Gattung slams her successor's salary

CEO's memoir 'Bird on a wire' goes on sale next Friday

Theresa Gattung has attacked Telecom's executive wages and says her successor, Paul Reynolds, has faced less scrutiny because he is a man.

In a new book, the former Telecom boss questions whether the salaries — such as the $7 million salary and incentive package earned by Mr Reynolds — are warranted.

"Now that I'm long gone I, along with the rest of the country, wonder about the propriety of a company making half the annual profits it did a few years ago but paying its executives considerably higher salaries."

Her book, Bird On A Wire, goes on sale next Friday.

Gattung told The Dominion Post Labour's telecommunications reforms had turned Telecom into a "train wreck" and she would be surprised if the huge turnover of executives that followed her departure in 2007 had not contributed to problems now hampering its $574 million XT network.

"Within two years of me leaving, three-quarters of the top 100 executives were gone. You can't have that happen and potentially not have some consequences."

In the book she blames the pressures of heading Telecom for the break-up of her relationship with long-term partner John Savage, who left her after he had an affair.

Gattung needed help to stay upright when she feared being fired in 2006, and writes that some days she felt as if she had died after her fall from grace as Telecom's youngest and first female chief executive.

Reynolds, as a male, has faced less scrutiny than she, despite the furore surrounding his $7 million salary and incentive package, she writes.

Her regular pay and incentives topped out at about $3 million, though she was paid out $5.4 million in 2007.

She reveals she switched off her "feminine side" in order to get to the top in a man's world.

Gattung saves her harshest criticism for Labour's communications minister at the time, David Cunliffe. In a highly charged chapter that recalls "the beginning of the end of life as I knew it", she accuses Mr Cunliffe of appearing to negotiate with Telecom when he had already written a paper setting out the reforms Labour would impose.

She portrays the government at the time as petulant when Telecom accidentally discovered the secret plan and threatened to make it public.

"In hindsight I believe it suited Mr Cunliffe to make any sense of success a moving target. To set clear priorities which Telecom then responded to would have removed his justification for taking out the `big stick'."

Labour saw a "political upside" in going after Telecom, to the extent that it was annoyed rather than pleased when Telecom "beat it to the punch" by offering faster, cheaper broadband, she writes.

She reveals that, despite the animosity with the Labour government, she was shocked to be asked if she wanted to stand as a Labour MP.

Mike Williams, party president at the time, made the offer after the Labour government imposed tough regulations on Telecom, and as she was about to stand down in 2007.

"I have been flabbergasted many times in my life, but this one really took the cake."

Ten things you didn't know about Theresa Gattung, from her new book.

1. Her first serious boyfriend, David, later came out as gay, leaving her heartbroken.

2. Her long battle with stress-related health problems started in her first job at National Mutual, resulting in inflammation of her jaw and a year of intense pain.

3. John Savage, her partner for 22 years, left her after he had an affair with a friend. She forgave him and they remain close.

4. She narrowly avoided driving her car over a cliff in 2004 and gave up her company car after the "bad look" of dinging it a few times.

5. After the Telecom reforms, she was so fearful she was going to be fired, she started to collapse and company lawyer Mark Verbiest had to hold her up.

6. She was deeply offended by Labour MP Shane Jones, when he greeted colleagues with a hongi, but not her, at a select committee hearing in 2006.

7. Labour Party president Mike Williams stunned her, shortly before she left Telecom, by asking if she was interested in standing for the party.

8. She sought counselling for feeling "at a complete loss" after her departure from Telecom.

9. An irate caretaker, whose job was threatened by an SPCA centre Gattung was supporting, had to be dealt with by the armed offenders squad and was issued a trespass order, requiring he not go within 100 metres of Gattung or Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast.

10. A few months ago, she was approached for a CEO role, but the the company board concluded she had "too strong a personality" and it was unsure if it could work with her.

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