As head of Bell Canada’s aggressive penetration into an Alberta and B.C. telecommunications market dominated by Telus Corp., Paul Healey’s role can be likened to David against Goliath.
Yet, the upbeat president of Bell Canada’s western operations says he thrives on challenges.
That challenge may become even more interesting with Manitoba Telecom Services’ recent stunning $1.7-billion acquisition of Allstream (formerly AT&T Wireless).
Healey, who was recently named president of Bell’s western operations, loves to pitch the Bell brand and manages to get through this interview without once mentioning the name the competition, referring to Telus as “the incumbent.”
|Larry MacDougal photo, Business Edge|
|Paul Healey says Bell is focused on presenting a clear alternative in the West, once traditional turf of rival Telus Corp.|
Which may have something to do with his roots as the son of a Bell Canada operator.
1. Did you grow up in an entrepreneurial environment?
“Actually, my mother (Eileen) was an operator with Bell in Whitby, Ont. She had a fabulous career at Bell and she’s very proud of me. It’s very ironic that I happened to end up at Bell. My dad (Gene) was a good Irishman who had a lot of different roles. He was everything from a carpenter to a policeman. He was a hard workin’ middle-management guy. My parents had the foresight to put all of their eight children through graduate school. Education was always an assumption for us. My mom and dad didn’t necessarily have the means to (put their children through graduate school) but they were so selfless. It really didn’t matter what they had. They would give you the shirt off their backs. My mom is the most generous person I’ve ever known in my life. If I gave her a million dollars today, she’d give it to one of my siblings tomorrow.”
2. How do you think your parents’ influence has helped you in business?
“I think I’m a very people-oriented person. They taught me how to work hard. They taught us how to be very hungry and competitive. I’m very competitive and I think that’s where I’m at my best. Being from a big family (eight children), you learn to share, you learn to speak up if you want to be heard and you have to wrestle for your food if you want to eat. My dad taught me a lot about woodworking and he was a very patient man. In high school, I would make furniture and sell it as one of my businesses. That taught me a lot about small business and hard work. It taught me to be self-sufficient and that if you want to make your own road one day, you have to hunker down, be prepared for hard work and roll up your sleeves.”
3. What character trait do you think has the most to do with your success?
“One thing I’m good at, that I learned from my parents, is knowing how to have empathy for others. I really know how to get inside of people’s heads from a functional discipline perspective. I’ve done most jobs in business, like customer service, sales and marketing. You learn that everybody thinks differently, so being able to have empathy for others is, to me, a very important trait in business today. It allows you to find a solution that will work for everyone. It also allows you to create an environment that brings out the best ideas and best practices. I think it’s important that your ego allows you to recognize that you don’t have the best ideas all of the time. I find that employees who are on the frontlines of the business have the best ideas. Two or three people have taught me how you show up in business, what your brand is and how to motivate people by setting them free.”
4. What valuable lessons did you learn from your time as president of Bell Mobility West?
“It’s probably the best job I ever had because I had the opportunity to build a company with a fabulous brand from the ground up. We hired approximately 700 people between B.C. and Alberta in almost every discipline. We were literally able to hand-pick the people and we intentionally didn’t hand-pick everyone from a telecom background. By doing that, were able to drive a clear alternative to the competition with the leadership of a brand (Bell Mobility) that is by far the largest and most successful wireless company in Canada.”
5. How difficult was it initially going head-to-head with Telus?
“I think very highly of the competitor and they do a very good job. But the only challenge that we had, quite frankly, was time and telling our story. We had a fabulous story to tell, which was a clear alternative, the widest network coverage and Bell Mobility being mostly known for its world-class customer service. Besides being the innovator that has certainly launched almost every new technology in the history of wireless (in Canada), what we’re really known for is having the best customer loyalty in North America.”
6. What percentage of market share for wireless do you have now in the West?
“Unfortunately, I’m not able to tell you that because our results are not made public by region. We only make them public nationally, where we’re No. 1. Bell Mobility Western Canada plays a very important part in that, but unfortunately I can’t share that information with you because every carrier only does that nationally.”
7. How do you plan to put your stamp on Bell’s western business?
“I really believe that everything is about the customer experience and it’s very important for us to be best at (that). That really shines through, not only through your product quality, your processes and your people, but in terms of how simple you are as a company to operate and how simple you are providing customer service that is seamless. We’ve been very successful in Western Canada in driving a clear alternative strategy to the incumbent. We don’t underestimate the incumbent in any way, shape or form – they’re a very successful company – but we do believe that customers value an alternative. The result of being the best in customer service is really the true, long-term advantage. I believe that the best form of advertising in business is customer word of mouth.”
8. How do you expect Manitoba Telecom Services’ recent acquisition of Allstream to impact Bell’s western market?
“BCE (owner of Bell Canada and the largest shareholder of Manitoba Telecom) has issued a press release and I have nothing further to add.” (BCE said it was weighing its options and acknowledged that the deal was a significant change in the strategic direction of Manitoba Telecom).
9. How do you market your products in order to win customers from Telus?
“That’s a very good question. I think you have to have a clear and telling value proposition that incorporates what customers are looking for. You really need to understand the customers’ business needs rather than forcing them to use whatever product that may be convenient for us to sell. Our product portfolio needs to reflect that first, and our customer service needs to complement that so that it is seamless for the customer.
“I don’t necessarily know that you want to provide a strategy that means you can be everything to everyone. I think you need to look at the market and the segments that you want to leverage and meet the specific needs of that environment. And I think new technology is going to open that up quite a bit.”
10. Can you explain how that technology will benefit customers?
“The networks of yesterday and the networks of tomorrow are going to change dramatically so that they start becoming much more of a seamless process for change. A voice-over IP (Internet protocol) phone can become a phone that you can literally move from office to office and location to location. That allows you to have a totally different experience with technology than what you used to be possibly forced into under maybe a legacy environment. Our products have to reflect that.”
11. What’s your vision for Bell’s western business?
“Our vision is to really be the telco of the future, and for us to combine the technologies of the future in becoming the clear alternative for customers. When any customer tries Bell, we want them to remain a customer for life. Customer service is really everything that I want to stand for. It’s about winning one customer over every day. The growth in revenue and in earnings for the Bell companies in the West are pretty dramatic and they’re more than a quarter of where Bell Canada sees its growth coming from. With our western business wholly owned by Bell now, I think it’s a real specific definition of Bell’s commitment to Western Canada. It’s a commitment that shows that we are a national company and that we want to build a national IP-based network that allows us to be the continued leader in technology and customer service across the country. We’re not going anywhere. We’ve invested a billion dollars in Western Canada in the last three to four years and we’re probably going to do that again in the next three or four years.”
12. In what aspect of your business do you foresee the greatest growth over the next five to 10 years?
“I continue to see the growth in the IP and wireless side. As Bell (Canada) has stated in its intentions, we’ll certainly be an IP company in 2005, 2006. So I think that there is going to be dramatic change from the older legacy technology. The Alberta SuperNet (a provincial government project that Bell is helping build) is a perfect example of combining traditional wireless and IP technologies to provide the latest and most innovative network that North America or possibly the world has ever seen.
“When that network is done, Alberta will be blanketed with an IP/wireless environment.”
13. When will the SuperNet be completed?
“The lion’s share of that will be completed by the end of this year and we recently demonstrated a remote exercise that was quite powerful. There’s nothing more powerful than seeing technology in action. We had four teachers at four separate locations demonstrating their classroom learning. The reality is that they were actually demonstrating with really no latency whatever in communication. One of the exercises was a plane that was flying against a wind factor and you had to vector the speed and distance of the plane. It was just fantastic to be able to see kids who were 800 miles away – where we can’t get teachers – to experience this.”
14. Do you believe the SuperNet will catch on elsewhere?
“Despite other provinces knowing that this is being built, I think that when this is finished they’ll be looking at it. It’s like when a car rolls off an assembly line and you get to see how sexy it looks. Then, everyone wants to build the car. When we start demonstrating the capabilities of this network more and more, people are going to get excited, they’re going to get passionate about it and I think they’re going to get envious about it. This is a real milestone in history.”
15. Have you noticed an upswing in spending in the telecom sector?
“No, I have not. I think it’s still a challenging environment. I think it’s still very much a show-me-the-results environment. When you see us investing in Western Canada like we are, you’ll have to trust me that the results are coming. We do not invest significant amounts of capital or operating costs without return. That clearly shows up in our national (BCE) results every year.”
16. How do your results compare between Alberta and B.C.?
“Both markets have their own unique complements. Alberta obviously is a much more head-office and business-focused environment than B.C. British Columbia is doing extremely well on the business side for us. We have about the same number of employees in each province (about 800 employees each) and we have significant investments in each province. It has not been a lopsided environment. I think that both provinces represent unlimited potential for us.”
17. How do you see your career evolving?
“Not to brag, but I believe I have the best job at Bell. We have an environment where we literally have unlimited growth potential.
“I certainly have the two most beautiful provinces that I can roam around in. I believe that we have high-energy people who are definitely looking for a competitive environment to thrive in. I believe we have the best of all the worlds because I’m bringing one of the best brands in Canada if not North America in the name of Bell to Western Canada. With that comes a strength of investment, a strength in best practices and certainly a strength in customer loyalty. So with that I really believe I’m set up for success. We have some of the highest employee satisfaction results within Bell and it’s very important for me to maintain that.”
18. What’s the key to maintaining that employee loyalty?
“The key is to be in touch with the frontlines of the business. My leadership style is to be out in the community and out with the frontline employees as much as possible. I’m not a traditional conference-call head office guy, so to speak. I learned from my upbringing that if you don’t know what’s going on, you’d better go and find out. The other important thing is to listen to what employees need and create an environment they can succeed in. If you ask your employees what kind of environment they need to succeed in, they’ll tell you. Running a company is not rocket science. It’s about having the right people around you – people who are a lot smarter than me, people who are very energized and passionate about what they want to do. Success breeds success.”
19. Are you able to turn your cellphone off when you’re away from work?
“I believe it’s very powerful for the person to control the device rather than the device controlling the person. I find sometimes when they first get their device, people let it control them. The device is supposed to provide you with ease of communication rather than a sense of frustration. My phone is always on vibrate. My phone rang while we were talking today. There’s never a time when I’m out of touch, if I want to be in touch. You can turn them off. That’s a very acceptable thing.”
20. Do you plan to retire early?
“I think I have too much energy for that. I think my wife would go nuts with me around the house that much. I get my energy by working for a company that I’m proud of. I really have to work for a company with a product that I’m proud of. No. 2, I get my energy from a challenge. I’m best when I have a challenge on my hands and I love to grow. As long as there’s opportunity like that, I couldn’t think of a better opportunity for growing the business than what I have right now. I have a high-energy group of 1,600 people who die to win each day, we have the best loyalty of brand in the country and we’re turning into a new telco. Who wouldn’t be energized by that? I want to do this as long as I can, as long as they’ll have me. If I’m successful doing that, then you look at new opportunities. I see a lot more years of driving the train left in me.”
IN PROFILE: Paul Healey
* Title: President, Bell Canada, Western Region.
* Born/raised/age: Whitby, Ont., 42.
* Education: McMaster University (Hamilton), MBA; University of Toronto, honours degree, economics/commerce.
* Family: Wife Lyse Prendergast, three children.
* Career: Prior to his recent promotion to president of Bell Canada, Western Region, Healey was president of Bell Mobility West from the time of its inception in 2001. Healey has spent most of his career in telecommunications with a focus on wireless communications. He has also worked in sales, marketing, customer operations and finance with Northern Telecom (now known as Nortel), Cantel AT&T and the Gemini Group.
* Moonlighting: He is a board member with Junior Achievement, B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre Foundation, B.C. Social Ventures Partners, University of British Columbia mentor program, New Media B.C. and the Information Communications Technology Advisory Committee.
n Passions: Wielding golf clubs, strumming a guitar.
THE COMPANY: Bell Canada Western Region
* Profile: Bell Western Region is the western arm of Bell Canada, a division of BCE Inc. Bell’s western operations provide residential and business communications solutions through wired and wireless voice and data communications, long-distance phone services, IP-broadband services, e-business solutions and direct-to-home satellite service. There are four Bell offices in the West – in Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary and Edmonton.
* Room Service: Bell’s high-speed DataValet wireless Internet technology is being installed in 36 hotels owned by the Calgary-based Royal Host Real Estate Investment Trust.
* Websites: www.bellwesternbusiness.ca ; www.bell.ca ; www.albertasupernet.ca
* Vancouver Office: 20th Floor, 885 West Georgia St. V6C 3E8; Phone 604-678-7700.
* Calgary Office: 21st Floor, 111 5th Ave. S.W. T2P 3Y6; Phone (403)-410-8600.
* Edmonton Office: 28th Floor, 10104 103rd Ave. T5J 0H8; Phone (780)-409-6800.