Darren Entwistle, Telus's CEO, wants to improve Canadian health care.

Meet Darren Entwistle, president and CEO of Telus. Health care really pushes his buttons.

Telus CEO Darren Entwistle’s voice rises in volume as he grumbles about the inefficiencies in Canada’s health-care system. However, when you think about it, who but a swami could stay calm discussing the state of Canadian health care? 

Another difference between a swami and the CEO of the number-one company on this year’s Top 100 list is that Telus’s head honcho is doing something to improve Canadian health care: pushing a digital system onto one still steeped in mid-20th-century record keeping – files in manila envelopes, prescriptions written in physicians’ scribble. A corporate leader with a social conscience? Or one sniffing a new business opportunity? 

Both, actually. Under Entwistle’s decade-long incumbency as CEO, Telus has nearly doubled in size, from $5.7 billion in revenue to $9.6 billion. (Entwistle is so confident in the company’s near-term prospects that he has chosen to be paid only in Telus shares this year.) Last year Entwistle entrenched Telus’s position as an innovator nipping at Bell Canada’s heels by investing more than $2.1 billion in fresh technology, including high-speed Internet and TV, and a new wireless network accommodating the latest generation of smartphones capable of reaching 93 per cent of Canada’s population. “It was a massive undertaking for our company, accomplished in the midst of the economic downturn and during a time when the majority of companies avoided capital expenditures,” Entwistle says.

Telus also entered a partnership with Bell last year that enabled it to launch its own satellite television service, called IPTV. This year Telus’s capital investment has returned to more historic levels, with $1.7 billion – $650 million of that in B.C. – being poured into capital projects involving broadband delivery of high-speed Internet service and digital television to homes across Canada. 

But it is health care that pushes 47-year-old Entwistle’s buttons. In the past three years, he says, Telus has invested about $1 billion on the health-care front in digital information communications technology, or ICT. Entwistle is candid about what motivates him: his mother died of breast cancer when he was 12, and this past May Telus pledged to donate $25 for every pink BlackBerry sold to buy enough digital mammography machines to replace the X-ray mammogram equipment currently in use. X-ray screening can fail to detect tumours in dense breast tissue. “Let’s expunge that antiquated technology,” Entwistle says, his voice rising to a growl. 

Health-care ICT, in extensive use in the European Union, has unlimited potential, adds Entwistle. It will allow physicians in urban centres to diagnose and treat patients throughout the province. It will allow patients’ heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels to be monitored from their homes. A doctor will be able to send a prescription digitally to a pharmacist, helping eliminate drug errors. Patient data will be immediately accessible to hospitals, specialists and the patient’s family doctor. Touch-screen mobile phones will have applications promoting healthy living. The resulting efficiencies and cost savings, Entwistle says boldly, will be “the saviour of health care.”

And not coincidentally, will inject a healthy boost to Telus’s bottom line.