BOOKCASE : Bird on a Wire

• Theresa Gattung
• Random House New Zealand
• RRP $39.99

Former Telecom chief executive Theresa Gattung has written book with the apparent intention of setting the record straight on the Labour government’s 2006 decision to heavily regulate the company. Telecom’s profitability and stock price never recovered. Bird on Wire reveals the heavy personal toll on Gattung of that decision and its aftermath, and shares at length her current views on life, business and feminism.
The ex-CEO wants us to know that whatever has happened to Telecom since 2006, it is not for want of her earlier efforts at addressing political expectations on broadband roll-out in New Zealand and at genuinely engaging with cabinet ministers.
On its cover the book promises “the inside story from straight-talking CEO” but it is also memoir of Gattung’s life so far, from childhood to her current involvement in the wool industry. Her rise to Telecom CEO aged only 37, and her tenure through tumultuous times till 2007 were, in themselves, significant achievements. Gattung is certainly intelligent, energetic and well-intentioned.
On the other hand, Bird on Wire shows Gattung as CEO very concerned with – perhaps distracted by – public reputation and media attention (especially if it became negative), and one who believed that the strength of her personality would carry the day in dealings with politicians, colleagues and others – perhaps without acknowledging institutional, historical and all other influences on her many stakeholders. The book prompts us to wonder whether her passion for the job combined with all the pressures faced by any CEO lead Theresa into confusion of personal and professional identities and cloud her judgement at crucial times?
That said, Gattung wants us to know that she has definitely moved on. Her interest these days is in reviving New Zealand’s strong wools industry from role as chair of Wool Partners International, marketing joint venture. Her two chapters on the industry’s plight and prospects are the book’s best written. • Martin Freeth, Telecom’s public affairs manager in 2000-2002

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