Getty Images

Over the last few years, Telstra CEO David Thodey has resoundingly answered many business concerns and points of contention. He has been forward-thinking and continually challenged entrenched communication perceptions.

Thodey today announced his retirement as CEO of Telstra after six years in the top job.

In his outgoing address, Thodey said Telstra has “achieved much change but there is a lot more to do”.

While there will always be future complications and issues arising for the next generation of management at Telstra, these 7 quotes show the enormous depth and understanding Thodey had of problematic and often controversial subjects.

On delivering customer service:

“Our reputation, all of us in this room, is not what it should be. Delivering good customer service — not lip service and not just cheap prices, but really differentiated service — is really important.”
– Speaking at the 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“More and more you’ll use an application on your phone and you’ll use the web to interact with us so the future of call centre jobs is less in the future. In reality Jon, these jobs will not exist in five years. If you think about how you interact with the bank today, you don’t go into the bank branch that often. And that’s going to be the truth about many of the traditional service related jobs – it’s going to be more and more digitally done.”
– Talking to ABC Radio’s Jon Faine in 2014.

On digital piracy:

Thodey said the industry should devise a set of self-imposed guidelines to fight online piracy. “That’s both sides – Foxtel and the telecommunication companies,” Thodey said. He said a “workable solution” needs to be identified and implemented, with a focus around who will enforce the rules and reconcile the costs. “The question is who should be responsible for policing the illegal downloading of information,” adding “the big issue is around who pays and I think we have to find some complementary way to do that.”
– Speaking at an event held by the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia in 2014.

On Australia’s start-up problems:

“I worry that we don’t have a culture of innovation; we don’t celebrate science and mathematics, we don’t really applaud great education. Why is it that when you go to Silicon Valley, you’re just overcome by the incredible energy? You may be cynical about that but there is undoubtedly this energy and this flow of people saying: ‘I am going to change the way things are done, and failure is accepted.’

“It’s about people who are willing to push the limits and not give up and are willing to innovate. Personally, I don’t think this is a venture capital issue. A lot of people have said the venture capital industry is not strong in Australia.

“Well, yes and no; maybe there’s not that [venture capital] attitude but there’s no lack of money in Australia, whether it’s private or in companies like ours.”
– Speaking at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

And how to fix them:

“Innovation isn’t only for Silicon Valley or Israel. It’s about a state of mind and a way of ­looking at things – continually working to reinvent and change.”

He said big companies, including Telstra, also need to be involved, adding government incentives targeted at fostering and keeping Australian talent is also needed. “They have to be a part of the ecosystem. The two key parts of our growth strategy are Asia and software technology on a global basis.”
– Explaining his reasoning to the AFR in 2014.

On the importance of the National Broadband Network (NBN):

Thodey acknowledged that Telstra had monopoly control of Australia’s fixed-line network but market dynamics would change with the government-owned NBN.

“My vision for Telstra is that we become a great, global technology company. We’ve been too long bounded by being the incumbent telco and that is not the future of Telstra. We applaud the NBN and want the NBN to be really successful so we can get on with our lives.”
– Addressing the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in 2014.

On creating a sense of purpose:

“The company was at a crossroads when I became CEO. We were under a lot of pressure and needed to change the way we operated… We were able to rally our people around the strategy by creating a common sense of purpose: Nothing is as valuable as a customer advocate.

“No amount of marketing or slick advertising can replace a customer sharing their positive experiences with friends or family, who are potentially new customers themselves.”
– Talking to The Excellence magazine’s Brett Whitford in 2012.

On women’s representation in leadership roles:

“Our work is not just about numbers, although this is certainly important. It is really about creating an inclusive culture within our organisations for both women and men to achieve their full potential – without any barriers…

“By March 2014, all roles at Telstra will be advertised as flexible. That is, flexibility will be considered the starting point for all roles – both at the recruitment stage and for current employees. We are the first large corporate in Australia to implement such an initiative and it required a leap of faith for some of our leaders.

“What I really like about this approach is that it disrupts the status quo and encourages open conversations right from the start. It empowers people to speak up and discuss how they can make their work and career ambitions fit with their life stage and commitments outside of work.”
– Writing in an open discussion format for Telstra’s community blog in 2013.

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