Andrew Penn, the new CEO of Telstra, dropped out of school at 15

Andrew Penn. Supplied.

Andrew Penn, the new CEO of Telstra, dropped out of school aged 15 and spent a decade as a clerk in London.

His big break in life, he says, was coming to Australia in 1992.

He describes himself as a pragmatist. “Companies either succeed or fail based on their ability to execute strategy well, as opposed to having some sort of bullet solution,” he told the West Australian newspaper in an interview on October 4, 2014.

He says improving productivity as a continual process and isn’t about cost cutting. “To me it’s the whole process and system in how you improve your service offering,” he says.

He came from AXA Asia Pacific, where he was CEO, to be chief financial officer at Telstra.

Insurance and telecommunications are very different industries. He started to build trust with his team, learning to ask the right questions.

“Provided they keep me in the loop, we build trust together and they deliver, then I am pretty hands-off,” he says.

“I have learnt more in the last three years than I reckon I would’ve done doing pretty much any other thing.”

In his spare time, he likes to paint, a pleasure he shares with his his mentor, former Qantas chair Margaret Jackson. “I paint, very badly, oils and acrylics,” he says. “It’s relaxing.” His favourite artists are Gerhard Richter and Joseph Mallord William Turner.

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