Telstra has named Solomon Trujillo, the former chief executive of French mobile business Orange, as its new chief executive, ending months of uncertainty at the Australian telecoms group.
The appointment of Mr Trujillo, announced on Thursday, comes at a critical time for Telstra, Australia's largest company by revenues, which is being prepared for the final stage of privatisation.
The government hopes to sell its remaining 51.8 per cent stake, worth some A$30bn (US$23bn) on its present share price, next year in what could be the biggest global equity offering ever attempted.
The Melbourne-based group said Mr Trujillo, 53, who spent nearly 30 years at US West, the Denver-based carrier, would take up his new role next month when Ziggy Switkowski, its present chief executive, is due to step down.
Mr Switkowski resigned in December after losing the support of the board partly over his plans to expand into the media sector, the poor performance of the international acquisitions he oversaw during six years at the helm, and a long period of underperformance at the former monopoly.
Donald McGauchie, chairman, said after announcing the appointment: “There is no doubt we need to improve the growth parts of the business and to contain the costs of business in order to lift our margins.
“[Mr Trujillo] has shown capacity to drive cultural change and that cultural change will be in the direction of a service-driven, customer-focused business,” he added. “No customer out there can be taken for granted going into the future we understand that and we need people who can drive that culture within this business.”
Mr Trujillo is widely seen to have done a good job at US West where he rose to become chief executive and chairman. Regarded as one of the most influentialHispanic-American business leaders in the US and a director of several high-profile companies including PepsiCo and media group Gannett, he left the telecoms group in 2000 after its US$40bn merger with Qwest.
Since then, his record has been mixed. Graviton, the California-based high-technology company he ran after leaving US West, failed and he lasted just one year at Orange, part of France Telecom.
Tim Smart, at Macquarie Bank in Sydney, said: “His experience at US West seems relevant but the question that will inevitably be asked, given that he's been out of the integrated telco sector for five years, is: how up to speed is he?”
Mr McGauchie said Mr Trujillo had been the board's first choice and that it was “delighted” to have secured his services.
The market, however, appeared underwhelmed, with shares in Telstra falling 1 cent to A$5.07.