Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sol Trujillo and racism in Australia

Former Telstra boss Sol Trujillo punched a hole in Australia’s fragile ego when he said had experienced racism in Australia and that working here was “like stepping back in time.” Speaking to the BBC in San Diego, Trujillo said Australia’s isolation meant it had a “different operating climate” from most countries but was slowly evolving and maturing. In the week where the “bogus bogan” Clare Werbeloff got her 15 minutes of fame by blandly talking about “fat wogs” and “skinny wogs”, it would appear that maturity is materialising very slowly.

Meanwhile Australian reaction to Trujillo’s criticism is typically thin-skinned. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s spokesperson called the statements “ridiculous” and said they will disappoint Australians who welcomed him to this country. The disappointment part may be true but are the comments really ridiculous? More ridiculous, say than Rudd’s single word reaction to Trujillo’s resignation from Telstra: “adios”, or the constant media cry of the “three amigos” that greeted Trujillo (and his two offsiders Greg Winn and Phil Burgess)? Trujillo, like Winn and Burgess, is American not Mexican, and may feel rightly aggrieved at being defined (no matter how playfully) by his heritage.

Back in March, marketing expert Dr Stephen Downes wrote an article in Crikey about Trujillo’s racial stereotyping in the media. Downes said Trujillo’s name and ethnic background became more important than his qualifications and experience. He quoted Eric Ellis who noted how cartoonists always depicted Trujillo in a sombrero astride a donkey, while shock jocks mimicked an imagined Mexican accent, even though his family came to the US 200 years ago. “Did cartoonists feel compelled to draw former CEO Ziggy Switkowski (born in Germany) in lederhosen and eating a bratwurst?” asked Downes rhetorically.

So let’s look again at what was said in Trujillo’s BBC interview. The reporter said: “I noticed reading the papers there that when you were referred to they would always point out that you were, had a Hispanic background or whatever...in Britain and in America it would have been neither here nor there. In Australia it was invariably pointed out. And the Prime Minister when asked what his parting words to you would be, he said, "Adios". Was that racism?” Trujillo responded to the last question first. “I think by definition there were even columnists that wrote stories that said it was,” he said. He then addressed the broader point: “But you know, my point is, is that you know that does exist and it's got to change because the world is full of a lot of people and most economies have to take advantage, including Australia, of a diverse set of people. And if there's a belief that only certain people are acceptable versus others, that is a sad state.”

A team at University of Western Sydney and Macquarie University have done considerable research into this “sad state” of acceptability. In 2001 they conducted a telephone survey of 5,000 people in NSW. This was backed up by a further sample of 4,000 Victorians in 2006. Overall, the researchers found that racism is quite prevalent in Australian society though its occurrences differ from place to place. If you were older, non-tertiary educated, only spoke English, were born in Australia, and were male, you were more likely to be racist.

While these findings appear to back up Trujillo, that is not to say he is beyond criticism. His time at the helm did little to halt Telstra’s slide. Shares in Telstra fell 38 per cent under his leadership, compared with a 13 per cent drop by the S&P/ASX 200 index in the same timeframe. Telstra was also excluded from the $4.7 billion original tender process to build a broadband network after it submitted a non-compliant bid and found itself further on the outer when the government announced a new company would deliver the $43b National Broadband Network. Trujillo quit his job early, leaving Australia six weeks before his publicly announced end date of 30 June.

The Australian’s former senior business correspondent Michael Sainsbury said Trujillo’s problem is one of perception. He says Trujillo did not show a lot of interest in Australia or understanding Australia. “I think that's why he's kind of got that perhaps a little bit wrong,” he told the ABC. BBY Telecoms analysts Mark McDonnell was also unsympathetic saying there was an element of jocularity about the “three amigos” jibe. “I don't think there was anything demeaning or malicious intended by it,” he said. But even if that is true, and it is debatable, it does not excuse the amount of racially motivated mocking Australians dished out to him. Sol Trujillo may not be the world’s best businessman but that does not entitle Australian politicians or the media to rob him of his dignity.


Anonymous said...

I work for the same company where Sol worked recently in Australia. I fully concur with what Sol says. In this stone age no one calls a black - a nigger as it will be openly rude but racism raises its ugly head in subtle ways where it can be continuously swept under the carpet. It is Australian culture to only take care of white skin people when it comes to white collar jobs and promotions. I have seen in my last twenty years in Australia, that the cadre of middle and senior management in Australia is either mediocre or generally well below expectation in their capabilities. Very few are educated, mostly they are High School or TAFE educated but they have very high superiority complex and are put in places which they do not deserve. Promotions are mainly given based on if one has white skin and how much they suck up to their superiors and not on merit what so ever and it does not consider how capable one is. Australian business could have done much better provided they employed the right people in right jobs. But they filter people for jobs based on colour and not the merit of the person. It managed to some how survive by exploiting the mineral resource of Mother Earth but not by any innovative business techniques. Even that resource is now being gradually swallowed by Asian giants China and India by owning major share in these companies. It is an irony that Australia considers itself part of Asia but I am not sure whom they are fooling since the behaviour and policies they have are archaic and racist. It is tragic they do not realise that Asian countries fully understand their racist character and thus do ignore them as part of them as Australia does not play any significant role in the economic or technological inputs into the Asian world.

Anonymous said...

Sol left a billion dollar company worse off. He failed to connect with Australian Culture and entered the scene with typically arrogant American xenophobia. He had an inferior management style and refused to acknowledge that the company that he was taking control of was already a success worth ten of billions. Under backward Australian leadership the company was valuable and successful. Yet in four years of his control it was run into the ground. The people who owned the company expected more than he was able to deliver and were unhappy with the result of poor management. Whilst in control he did nothing to address the so called racism that he talks of, that's because it either wasn't there or he liked things that way.He was in a position to make change.This man was placed in a position of considerable authority by people who he says were directing racism against him. Hardly seems true that these racist backward people decided to treat him less favorably by giving him tens of millions and putting him in charge of a huge multi national company. What a bunch of racists. I hope I am treated to such racism one day so I can retire in luxury and then insult the people who treated me so well. It obvious what Sol is saying. I couldn't do the job. The people wouldn't tolerate my backward immoral business practices. I couldn't work in an environment that didn't allow sociopathic body corporates to treat the masses with contempt because the only way i know how to do business is by media manipulation. I tried to drag Australian values down to American standards but the people were smarter than I thought and put need before greed. What Sol experienced in Australia was accountability. He was not very good at his job and the thousands of shareholders saw through him. Sour grapes Sol. I'm sure that Australian will think twice before they recruit Americans ever again.

iODyne said...

IF WE WERE racist he would not have been awarded his fabulous position in the first place.
AND His gang of friends would not have been able to join him at the lucrative trough.
My Telstra NextG broadband is crap - whatever he says at any conference anywhere in the world.
Their own fine-print admits they do not promise anything after they have the cash.
The Australian summed it up for me, particularly the quote from the Liberal MP.

Anonymous said...

It's funny but people dont say much about BHP's CEO's, with the current one being an American and the most recent one being Australian. It seems that as long they are Anglo, then there is no concern... Just look at the CEO's of a lot of the ASX 200 companies. I think Sol has a point, although i dont agree with all the things he did at telstra

Derek Barry said...

Thanks for the comments. Trujillo's performance (or lack of it) as Telstra boss needs to be carefully extricated from the argument. This is about ethnic slurs and why some people seem to be fair game and others not.

Anonymous said...

I fully agree with Mr Trujillo. Being a Wog as I learned in Autralia & never treated like that in any other Anglo country I worked for, Now working in IBM I was told constantly day or night, in front of Management, that I was a Fucking stupid Wog & that my Mothers, Sisters & Daughters have been fucked & raped by centuries by Anglos beceause they are a superior race & I as a Wog,I was a piece of shit, miserable etc, etc, etc. I complained to Management & I was retrenched because of my complaint & persecuted & harassed out of work etc. But not only white people do so. I lost my job in CSC last February due to a Leb Supervisor, Turquish Manager & a Greek Second Supervisor, all born in Australia who abused me at pleasure & because I responded back to a question, like the Poo in the gelato saga, my contract terminated with a lie, so if any body come to tell me I am a liar cause I am saying Australia its racist & back minded, I am not is the true & as Woolly Days says, it has been an investigation which show Australian culture is RACIST with capital letters.

Anonymous said...

Finally a smart and brave person to speak up... thank you Mr Trujillo.

I live with death threats every day from convict aussies. And it happened because I spoke out defending a chinese person.

I am not chinese,indian or muslim but what does it matter.

Mr Rudd just doesn't have empathy, he is not a prime minister for all aussies, and he is just so defensive.

I think the way this country is going, we'll soon be in the midst of war fires because of racism.

Aussies really need to think how they deal with people because they are VERY DIFFERENT from the rest of the world. I see the rest of the world as warm and caring, but aussies as manipulative, cold and gold diggers.

I have so much to say, and cannot find an end...

Anonymous said...

Yes this country looks after Anglo's only.

See it every day.

Anonymous said...

Australian societies uses words like 'wog', migrant and foreigner to keep otherwise talented people from moving ahead in the co-operate world. Even a Master degree is not good enough because someone with a high school will be your boss because he/she is Anglo.
You are regulated to accept lower grade positions because you don't look right.