As the global economy muddles through its third year of doldrums, investors are asking, "What's the next big thing?" For Sol Trujillo, the answer is wireless. The former CEO of telephone giant US West, Mr. Trujillo in March took the helm of Orange Inc., a multinational wireless company majority-owned by France Telecom.
The new assignment puts Mr. Trujillo at the center of the world stage, running a company dominant in two of Europe's largest markets - France and the U.K. Orange maintains offices in 20 countries, from the Ivory Coast to Thailand to the Dominican Republic, its only Western Hemisphere operation. Although the company has one of the most identifiable brands in Europe, it remains nearly unknown in the United States.
"Orange is a bigger company than even the merged company between US West and Qwest [which acquired US West in June 2000]. In today's market, in which communications has fairly depressed values, it's an $18 billion topline company with a market capitalization…between $35 billion and $40 billion," said Mr. Trujillo during an exclusive interview with Hispanic Business. "I agreed to [lead Orange] because we have the opportunity to create a new model for this industry for the next decade. It's going to be fun doing that."
His vision of the wireless future starts with the fact that the average wireless phone subscriber in the United States spends only nine and a half minutes per day on the cell phone; in Europe, it's around five minutes. To encourage subscribers to use more minutes, the wireless providers must offer more services, Mr. Trujillo believes. He foresees an integration of wireless telephony, the Internet, and private data networks opening up a new array of service and, thus, revenue streams.
Integration means, for example, that people could have phone messages, work e-mails, and personal e-mails compiled into one list, and they could delete or respond to these messages via voice or typed commands. "Wouldn't it be nice if you could have all that information provided to you on a network-based application stored on a server?" asks Mr. Trujillo. "So when you turned on your [home] PC, it would be there. When you turned on your cell phone, it would be there. Or at work - boom, it's there. And it's the way you want it. What I'm looking to do is create a new strategy that centers around embedding this intelligence on the network so it shows up on whatever device you have."
John Major, the former CEO of Novatel Wireless, who has worked with Mr. Trujillo as a board member and a supplier, agrees with his analysis of an industry in transition. "The question used to be, could you make it work at all? In that phase, very little focus was put on costs or differentiation of the customer experience. Now that's changing. The great companies are developing superior cost and financial models," Mr. Major says. "This is very similar to what happened when Wal-Mart emerged from the debris from the discount retailers. Southwest Airlines in transportation, same story; Dell in PCs, same story."
Leading a high-tech revolution of global proportions may seem grandiose for a soft-spoken Hispanic from Wyoming, but Mr. Trujillo cites his background as a major advantage for the task. Besides the Hispanic work ethic (see accompanying story, "Bits of Wisdom"), his experience gives him what one executive recruiter described as a unique ability in dealing with cultures and people. "I've always believed in diversity because of my own experience and what I've observed," Mr. Trujillo says. "So I can go into France, Switzerland, the U.K., Thailand - wherever we operate - and look for people's best, as opposed to their limitations. That's an advantage when you try to lead a global company."
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