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QCLS Presents: Lessons in Leadership with the CEO of Telus: Darren Entwistle

Early Life/Education

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

sustainable basis.

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

your career?

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

no innovation.

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.

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