“Like Sol Trujillo”: Conroy blasts Vodafone CEO


blog To our mind, Vodafone Australia’s new chief executive Bill Morrow has been doing a fairly decent job since he took the company’s reins early last year. Sure, the customer churn isn’t really slowing down and the company’s still losing moneyhand over fist, but we believe Morrow has broadly stopped the rot inside Vodafone and has put the company’s focus squarely back where it belongs: On its network and customer service. Sure, Morrow’s had the odd rumbling about what he sees as a flawed telco regulatory regime, but that’s pretty much par for the course for a non-Telstra telco CEO in Australia.

Apparently, however, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy doesn’t agree. At an event in Canberra this week, according to the Financial Review (we recommend you click here for the full article), Conroy said of the big V:

“Despite advances in mobile phones, they don’t want to provide services in regional Australia …We haven’t seen another telco CEO act like this since Sol Trujillo.”

If you want read the opinion piece which Conroy’s responding too, you can download it here in full (Word Document). We received it yesterday from Vodafone, but didn’t publish it, as … really, it was quite boring, with a bunch of platitudes about the future of the technology industry capped off by a call to investigate the Universal Service Obligation funding which Telstra receives to guarantee services to the bush. It’s the standard regulatory guff.

To be blatantly honest, this whole situation is one we’ve seen before repeatedly in Australian telecommunications over the past few years. Telco feeling hard done by and losing customers to rivals? Why not start complaining to the Government that the regulatory regime needs a fix? Back in 2005-2006 it was then-Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo. Now it’s Vodafone. Pretty much all of the time it’s Optus. But you know what Australians respect more than a whinger? A whinger who also takes a positive attitude towards their problems and gets things done regardless.

That’s why, as a nation, we continue to revere executives such as Internode founder Simon Hackett and iiNet founder Michael Malone. Because despite the legitimate regulatory issues in the telecommunications sector, which both have noted from time to time, the pair also went out there and improved basic services anyway. It’ll be interesting to see whether Morrow can live up to this test over the next year or so: Just a reminder, Bill: Vodafone hasn’t yet launched its 4G network. Telstra has more than 1.5 million customers already on 4G. Despite not receiving the USO, Optus has at least managed to launch its own 4G infrastructure. A little complaining to the Government is fine, but perhaps it’s also time to kickstart that Vodafone network rollout machine into gear? Maybe before the end of 2013?

Image credit: Kim Davies, Creative Commons


  1. “It’s always someone else’s fault”.

    Regulatory concerns aren’t really the issue here. It’s investment and choices Vodaphone are making. And continue to make.

  2. Let ’em fall. Someone will always take their place and technology will always change. Pass a tissue and a match please.

  3. Vodafone’s culture in Australia has always been “get it working”, instead of “get it working reliably”, and that’s the culture Morrow is trying to change.

    The problem with entrenched cultures is that they are hard to change. People get into their comfort zone, and they don’t want to change. They want to turn up, do whatever it is they do in the same way they’ve always done it, pick up their pay cheque and go home.

    Getting people out of ingrained mind sets is bloody hard and remarkable if you can achieve it. Much easier to set a culture, than change an existing one. That’s why startups – (particularly in the tech industry) – can rise up and overtake huge incumbent organisations.

    They start with no culture, and build one in a modern marker. They are nimble, lean, and can easily change with the times. Older, larger organisations don’t have the mobility – (pun not intended).

    So if they want to change the culture, Morrow has to make some sweeping changes. Changes which might cause some more short term pain.

    In the long run, if he has the guts to make big decisions – (get rid of people who can’t/won’t adapt, for example) – then that’s what he must do. That in itself is difficult. It’s hard to tell people they don’t have a job anymore.

    I’ve had to tell people that, and it’s heartbreaking.

    But if the changes aren’t made, there might not be a Vodafone for anyone of its employees to work for, and that would be a bigger tragedy – not just for those employees, but from a narrowing of competition in the market.

    Reform is hard.

  4. He is just mad they are not bidding for the 700mhz spectrum that has caused him a lot of grief.

  5. Turnbull had a sook about this today as well. Apparently Conroy is a big bully and is mean to the poor defenceless telco CEOs.

  6. “Apparently, however, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy doesn’t agree.”
    Well really you and he are commenting on different things. You’re saying Morrow has done a lot to steady the ship; Conroy is saying Morrow likes to complain about regulation, something that you later agree with him on.

  7. From the transcript:

    “MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well it’s a robust market in the sense that it’s a strong market and a big market and a lot of money involved. But there’s no excuse for bullying or for the sort of personal, nasty, arrogant language that Senator Conroy engages in regularly.”

    Oh dear.

    I’d ask about the language and bulling of Quigly by Turnbull. Or various coloquial terms levelled at those whom don’t share Turnbull’s vision (Renai being just one of many of late) – but that’d be something akin to boxing with shadows.

    • bloody hell yes. pot, kettle, black. Malcolm should have stayed out of that one. if theres anything hes been on a roll for lately, its the ‘do as i say, not as i do’ mentality he seems to have encouraged in himself. ive lost count of all the lectures but he seems reticent to apply the same standards to himself.

      as for this:
      (Out of touch) Telco feeling hard done by and losing customers to rivals?

      T,ftfy. i also fully agree on the comment Re Hackett and Malone. they fully admit there are problems and difficulties in the industry which they have placed themselves into – but theve never let that hold them back from finding ways to do other things when blocked out, and often coming back to something when conditions change or mature to the point where revisiting something makes sense. its actually something the pollies themselves can take a leaf out of the book on – instead of throwing brickbats and hissyfits, go and get something else done. ultimately you can point back to that and say look i couldnt do everything i wanted. but i didnt go and sulk in the corner, i kept working in my remit as representative of my electorate of Australia. that sort of attitude will get much more respect from me than what we see all too often today: either ‘its all too hard’ or more simply “no, no no, no no no no”.

  8. Out of interest , where Telstra gets some Government cash to build their Mobile network in the remote areas, are other carriers given either wholesale access or able to also install equipment on the towers?
    Do they have affordable backhaul options?

    • When governments do these projects in the bush they call for tenders and select the submission that gives them the most value for money.
      IF Telstra happens to win it is because the government believes it was the best value submission.
      If Voda put in a better submission then Voda would win.

      As for sharing of tower infrastructure, all carriers are required to do this. They must of course pay their share of the tower cost.

  9. Honestly, if you could actually SEE this side of the fence you’d probably change your mind about Vodafone’s new management.

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