QCLS Presents: Lessons in Leadership with the CEO of Telus: Darren Entwistle
1. Growing up, who were some leaders you admired?
During the course of my life, I always admired my father, not only for his sound
paternal advice, but also for his wisdom in managing everyday challenges and
embracing our responsibility to the greater good. When I was younger and
beginning my career in telecommunications, my father shared an important
lesson about how to create the circumstances to contribute to our society. He
said, “Embrace technology as a way to enhance our quality of life, but do not
forget that it is not, and it never will be, a substitute for authentic human
compassion.” He taught me that in order to do well in our professional pursuits,
we must also do ‘good’ in our communities. For the past nearly two decades,
giving back to our communities has been one of the core values embodied by the
TELUS team, underpinning the social purpose we collectively embrace. Our
team understands that by giving where we live, with our hearts and hands, to
help people whose problems are more profound than our own, we are bringing a
friendlier future to those members of our communities who truly require our
compassion and care.
Throughout my career, I have drawn inspiration from a quote by celebrated
novelist and playwright, George Bernard Shaw, which has hung in the TELUS
boardroom for the past 18 years. Shaw said: “People are always blaming their
circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people
who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the
circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.” I believe that
the principle ensconced within this quote, combined with the personal values
derived from your parents, family and teachers, will help you find or create the
circumstances for your own definition of success.
2. What experiences did you encounter growing up, and at school that
influenced you the most?
Of the many experiences I have encountered, I think perhaps the most profound
realisation – one that was not based on a particular experience, per se, but rather
an overall comprehension of the insight gained as a result of a plethora of
experiences – was the importance of lifelong learning. I believe we must uphold
an insatiable appetite for learning and appreciate the value of ongoing personal
and professional development. In our world, change is relentless and keeping up
with it means never yielding to the status quo, which requires a commitment to
continuously learning – about your professional and personal landscapes and an
understanding of your role within it.
The experiences one enjoys throughout an academic journey become
foundational to the concept of continuous learning, preparing you with the insight,
acumen and curiosity to pursue your career, and, importantly, to make
meaningful contributions to your communities, our country and our world. Without
question, Canada has a deep need for future leaders with the grit and
determination to commit to lifelong learning. The ability to adapt and the ingenuity
to guide our nation’s development in a complex, fast- paced and increasingly
competitive world is predicated on an intellectual curiosity and dedication to
continuous learning that was fostered, for me, throughout my post-secondary
career. An education rooted in critical thought, passion and compassion
produces the leaders who strive for excellence and persevere despite the
inevitable obstacles they encounter along the way; who answer society’s most
profound challenges and understand that through diversity, the whole is far
greater than the sum of its parts; and who have a burning passion for innovation,
the courage to take risks and the ability to learn from successes and mistakes
alike. It is this manifestation of lifelong learning that will serve our future
trailblazers and change-makers extremely well in the years to come.
1. As the CEO of TELUS, you undoubtedly have extreme pressures, and
responsibilities, how do you balance those responsibilities, along with
family, and personal life in a successful manner?
Leading an organisation as dynamic and diverse as TELUS has been incredibly
rewarding, with challenges and opportunities that have made achieving a
meaningful balance between my personal and professional commitments a
somewhat delicate endeavour. Fortunately, I consistently find myself surrounded
by incredible colleagues who are exceptionally talented and able to help drive
positive results for our company and for our team. In an effort to balance my
personal responsibilities with that of a highly dynamic and growing business, I
have learned over the years to take advantage of the opportunity to make time
for the things I enjoy – spending time with my family, watching a movie or reading
a compelling article – to create the much-needed white space between business
and my personal life. To help accomplish this, I find it vital to practice
mindfulness – that is, to stay present in the moment and filter out any white noise
– whilst simultaneously avoiding the urge to multi-task. I encourage our future
leaders to not let ambition stand in the way of spending time with loved ones,
whose unwavering support has helped make any accomplishment possible.
To achieve balance, we must also recognise the significant importance of health
and well-being. The health of an organisation is directly linked to the health of its
team members – both physically and mentally. Personal health fuels personal
resiliency and is key to long-term personal and professional success. At TELUS,
our most productive and engaged team members are those who feel a true
sense of balance between their personal and professional lives. This is why we
embrace programmes that promote a healthy work-life balance and continue to
refuel our grit reservoirs through participation in our extensive community giving
On a personal level, I can state with certainty that enhancing personal well-being
and health increases energy, which, in turn, helps to better manage stress and
provide clarity of mind. I believe wholeheartedly that effective leaders model
healthy behaviours and actively create the circumstances to help their teams
lead healthier, more balanced lives. I know from experience that focusing on your
own health and fitness can be tremendously therapeutic and has helped provide
me with the mental clarity needed to help navigate the challenges of my day on a
2. What is the greatest challenge you have encountered during your time
leading TELUS, and how did you overcome it?
Whilst there have certainly been numerous challenges during my tenure at the
helm of an organisation that has grown from a collection of regional utilities into a
world-leading communications company, one of my greatest obstacles may have
been the complex contract negotiations with our unionised team members in the
early 2000s. I was relatively new to my role at TELUS and fully appreciated the
criticality of striking the necessary balance between setting our organisation up
for success in the years ahead, gaining the requisite flexibility needed to be agile
in a highly dynamic and competitive environment, meeting the ever-changing
needs of our valued customers and reaching a fair, future-forward and generous
agreement for our thousands of bargaining unit team members. To answer this
challenge, I leveraged the vast knowledge and skill of our incredible team to
negotiate a reasonable and forward- thinking agreement, and stayed true to what
I believed was needed to support our future success as an organisation, from the
perspective of our customers, shareholders, as well as our team members. It was
a challenging time during which I learned a great deal both about myself and the
team, and I am confident that we emerged stronger – and ultimately more
adequately prepared to face the headwinds before us – as a result of it.
3. What experiences - successes or failures - have helped you the most in
One of the qualities that has helped me most in my career has been to possess
the conviction to express my views and challenge the status quo, despite the
adversity I may have encountered. Assuming a contrarian view – making
decisions that, at the time, were deemed incomprehensible by many outsiders
and decision-makers – has served me – and TELUS – well in terms of success.
There are numerous examples of occasions when TELUS has chosen to pursue
a journey that may have seemed off-strategy at the time; however, it is important
to always consider the evolution of our industry in order to successfully anticipate
the most effective approach. By way of example, in 2000, when TELUS first
introduced our transformative strategy focused on data and wireless – the very
same strategy that guides our organisation today – experts thought we had
missed the mark. They were convinced that the long- term penetration rate of
wireless services would never exceed 40 per cent and that smartphones would
never be viable in the consumer market. However, we understood the
importance of embracing a disciplined and relentless focus on our strategy even
when it was inconvenient and unpopular to do so.
As a result, today, TELUS is the only incumbent telco in the world to have the
same winning strategy for over nearly two decades, exhibiting perseverance and
continuity in the implementation of this strategy whilst accommodating the
significant changes reflected in the market conditions defining our industry.
In 2000, data, wireless and Internet services comprised just one third of our
customer base, whilst home phone encompassed the remainder. Today, in stark
contrast, wireless, Internet and IPTV services account for well over threequarters
of our total customer connections. In addition, TELUS’ total shareholder
return since 2000 is 460 per cent, compared to the S&P/TSX at 203 per cent and
the MSCI World Telecom Services Index at 4 per cent, placing TELUS amongst
the top incumbent telecom companies globally, reinforcing the efficacy of our
contrarian decision in 2000.
My career is not without its share of failures, as is to be expected when one has
a permanent dissatisfaction with the status quo. For example, in 2007, TELUS
launched a new wireless brand targeting younger demographics in partnership
with the now defunct U.S. telco, Amp’d Mobile. We assumed responsibility for the
Canadian operations; however, before long the U.S. organisation experienced
financial issues that would inevitably impact our operations in Canada. We
moved quickly to address this issue by ceasing Canadian operations and
revisiting our approach to this niche market. We embraced the tuition value from
this experience, and emerged stronger for it – introducing our highly successful
Koodo brand that today, consistently earns the highest customer likelihood to
recommend scores amongst Canadians.
As a leader, it is important to know when to take calculated risks, and if
unsuccessful, to leverage the learnings as building blocks to future success. By
indoctrinating into a culture that failure is an option, team members have the
latitude to take the calculated risks necessary to breed innovation. I have
consistently found that the tuition value extracted from failure is more enduring
and impactful than the learning received from successful experiences, as the
cause of the failure is clearly identifiable with a lasting tuition effect.
1. How do you believe being innovative, and unique fits into the future of
Without innovation, there is no future – of anything, including leadership – and
driving innovation requires intellectual effort, personal stamina, grit and an
unwavering focus on your goals and those of your organisation. Innovation can
only happen through exertion, passion and creativity, and when combined, these
attributes engender behaviours that can overcome just about any challenge to
deliver against a strategy and the critical priorities underpinning it. Ultimately,
innovators drive the actions to deliver on a strategy, for without risk-taking and
innovation, we become complacent and content with maintaining the status quo.
In TELUS’ ever-changing and highly competitive industry, we must remain agile
in order to stay ahead of the competition. I can tell you from personal experience,
there is no linear path to success,
and that our country’s future vibrancy depends upon leaders who innovate and
take risks, and not just in business, but socially as well.
At TELUS, one of our foundational values is having the courage to innovate, and
this value is infused into our culture, including the passionate social purpose our
team embraces as a responsible corporate citizen and community partner.
Leaders of the future must ensure that they innovate in what they do for their
communities as much as they do for their customers. The social purpose
orientation of TELUS is aligned with our strategy of leveraging our technological
and human innovation to improve social, educational and economic outcomes
and build stronger, healthier and more sustainable communities across Canada.
The future of leadership involves social innovation as well as organisational and
technological innovation to be successful, and our future leaders must find
congruence in this regard.
2. What advice do you have for the next generation of leaders?
I have five key pieces of advice for the next generation of leaders, all of which
are based on my personal experience and the valuable insights I have garnered
from various experiences throughout my career.
Firstly, I encourage you to gravitate to what inspires you, as I can promise that
the rewards will follow. When you pursue goals that you feel passionate about –
that truly mean something to you on a visceral level – you can inspire incredible,
positive change in the world.
Secondly, as a leader, you must possess the conviction to express your views
and the curiosity to pursue your dreams, despite the adversity and uncertainty
you encounter. Be prepared and hungry to challenge traditional paradigms, and
to work from contemporary rather than past realities. On the right occasions,
decisively move against conventional wisdom, because it is sometimes just that –
conventional. Standing up for what you believe, particularly in the face of intense
opposition, is grit personified and a critical attribute to realising your own
definition of success.
Thirdly, in your quest for extraordinary accomplishment, you must transcend
barriers, be courageous and take calculated risks, because without risk, there is
Fourthly, given the effects of globalisation, it is imperative that you lead against a
world standard: socially, economically, and environmentally. By only considering
the Canadian context, you will be selling yourself short and setting your
expectations too low. I have been well served by embracing a permanent
dissatisfaction with the status quo whilst having an insatiable appetite to continue
learning and growing.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, embrace the responsibility we all hold to
make the world a better place. Be passionate about giving with your heart and
your hands to build healthier, more sustainable and more compassionate
communities. As you build the future you envision, take risks, pursue your
dreams and achieve great things, but above all, create the circumstances for us
all to be greater, more compassionate and more caring human beings.