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Spark faces 'big decisions' in customer-centric future

Spark faces 'big decisions' in customer-centric future, chair Justine Smyth says

By Paul McBeth

Nov. 6 (BusinessDesk) - Spark New Zealand's board will have to make a number of "big decisions" in a rapidly changing environment as the country's biggest telecommunications firm overhauls itself to put customers front and centre, says chair Justine Smyth.

The Auckland-based company annual meeting on Friday was the last with Mark Verbiest as chair, ending a six-year spell steering the board since the 2011 demerger of the Chorus network unit and rebranding Telecom into Spark as a retail provider. Smyth was part of the new board's intake and succeeded Verbiest as chair on Friday.

Spark's board will continue its drive to support management in creating a "more forward-looking and listening company" and where "we have to put the customer at the heart of everything we think and do," Smyth told BusinessDesk after the AGM.

"The next phase is going to be very, very fast-paced. There's a lot of quite big decisions we'll have to make in terms of how we run the company," she said.

Spark has already gone through a fundamental overhaul, ditching the Telecom brand and reinventing itself as a data and mobile-focused business after hiving off the network assets into a separate entity, Chorus, and responding to declining landline use. With that complete, chief executive Simon Moutter has now embarked on a plan to cut costs and fatten margins by simplifying its services and boosting automation and digitisation.

Smyth said that strategy needs to deliver digital opportunities for everyone as technology delivers "massive change" and identified Moutter's "unique ability to really see what's happening in the market and use that understanding" as underpinning the company's success since the Chorus demerger.

"We want to be the most valued brand in New Zealand homes and the most trusted partner in New Zealand businesses," she said. "That's the kind of pathway we're on. In that process we should hopefully be recognised as one of the world's best companies for digital self-service and customer experience.

"That does mean radical simplification and digitations need to go through."

Smyth said the company also needs to get shareholders to buy into the long-term strategy, while also keeping on top of the rapid pace of change that's seeing more companies trying to shed themselves of bureaucratic processes and cutting decision-making cycles down to 90 days.

While it's easier to keep regular lines open with institutional and larger investors, Spark's share register numbers 26,651 and Smyth said it's more difficult to communicate with retail shareholders.

"They need to buy into our strategy and the fact that we think we have the right CEO that is going to follow that and deliver for them," she said.

Still, investors at Friday's annual meeting were more engaged than they have been in a while, something Smyth put down to the proposal to ditch physical AGMs last year which mobilised investors to block virtual-only meetings.

Spark shares slipped 0.7 percent to $3.615 today, having gained 7.2 percent so far this year.


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