Josh Blair

As group president and chief corporate officer Josh Blair can attest, telecom titan Telus has hardly been phoning it in

We know, we know—you want an update from Telus Corp. on the delicate situation with Huawei Technologies Co., its key supplier for next-generation 5G wireless. But first, let’s hear it for Telus, which again claims the No. 1 spot in the Top 100.

As of May 31, the Vancouver-based telecommunications giant’s stock had hit an all-time high of $50.79. Since 2000, its 490-percent total shareholder return had outstripped that of its peers and the S&P/TSX Composite Index, which gained 205 percent during the same period. Back in 2000, Telus had 4.3 million customers and $6 billion in annual revenue; customers now number 13.4 million, and the telecom posted close to
$14.4 billion in revenue for fiscal 2018.

Group president and chief corporate officer Josh Blair has spent most of his career with the business that began its B.C. life in 1904 as British Columbia Telephone Co. and now employs about 58,000 people worldwide. “There’s been great leadership courage to transform the company from a very small regional player to a world leader when it comes to many metrics, and to have our business operate now all across Canada, and in many cases on a global basis,” Blair says.

Three years after Blair joined BC Tel in 1995, it merged with Edmonton-based Telus Communications. Former Telus chief executive Brian Canfield launched a national expansion taken global by Darren Entwistle, who became president and CEO in 2000 and stepped down briefly this decade before returning to the helm.

Today the company is much more than a telecom provider. As group president, Blair leads and supports business areas such as Telus International and Telus Health. The former, which has about 32,000 team members in 12 countries, provides back-office, IT and other services to Fortune 500 corporations.

“We’re leveraging technology and information to deliver better health outcomes for less money spent in Canada,” Blair says of Telus Health. For example, this division is behind the federal government’s electronic prescribing service, which aims to save billions by reducing the estimated 50 percent of prescriptions that don’t get filled or followed.

Telus may be an international player, but it hasn’t ignored its own backyard. From 2000 through 2021, the company will have allocated $55 billion to technology and operations in B.C. Since 2013, Telus has spent roughly $2 billion to connect 1 million homes in 52 communities of all sizes throughout the province to its PureFibre network.

“If you look at every other vertical, from health care to the energy sector to the forestry sector to tourism, all of them rely on having a good telecom infrastructure in order for them to be successful,” says Blair, who has an electrical engineering degree from UVic.

A practitioner of what it calls social capitalism, Telus also gives generously. In B.C. alone since 2000, its employees and retirees have contributed some $170 million and 700,000 days of their time to charities and community groups.

OK, but what’s happening with Huawei and 5G, which promises to be up to 200 times faster than LTE wireless networks? At press time, President Donald Trump had blacklisted the Chinese telecom, citing threats to U.S. national security. The company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou, remained under house arrest in Vancouver, facing extradition to the U.S. If Canada bans Huawei, Telus and rival BCE might have to shell out upward of
$1 billion in total to remove its equipment, according to the Globe and Mail.

“We anticipate that it will take some time for decisions on 5G infrastructure to be reached,” Blair says. Unlike the U.S., he adds, countries in Europe and elsewhere have taken the view that no matter where a supplier is from, industry must test its technology with government to prove that it’s safe and capable for 5G networks.

“We’re proponents of that approach, too, and I think it’s a good thing for Canada to take our time and learn from what the rest of the world is doing, because it’s not a decision that needs to be rushed into.”