"Sol is a believer in diversity in the broadest sense of the term," says Phil Burgess, a former senior vice-president of communication at US West. "He had a diverse workforce ethnically, but also professionally. More than two-thirds of his top executives came from outside US West, and half from outside the telecom industry. On the ethnicity side, he said he got his chance because people were reaching out to Hispanics, and after that first chance, he showed what he could do in his performance. He's sensitive to spot young people with potential, regardless of where they went to school or their background."
Mr. Burgess calls his former boss "a human dynamo" and confirms Mr. Trujillo's claim that he sleeps only a few hours each night. "You might get a call from him at 11:30 at night, or 6:30 in the morning, e-mails dated at 4:30 a.m.," Mr. Burgess remembers.
"Unique" is a word commonly used to describe Mr. Trujillo's professional skill set, whether on the subject of diversity or market savvy. "Sol brings a unique background to his new position," declared Richard McCormick, chairman of US West, in presenting the new CEO in 1995. "He has been an active leader in our emerging media businesses, through our directory, database marketing, and interactive multimedia services businesses. This combination gives him a unique perspective on how we can capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead." Adds Mr. Burgess: "He possesses a unique combination of being a visionary in telecom industry and a hands-on manager. He's really unusual in that regard. There are a lot of fly-by-wire executives, and others in the trenches who miss the major moves in the market. He has a good balance."
Jay Keyworth, a science advisor to President Ronald Reagan, once called Mr. Trujillo "the first digital telecom CEO" because of his eagerness to try new technologies. "I found him a fresh thinker," says Mr. Major. "He sees problems in terms of how his team can take advantage of them, as opposed to how he can take advantage. He's the ultimate team player. That's not to say he doesn't play a role, but a good quarterback doesn't forget his ends and linemen. So [Mr. Trujillo] has the skill set - he honed it at US West."
Besides his personal assets, Mr. Trujillo inherits the formidable resources of his new company. "To date, Orange has achieved overwhelming acceptance in markets as diverse as Switzerland, Israel, Australia, Belgium, and Hong Kong," says Simon Cartwright, executive vice-president at Orange's London office and a longtime veteran of the company. "Market research and direct experience have proven that the Orange brand, the Orange name, and the Orange values and images effectively cross cultural and language boundaries."
Potential obstacles standing in the way of the wireless future include technical limitations and industry structure. On the tech side, Mr. Trujillo plans to sidestep trouble by keeping out of handset manufacturing, a niche Nokia has dominated for the past five years, according to a report from Banc of America Securities. While Microsoft, Ericsson, and Motorola fight to unseat Nokia, Orange will concentrate on innovative software, a strategy that already has teamed it with Microsoft to launch what The Economist calls the first "Windows-powered smartphone."
With regard to industry structure, the glitch is getting cellular operators to allow competitors to provide positive customer experiences on their home turf, in the same way fixed-line telephone companies pass calls on to each other's local lines. Already Motorola has started an alliance to improve call-passing technology, and the emergence of wireless local area networks (WLANs, or Wi-Fi) will push the industry farther in that direction.
For now, Orange's plan is to build a better wireless system rather than expand geographically. "In business you always focus on your core first," Mr. Trujillo emphasizes. However, once Orange successfully develops an innovative product line, he leaves open the possibility of entering new territories - including the vast U.S. and Latin American markets - "over the medium term."
The prototypical 21st-century Hispanic executive, Mr. Trujillo enjoys both big plans and the unexpected turns that come with their implementation. "I ran a company in the U.S. [US West] that had a wireless business, an enterprise business, an Internet business, and a fixed-line business, and we made it all work together," Mr. Trujillo concludes. "I've already seen part of this movie and I know it's possible. But there's also part of the movie to play out. There are multiple endings and multiple plots that can play out over the next few years. That's the fun for me."
Click here for the full interview transcript.
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