Darren Entwistle joined TELUS in 2000 as President and CEO. TELUS is a Canadian technology company that provides a wide range of telecommunications products and services in addition to digital healthcare, IPTV television, security, and digital business workplace solutions with over 85,000 team members worldwide. During this time, TELUS International – the company’s global arm – has become a leading customer experience innovator that designs, builds, and delivers next-gen digital solutions for some of the world’s largest and most respected brands in 50 languages from 20 locations around the globe.
In addition to being an innovative and forward-thinking company, TELUS is a world leader in stakeholder capitalism. Renowned for its community giving ethos, TELUS and its CEO has gone to extraordinary lengths to assist its customers, communities, and team members during the COVID-19 pandemic. TELUS has committed over $150 million to support Canadians, front line healthcare workers, and local communities for the pandemic, and has been recognized globally as the leading corporate citizen for its response to COVID-19.
Following TELUS’ annual general meeting and financial reporting of its first quarter in 2020, I talked to Darren on the phone about how the company is responding to the pandemic.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Dan Pontefract: Having first-hand experience, I know that TELUS is renowned for its high performing, highly engaged corporate culture where all team members have committed to putting customers first in everything they do. Since the onset of the pandemic, how have you helped the more than 85,000 global TELUS team members to remain safe yet still productive and engaged?
Darren Entwistle: The health and safety of our team members, customers, and communities have always been the highest priority for TELUS. Since the beginning of the health crisis, TELUS has taken the evidence-based direction of our TELUS Medical Advisory Council, comprised of specialists with considerable expertise in pandemic leadership, public health, mental health, primary care, occupational health, infectious diseases, digital health, and health economics, to help guide our response to the pandemic.
We have leveraged our world-leading technology to enable 95 percent of our domestic team, and 90 percent of our international team to work from home, to support our customers safely and productively. Prior to the crisis, we already had 70 percent of our team leveraging our remote work capabilities, so our team has been able to remain just as productive while we all now work from home.
To reduce exposure and spread of the virus, we closed 90 percent of our retail stores and kiosks. Within the 136 essential stores that continue to operate amidst the pandemic, TELUS has created a safe environment through a touchless in-store service experience and physical distancing practices in our stores. With our field installation and repair services for our residential customers, we implemented innovative virtual installation and repair processes for the fulfillment of services at the homes of our customers. Importantly, we continue to support our 1,400 idle part-time retail team members by redeploying them to call centre roles and providing a wage top-up.
Our TELUS team recognizes that the uncertainty of this health crisis can cause stress and heighten anxiety. As such, our Chief Neuroscience Officer, Dr. Diane McIntosh, has been engaging with our team on a weekly basis, and our senior leaders have committed to ongoing, frequent communication with our teams, providing support and care. Connecting with the entire TELUS family virtually, sharing resources and stories of our culture of caring in action, has been a privilege for me personally.
DP: TELUS announced a $10 million commitment through its Friendly Future Foundation to “support and enhance public healthcare capacity and community response across Canada.” It’s extraordinary, but what is TELUS doing to specifically support its consumer and business customers in this time of need?
DE: TELUS has a longstanding history of supporting Canadians in the face of adversity. Our team is ensuring vital connectivity as people and families are working, learning, playing games, accessing entertainment and socializing virtually from home. Our team’s efforts to sustain our networks throughout COVID-19 are akin to supporting Super Bowl-level traffic, every day.
To help alleviate the financial burden for our consumer customers, we implemented a number of solutions, including waiving home internet data overage charges and wireless roaming fees, offering flexible payment arrangements, extending promotional periods, deferring planned pricing increases, and extending on-demand entertainment and learning services for free. In addition, we have provided low-income families enrolled in our Internet for Good program with two months of free service to help them manage the financial challenges associated with COVID-19. Moreover, we extended our low-cost, high-speed internet program to K-12 students to support learning from home and provided two months of free wireless service to frontline workers in major COVID-19-impacted hospitals across Canada.
For our business customers, we are providing tools and resources to facilitate remote working, enabling them to continue serving their customers. We shared our pandemic planning resources, including the guidance of our Medical Advisory Council, with our business customers to help them protect their customers and employees, whilst also assisting in the continuity of their businesses. Likewise, through our TELUS Secure Business offer, we are providing an equipment credit and three months of free service, and also offering customized payment arrangements to assist in this challenging period. More broadly, we launched a nationwide #StandWithOwners campaign, which encourages Canadians to “tag” their favourite local businesses on social media. In turn, those nominators will receive a $25 gift card to use at the selected business on behalf of TELUS.
DP: You once wrote: “Companies that embrace social capitalism do so by using their core business to serve a greater social purpose that benefits all of their stakeholders, from shareholders and customers to our most vulnerable citizens.” What lessons can be learned from the pandemic specific to how companies ought to serve a greater social purpose and thus all stakeholders?
DE: This pandemic has brought into sharp focus the synergies between doing well in business and doing good in our communities. As the global leader in social capitalism, TELUS has responded to the many challenges associated with the pandemic with our customary grit, innovation and spirited teamwork. Thus far, we have committed $150 million to support Canadians through the crisis.
TELUS is leveraging our technology, resources and culture of caring to keep Canadians connected to the health, educational and economic resources needed to stay safe and productive, actions we had taken since well before the pandemic began. As the world leader in social capitalism, it is important that we lead by example and action. So, we have extended our Mobility for Good program to thousands of frontline healthcare workers at 126 hospitals and long-term care facilities; offered two months free to the low-income families enrolled in our Internet for Good program; and repurposed our 11 Health for Good Mobile Health Clinics as COVID-19 testing and assessment centres or emergency quarantine shelters. The pandemic has demonstrated how deeply interconnected we all are and the exceptional outcomes we can promote when all companies turn their attention and resources outward toward helping our communities.
DP: You donated your entire Q2 salary to support frontline healthcare workers during COVID-19. Your own personal foundation, the Entwistle Family Foundation, then went and matched it. Why was this important for you to do?
DE: This is a challenging time for so many people, but the impacts are amplified for vulnerable, ill or at-risk individuals. Giving where we live is a part of our culture at TELUS, and it’s a promise that I hold dear to my heart. Since 2000, our TELUS family has contributed $1.3 billion, including more than 1.4 million days of volunteerism in our local communities, more than any other company on the planet.
We are so incredibly inspired by the passion and dedication exemplified by our team every day. Our 85,000 team members, worldwide, continue to demonstrate, in words and in deeds, that when things are at their worst, you can rely on our TELUS team to be at our best. Like the TELUS team, my family and I want to do everything we can to help those most in need at this time. We know that we are all in this together, and we are truly privileged to be able to help in this way.
DP: You began your role as CEO at TELUS in 2000 and are now the longest-serving CEO amongst incumbent telecommunication companies worldwide. You think and act for the long-term. You’ve also experienced a fair amount of societal change over your term. Given your track record on successful long-term, strategic investments, and bets, what advice do you have for CEOs and executives today as they grapple with the business realities of the pandemic?
DE: This is a time of great anxiety and uncertainty for businesses and individuals, but like any crisis, there is also great opportunity. It is an opportunity to find your footing in respect of embracing social capitalism and determining the ways in which you can leverage your core business to improve the social, economic or educational outcomes of your community.
Importantly, leadership is not contingent on crisis, although a crisis certainly has a tendency to reveal the flaws and virtues of any leadership philosophy. In this regard, at TELUS, we have developed a series of Effective Leadership Techniques that have proven foundational to the success of TELUS at the leadership, organizational performance, and human capital progression levels. These ten techniques, developed across five pillars, are designed to ensure our leaders remain focused on our team members’ experiences. This includes effectively encouraging and enabling their teams to provide the thought leadership, dedication, and passion necessary for TELUS to deliver against our commitments to our many stakeholders. I would encourage leaders to develop, codify, and inculcate their leadership philosophy across their organization and truly live the leadership values they espouse. During times of crisis, it can become a playbook of sorts, reminding leaders of the techniques that made the organization successful during times of “business as usual” and the need for constancy when exogenous forces lead to “business as unusual.”
This is a challenging time for everyone. Companies need to find a balance between reflectively turning inward and reflexively looking outward to do well by their stakeholders and do good within their communities.
DP: How are you and your wife, Fiona, alongside your twins, Conor and Aisling, personally handling the pandemic thus far? Any tips for other families?
DE: As a family, we are focusing on enjoying our time together and finding ways to balance work and life whilst together. I appreciate the opportunity to take my dog Reilly for an appropriately socially-distanced walk, as it provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the day and refocus for the days ahead. My advice to everyone is to remember that this too shall pass and that by adhering to public health directives, like staying home, we can all help keep our families, our neighbours, and our communities safe. Do it for your grandparents and other vulnerable people. They need your help, and this is an opportunity to demonstrate that we really all are in it together.
As a full-time team member at TELUS between 2008 and 2018, I had a front-row seat to Darren’s strategic mind, but also his empathic heart. He is that rare breed of leader, one who not only thinks for the long-term, and executes on it, but who also takes care of his team members and who has considerable compassion for the communities in which the company operates. Stakeholder capitalism is well engrained at TELUS and has been for years.
And wouldn’t you know it, the UK-based “Did They Help” site that tracks organizations and individuals, worldwide, in terms of the support they have provided during the COVID-19 pandemic has TELUS ranked #1 ahead of companies such as AT&T, Walmart, Unilever, and Google.
Purpose for the win. (Originally published on Forbes)
PS. My next book, LEAD. CARE. WIN. How to Become a Leader Who Matters is now available for pre-order. Click here. Publishing September 29.