Freeth steps out

TelstraClear's new CEO makes his public debut

Aside from Douglas Webb's profound — albeit indirect — allusion to a scenario of deep and intrusive regulation for Telecom in the form of separation of its operations, the most notable occurrence at the Conferenz Telecommunications and ICT Summit last week was the industry debut of TelstraClear's new CEO, Dr Allan Freeth.

Despite being the "new guy" in the industry, Freeth displayed a penetrating analysis of the issues facing both the industry and TelstraClear. Acknowledging telecommunications market realities, including the threat of uncontrollable forces such as VoIP and the power of consumer and business markets armed with technology indifference, Freeth demonstrated his capacity for thought leadership and an immunity to complacency. By giving a forthright diagnosis of TelstraClear's problems — its insular and internalised focus, its struggle with service levels and historical disconnection with the customer — as well as its place in the industry (he emphasised the importance of serving the needs of clients and the objectives of stakeholders rather than being responsible for improving the regulatory environment), Freeth has set the scene for renewal within his adopted organisation. Ironically, although his views represent a fundamental departure from Rosemary Howard's, it is the windfall of Howard's legacy in the form of access to local calling services and imminent access to UBS under favourable terms, that provide a compelling new launch foundation for TelstraClear.

What impressed me the most is that despite Freeth knowing his points of leverage — Telstra's resources, the strength of TelstraClear's technical heritage, its large customer base, and the opportunity inherent in partnerships — he expressed the highly professional acknowledgement that the "hate Telecom factor" (not his words) is not a basis of competitive advantage. While TelstraClear may benefit from the inclinations of consumers unsympathetic to Telecom, and while its flag may indeed — under the right circumstances — form a rallying point for consumers dissatisfied with their former lack of choice of telephony service provider, TelstraClear's strategy does not rely on this.

With such views firmly grounded in business reality, Freeth has forthrightly addressed nearly every impediment IDC has identified to TelstraClear's renewed emergence in the NZ ICT ecosystem. This is not to say that re-emergence will be easy.

Loh is IDC NZ's senior telecommunications analyst. Contact him at cloh@idc.com

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