New Bell CEO George Cope announced a streamlined management structure for the conglomerate Friday within minutes of taking over his post, promising to quickly re-focus the organization on improving the customer experience, while rolling out competitive new service, network and marketing initiatives.
“Bell’s goal is clear: to be recognized by customers as Canada’s leading communications company,” he said in a news release. “I look forward to leading a unified, re-energized organization focused on attaining that goal by delivering a better customer experience at every level.”
One sign: Mary Ann Turcke, who had been vice-president of customer experience and operations, has been elevated to be executive vice-president of field services, one of only four executive VPs. Her repsonsiblities cut across all divisions, from residential to enterprise.
Details of how things will change weren’t released, but the new structure will apparently deal with one criticism of industry analysts, that Bell doesn’t make decisions fast enough.
Cope is preparing for the privatization of Bell, expected to be completed in December, when it will be bought for some $51 billion (including debt) by a consortium headed by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.
Losing wireline residential and business customers to VoIP upstarts, system integrators and cablecos, Bell Canada has avoided making many decisions for the past year as the buy-out process chugged along.
Teachers had wanted to seal the deal at the end of last month, but according to news reports has been forced by banks backing its $30 billion loan to delay it for several months. At the same time BCE has frozen shareholder dividends until the end of the year to improve its books.
It isn’t clear, therefore, how much Cope can do before the Teachers group actually has control. Industry analysts are certain BCE wants to dispose of non-core assets to raise cash. Until December, however, it’s still a publicly-traded company and responsible to shareholders.
To get an idea of where Bell Canada might be going, look at a slide presentation the company made last fall to the technicians and customer support people who run its network, the 5,000 members Ontario and Quebec members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers.
Admittedly, it was a presentation for a contract negotiation with management trying to get concessions from employees, but it shows what’s on the company’s mind. It emphasizing that the utility – which now offers everything from home phone service to systems integration – faces competition now from telcos, cablecos, VoIP resellers and IT services companies.
Customers expect service within three hours, the presentation says, but suggests that’s being impaired by a rigid contract. For example, it cites a December, 2006 Sunday when a customer was without service for six hours because a technician couldn’t be found. One October day around midnight 20 attempts were made to find a technician for a problem, the presentation says. Someone was found only in the morning, so a customer was without service for seven hours.
“Our competitors offer many of the same products, often with better service and at lower cost,” the presentation says. “As a result, we need to have additional operational flexibility at lower cost and an overall lower cost structure in order to reinvest in network improvements and new offerings.”
What it wanted from the union was the ability to simply and improve transfer reassignment, reclassification and job posting process to meet workload fluctuations, as well as the ability to loan staffers to other departments to meet demand. It also wanted to limit overtime and premiums. In 2006, it paid out $22.8 million in overtime ($17.5 million of it in double overtime, and $13 million in premiums (including $3.4 million for Sunday work.) Among other things, Bell wanted an immediate pay cut of 22 cents an hour.
The union held firm for the most part when the contract was signed in May, getting modest pay increases of 1.5 per cent in the first year of the five year agreement, and 2 per cent a year in the following years. It also agreed to remove the premium for employees working consecutive Saturdays to cut a cut in the Sunday premium to a quarter of extra time.
But it gained a promise that 50 per cent of part-time workers will be reclassified as permanent staff. There also was an agreement to create a management-union committee to look into dealing with fluctuations in work volumes.
Whether that was enough remains to be seen. When the contract was ratified Bell issued a statement saying the new deal gave it “more flexibility to meet changing customer needs.”
Cope’s new team at Bell Canada includes
– Trevor Anderson, executive vice-president for the network division, who had been senior vice-president of technology;