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He tried to quit once before and couldn’t stay away. Now, Telus’s brilliant, obsessive CEO says he’s getting ready to leave for good. Should we believe him?

The last time he left, Darren Entwistle reclaimed his job as CEO of Telus just 15 months later.© Martin Tessler/Globe and Mail

Darren Entwistle is a brilliant guy, but he sure can wear you out. We’re almost three and a half hours into an interview at Telus headquarters in Vancouver that was supposed to last for 90 minutes, and it doesn’t look like he’ll stop any time soon. The tanned, sandy-haired CEO—who will be 56 in August (he’s on the cusp of Leo and Virgo and possesses all of the worst qualities of both signs, he jokes)—is telling me about Telus’s biggest challenge right now: getting high-speed fibre optic cable to the front door of every home and business in its service area. Once he does, his company will be able to deliver blazingly fast download and upload speeds of up to one gigabit per second.

Telus is already halfway there—but Entwistle’s impatience is palpable. It’s a massive undertaking and government gripes about his industry’s high prices and lack of competition drive him to distraction. He doesn’t think his company gets enough credit for the billions it has invested in building high-quality networks, and he blames himself for not getting the message out. “We need to tell the goddamn story on the quality front. Because that will matter to people, right? And what matters to Canadians will matter to regulators,” he says, getting increasingly worked up. “Why were we not telling that bloody story?”

Intense and engaging, Entwistle talks at warp speed, dropping five-dollar words such as “probabilistic” and “sanguine” as he builds up a contagious sense of urgency. All West Coast corporate chic in a sharply tailored black suit and light blue shirt (no tie), he’s the living, breathing embodiment of a dynamic $13-billion-a-year communications company with a fanatic corporate culture, a surprisingly content customer base (compared to rivals Rogers Communications and BCE) and an unusual growth plan that includes investing in, of all things, health-care systems and offshore call centres.

Suddenly, he switches gears and starts talking about his son, and his tone warms considerably. Conor, one of his twin children, just began university last year (as did his daughter, Aisling). Entwistle, known for late-night drinking sessions and frat-boy behaviour in his younger days, now seems to delight in playing the embarrassing dad.

He tells me how just last year he pranked his son when they were out shopping for graduation clothes. Conor, who wanted to make a splash, had picked out a stylish, electric blue suit from clothier Harry Rosen to wear to the big event. Entwistle secretly had his corporate assistant call ahead to order a dad-sized version of the exact same suit. When he later tagged along for the fitting, the salesperson brought out the matching suit for Entwistle to wear to the grad, and Conor was not amused. “So the tailor is fitting me and fitting Conor, and Conor’s having a meltdown… It was fantastic!” says Entwistle, laughing at the memory of his own mischief so hard he has to stop for air.

Hijinks involving his son don’t stop there. Earlier, Entwistle told me how he thought it would be fun to channel his son’s personality through the internal CEO bulletin on quarterly results. “We’ve been doing this for a long, long time and it’s quite corporate—very much operational results and financial results. I was trying to think of a way to spice it up,” he says. So he asked his communications team to write up a version of his notes based on what they thought a teenager would say and then gave it to Conor to edit for authenticity. “Then we had to re-edit it because we couldn’t say some of the things he was saying.” Telus employees took it well, he assures me. Two more commentaries in Conor’s voice ensued and to this day, he says, customer service workers keep asking him, “When is Conor going to send his letter again?”

On one level, letting your teenage son edit a multibillion-dollar company’s quarterly bulletin is charming. But it also suggests a certain sense of proprietorship. Entwistle isn’t the founder of Telus, but he has been at the company for an astounding 18 years, and it was his hard-driving, occasionally hot-tempered leadership that grew it from a grab bag of unremarkable regional utilities into a major national player. Even friendly rival George Cope, CEO of BCE, has nothing but admiration for his capabilities. “I think he has a strategic mind like, frankly, not many I’ve encountered in my business career,” says Cope. “He always thinks long term from an investment perspective even if the public markets don’t see it.”

To build Canada’s third national carrier, Entwistle had to make some stomach-churning gambles, win over a once-hostile employee base, execute a winning strategy and make some heartwrenching personal sacrifices. So maybe he’s earned the right to think of Telus as his creation. And as long as he’s at the helm, perhaps it doesn’t matter that he has trained his senior executives to let him make the tough decisions or that he has an enviable amount of autonomy, thanks to a very friendly board. But what about when he leaves? That could be a problem. After all, when he tried to give up the reins in 2014 it didn’t go well—leading to an astonishing reversal that shocked Canada’s cozy telecom sector to its core.

I don’t have to prod much to learn that he too has been thinking about how Telus will move forward without him. Entwistle is proud of what he’s accomplished, he cares deeply about his legacy, and he hints it might soon be time to go. But the last time he left, he reclaimed his CEO job just 15 months later. Why should we believe him this time?

Entwistle has been living in Vancouver for so long, he’s often assumed to be a native, but he started out life across the country, growing up in a middle-class anglophone home in Montreal. He was born in 1962—the year Montreal’s now-crumbling Champlain Bridge opened to traffic—the only child of Desmond Entwistle and Dorothy Greenshields. He lost his mother to cancer when he was just 11, and his father, who worked for Bell doing installation and repair work, became a dominant force in his formative years.

Entwistle eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, working at BCE installing phones part time and during school breaks. He spent years knocking on customers’ doors and drilling holes in their walls. He once accidentally punched through someone’s dining room ceiling—yelling down, “We’ll fix that. Don’t worry!” It was one of many encounters that helped him develop a deeper understanding of the customer, an insight that would later become his secret weapon.

After getting an economics degree from Concordia University, an MBA from McGill and a diploma in network engineering from the University of Toronto, Entwistle landed back at BCE, eventually moving to London, England, to take a job with Bell Canada International, BCE’s now-shuttered overseas investment business.

While in London, he moved through a series of roles at Cable & Wireless Communications, one of BCI’s investments. He worked non-stop, and following a four-way merger in 1996, Entwistle oversaw a “brutal” integration of the cable companies. Burned out from the relentless pace, he returned to Canada for a vacation, but instead of heading for his hometown, he landed on the opposite side of the country, visiting Banff and Jasper in Alberta, and driving down the coast of British Columbia. He fell in love with its natural splendour and wondered what it would be like to live there.

A few years later, he returned to B.C. with his partner, Fiona, for a skiing vacation in Whistler. They already had the twins together, but he surprised her by asking her to marry him that day in front of a small group of friends in the rooftop chapel at the Fairmont Whistler hotel. Even on his honeymoon, though, he couldn’t let go of work, making a quick trip into Vancouver to meet with an executive search committee. They were looking for a new CEO to head up a collection of regional utilities called Telus.

Entwistle got the job, but his first year was such a roller coaster, there may have been days when he wished he hadn’t. Cobbled together in 1999 out of BC Telecom and Alberta-based Telus (with a majority interest in QuebecTel thrown in just before he arrived), the company Entwistle joined was far from the Telus we know today. Right from his first day, he pushed for growth, charging into the national game by acquiring an existing player, Clearnet Communications, a startup with lots of spectrum, lots of debt, and cell towers across the country.

Entwistle immediately began talks with George Cope, then CEO of Clearnet. The six-foot-seven varsity basketball player turned cellular entrepreneur was just a year older than Entwistle and the two bonded over the fact that they both had twins. Conveniently, they both also had something the other wanted: Telus needed to go national and Clearnet, growing fast but bleeding money, needed a strong backer. After just a handful of meetings, they had a deal. The announcement was a shock to the staid Canadian business scene: Telus would pay a stunning $6.6 billion for this scrappy startup.

To sign such a deal just one month into his tenure was an unlikely triumph, but even while the ink was drying, things began to go wrong. The tech bubble was bursting and Telus’s debt load was crushing. Entwistle scrambled to cut costs, eventually eliminating 7,500 jobs, even as he faced tough negotiations with unionized workers, who had been without a contract since 2000. In 2002, Moody’s slashed Telus’s debt rating to junk status, and the company’s shares plummeted. But the setbacks only strengthened Entwistle’s conviction. He even framed a copy of the debt downgrade notice and hung it next to his office, with plans to smash it to pieces when he was proven right.

The Clearnet purchase immediately made Telus a serious competitor to Rogers and BCE, and its influence as one of the Big Three wireless carriers grew steadily in the following years. As the market settled down, Entwistle’s gamble paid off: The share price began to recover. Wireless growth got a big boost when it partnered with BCE to launch a new shared network built on a modern standard, and Telus made huge investments to take on western cable incumbent Shaw. Revenue surged to $13 billion by 2017, up from $6 billion when Entwistle arrived, while total subscribers grew to 13 million from four million. After cutting the dividend in 2001, the company raised it again in 2004 and has since increased the payout by up to 10% a year.

Defending his initial call to buy Clearnet became a recurring theme for Entwistle. At times he seems to believe he sees what no one else can. Doubt him at your own peril (and then prepare to be perpetually reminded of it). “Everything that has really mattered to Telus in the longer term was born out of a contrarian thesis,” he says, pointing to decisions to build the shared wireless network, invest in TV and build a fibre optic network right to customers’ homes. “We wouldn’t have done it, I don’t think, if it hadn’t been for the formative aspect of Clearnet and what we weathered during that particular storm.”

Entwistle had regained the trust of the markets, but inside Telus, his next challenge was building to a head. Union unrest had been simmering for years, and in 2003, it finally boiled over. Contract talks between Telus and the Telecommunications Workers Union became deadlocked over Entwistle’s plan to cut a quarter of Telus’s workforce by 2004 and other concession demands. So Entwistle and Judy Shuttleworth, then the head of HR, embarked on a tour of B.C. and Alberta, trying to persuade dozens of groups of skeptical unionized workers to agree to a new deal.

“We walked into the Coast hotel in Prince George and it was only Judy and I—we didn’t bring any other management with us,” Entwistle recalls. “You have 250 unionized team members in the room. It’s silent. A lot of arms are like this,” he says, crossing his arms over his chest. “And they’re saying, ‘Who the hell is this 40-year-old person, and what’s going on?’”

He faced the crowds and described the challenges confronting the business, telling stories about his own days as an installer and using humour to cut the tension. He admitted management made mistakes by ceding the field to Shaw, and in each meeting he invited one volunteer to “come up and kick me in the ass” for it. (“The hardest one was the girl in Prince George. Her shoes were a little bit pointy, and that one stung for a while. After that, I looked more carefully at their footwear.”)

Eventually, Entwistle’s perseverance paid off: The Alberta workers came around first, and then Telus struck a new deal with the union near the end of 2005, one that freed it from collective agreements forged in the era of utility monopolies and gave it the flexibility a nimble telecommunications company needed.

Right from his first day at Telus, Entwistle charged into the national game and pushed for growth.© Martin Tessler

Telus could not have become the company it is today without those changes, but they came at a terrible cost. During this time, Entwistle’s father was gravely ill with acute leukemia and confined to a hospital bed in Montreal. “He would see on TV the demonstrations where people were chanting, ‘Hey, ho, Entwistle has to go,’ and he didn’t live very much longer.” The Telus CEO was also preoccupied with negotiating a deal with U.S. giant Verizon Communications to sell off the 20% stake it still owned in the Canadian telecom.

“I probably should have spent less time on the labour issues and less time in terms of my personal involvement with negotiating the Verizon exit, and more time on the oncology ward,” Entwistle reflects. He feels a deep sense of guilt—he says his father died a painful death after being accidentally given penicillin to treat an infection, despite wearing a MedicAlert bracelet warning of his allergy to the drug. “If I had been there, I would have noticed,” Entwistle says. But he wasn’t there, and he says his inattention to his father during a time of great need still “hollows me out.”

Some might have vowed to spend less time at the office, to make more room for the loved ones in their life. But Entwistle channelled his grief into building a new division at Telus. “I think the only thing you can do is try to take that negative dissonance and recycle it into positive energy,” he says. For him, that meant creating Telus Health, a new $2-billion unit designed to “drive better health outcomes” through health-related technology and computerized record-keeping systems.

Telus had become, for Entwistle, both the source of his biggest regret and the only way he could atone for his actions. He later tried to leave the company, but he says he had to come back. If he didn’t, “What would it say about my dad and what happened in the hospital?”

By this point, Telus was starting to consume Entwistle. It became more than just the centre of his work life—it became his social nexus, too. “Rightly or wrongly, you grow very attached to the people you work with. People aren’t just your colleagues. They’re your friends. And they turn out to be your close friends.”

Some of those friendships developed out of a culture of regularly spending late nights out eating and drinking after work, with Entwistle surrounded by a “kind of inner circle,” according to one former executive. His early years at Telus seemed, in some ways, like a hangover from his laddish days in the United Kingdom, with off-site manager retreats sometimes devolving into raucous, drunken affairs that some executives were reluctant to take part in. People close to the company say they’ve watched Entwistle drink into the early hours of the morning and marvelled when he turned up on time and prepared for a work event the next day.

It’s only natural to bond with colleagues over a drink, and some of the company’s best ideas came out of those evenings, Entwistle says, pointing to a key part of Telus’s corporate social responsibility program as an example. Besides, wine was the drink of choice, he says, “not martinis, not shots—wine.” But drinking and business don’t always mix, and at a three-day sales conference in Montreal in January 2004, troubling signs emerged that the culture at Telus wasn’t always a healthy one.

The day leading up to the unfortunate event showed no indication of what was to come. Entwistle had just delivered one of his signature six-hour presentations, and now it was time for the highlight of the conference: Telus Idol, a highly produced evening event in a ballroom at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth hotel aimed at entertaining hundreds of salespeople. Modelled after the then-popular singing contest TV show American Idol, the three-hour show involved a large stage set, an authentic-looking “Telus Idol” sign and 1-800 numbers for audience members to vote for their favourites.

There was lots of drinking and revelry, but the corporate cheer went off the rails when four male judges, one of whom was a Telus manager, gave their reviews of two female contestants. The judges, some of them apparently tipsy, made a series of clumsy sexual comments, including lewd remarks about the women’s bodies and clothing. “Speaking of inside, do those pants come off?” said one, while another proposed paying for breast augmentation surgery. One judge referenced his own arousal (“I’m up big time,” a spoof of the Shania Twain song “Up!”), and a couple of judges offered their room keys to contestants. The women involved, along with the female host, smiled and brushed it all off, and the event eventually concluded when a winner was named.

According to Telus, the overall event was well received—those who attended, including some women, gave the evening positive reviews. Juggy Sihota, now a vice-president at Telus, worked hard to help produce the show and says she was happy with it overall, but the off-colour comments surprised and angered her. Entwistle now admits things “got out of hand in the evening, infused by alcohol and people losing the difference between sense of humour and proper behaviour and decorum.”

Telus acted quickly, disciplining the employees involved. But Telus Idol came back to haunt the company the following year, when video clips surfaced online during the height of the labour tensions and the union used it as ammunition against management (the company later used copyright claims to get the video removed from the Internet, but Report on Business magazine obtained a copy).

Entwistle turned his attention to improving relations after the labour dispute, hiring a new “respectful workplace officer,” who produced a quarterly report that was reviewed by the board. “We spent time on the healing process and rebuilding the culture,” Entwistle says, adding that a key goal was to “develop trust between unionized team members and the management team.”

That cultural reform spilled over into renewed efforts to improve the subscriber experience, too. Over the following years, the company-wide “customers first” philosophy became like a religion for Telus. Entwistle still sends out an email to about 1,000 management-level employees every Monday at 5 a.m., outlining the customer complaints he received the previous week.

“Gradually, but quite consistently, I think he changed the culture of the organization,” says Dvai Ghose, global head of equity research at Canaccord Genuity, who has been bullish on Telus since Entwistle’s early days. “I think he actually got people to work together quite well and managed to change from a 1960s- or 1970s-style telco environment—confrontational, unionized, nonentrepreneurial—to a much more innovative, creative and incentivized environment. [If] you do a good job, you’ll make money for the firm, you’ll make money for yourself.”

Indeed, Telus pays its executives well, and Entwistle rewards loyalty and performance. Yet even now, the company can be a tough place to work, especially for those in middle management and above. Some close to Entwistle say he has a fragile ego. Others say he has an explosive temper. Michael Hennessy, who was senior vice-president of regulatory and government affairs at Telus until 2012, recalls phone calls with Entwistle yelling down the line after a setback. Hennessy felt he could handle him, “but he also, I think, for a whole bunch of people, had a very scary persona.”

A one-time federal government staffer describes the Telus CEO as “the most intense executive, and this transcends telecom, that I’ve ever sat in meetings with,” adding, “The eye contact—I don’t even think the guy blinks. There’s just a level of intensity that, frankly, becomes off-putting over time.”

“It was an incredibly crazy, pressure-cooker environment,” Hennessy says, noting that those who work on regulatory matters or government affairs have a particularly tough job. “A tie is usually about as good as you can do, so it can be incredibly stressful.” Overall, he enjoyed his time at Telus, but the tension eventually got to him. “Of all of the places I’ve worked, I’d have to say it’s one of the best—as long as you can take it. But I got to the point where I couldn’t take it.”

Joe Natale could take it though, and that stamina paid off, at least for a while. He met Entwistle back in 2003, after getting a positive referral from George Cope, who stayed on after the Clearnet merger to run Telus’s wireless business in Toronto. Natale, who is now CEO of Rogers, joined Telus that year, initially running the enterprise services division out of Toronto.

Natale arrived at Telus with a background in electrical engineering and years of consulting experience (he sold a management consulting firm he co-founded to KPMG). The son of plainspoken, hard-working European immigrants, he likes to joke that his late grandmother, who lived on a farm, couldn’t fathom what he actually did all day at the office. “You just meet with people?” she’d say. “And they pay you for that?” This was the kind of self-made man Entwistle could identify with. Over the years, they enjoyed each other’s company, travelling together, sharing long meals and spending time with each other’s families.

Natale rose through the ranks quickly, and a decade into his stint at Telus—by then working as chief commercial officer—he was clearly being groomed to replace Entwistle as CEO. Natale was ambitious, he knew how to play well with others, and he managed to hang on as other contenders for the top job dropped off. Finally, in 2014 (perhaps using interest from Rogers as a bit of leverage), he got his chance: After 11 years at the company, Natale was CEO.

Entwistle wasn’t leaving, though. He was to stay on as executive chair of the board for an undefined period of time—three years, perhaps?—keeping an eye on strategy, performance and leadership from Vancouver while Natale stayed in Toronto to handle day-to-day operations.

Corporate governance experts said it was unusual, but Entwistle insisted it was the best plan, given his lengthy tenure with the company. Natale officially took over in May, 2014, but Entwistle continued to be involved with a number of major responsibilities, including the regulatory file. “Joe had CEO in label but not in actual authority for the time he spent there,” says Bob McFarlane, Telus’s former chief financial officer. There were whispers about Entwistle’s continued influence on the company, but very few predicted what came next.

Natale was just over a year into his term as CEO when he got the news. He was visiting Vancouver for the annual “strategic board advance,” a few days of meetings to brief board members on how projects were progressing and to firm up plans for the year ahead. Natale wrapped up an 8 a.m. conference call with Bay Street analysts and headed over to attend the formal board meeting. It was a rough one. By the end of it, he was out—and Entwistle was back in.

Telus issued a press release, saying Natale was leaving the company because he wouldn’t agree to move to Vancouver. But no one really believed that. Natale clearly wanted the CEO job and had worked relentlessly for more than a decade to get it.

In fact, the chair of the Telus board now claims there were concerns about performance slipping under the new CEO, who wasn’t making the tough calls his predecessor was known for. “We certainly did see a real drop in performance with the company overall during [Natale’s] tenure. The loss of Darren’s leadership was notable,” says Dick Auchinleck, who was Telus’s lead independent director at the time, but took over as chair following a management shuffle. “I think Joe was put in an awkward position because so many people depended on Darren’s leadership.”

In an interview, Auchinleck says he lamented the loss of Entwistle’s monthly reviews with senior executives: “Everybody gets themselves prepared. They want to know their numbers, and Darren makes sure they do. And we lost that.” He goes on to suggest that the top brass needed Entwistle to push them to perform. “It became obvious to me, when I was working with the executives during the transition between Darren and Joe, that a lot of the executives really were not running the business in a way that I would expect them to be able to. A lot of that was because of their reliance on Darren.” (Auchinleck later said his comments were not meant to be directed at Natale’s performance, and don’t accurately represent financial and operational results during the former CEO’s tenure. He added that the reasons for Natale’s departure were as outlined in the original press release. Natale himself declined to comment for this story.)

Others say there was another factor behind Natale’s abrupt departure—after all, many key financial metrics were positive during his reign. Perhaps the real reason was a disagreement over the right approach for a project dubbed “Falcon.” Entwistle believed the company needed to invest more aggressively to upgrade its copper wires to fibre optic cables. Natale believed in fibre, but he also wanted to protect the balance sheet and didn’t see the need to move at quite the same pace. “Community by community, we’ll make a call as to the timing,” he told investors a few months before his last board meeting. But as soon as Entwistle returned, it was full steam ahead—he announced plans to spend $1 billion in Vancouver alone for the upgrade and began paring back elsewhere to pay for it. Telus would eventually cut 1,500 jobs to free up capital.

Entwistle, who was chair of the board that asked him to return, says he didn’t need to be convinced to come back. “I felt responsible,” he says, adding that he would have reclaimed the CEO seat even if he wasn’t passionate about the work. “I still would have come back out of a sense of duty. Because if I didn’t, what would it say about the previous 14 years of my life here?”

Darren Entwistle likes to talk.

Ask him almost any question about Telus and you’re likely to get a 15-minute answer that includes a numbered list. He’s also developed a distinctive vocabulary. With this quick primer, you too can talk like a Telus CEO

Differentiated Pronounced “differen-see-ated” in Entwistlese, this typically refers to how unique Telus is compared to other companies that also sell cellphones and Internet service.

Criticality George Orwell said never use a long word when a short one will do. Entwistle “disacknowledges” any such advice.

Tuition value Entwistle frequently uses this as shorthand for what can be learned from something, particularly a challenging experience.

For the full effect, you should also try...
pervasive, holistic, synergistic, quantum, gravitas, preponderance, win hearts and minds, and multiplicity

Now that Entwistle is back—that little episode with Natale fading from memory with each passing day—he seems more relaxed. He still “bleeds purple and green,” as people like to say, referencing the Telus colours. But he’s thinking hard about what he needs to do to pass on his leadership of the company. And part of that has meant trying to become more of a nurturing adviser.

Over the past several years, there has been a noticeable shift in his behaviour, according to many people who work closely with him. Rather than jumping in to make a decision, he listens more. When he returned to the CEO’s chair, “he kind of chuckled and said, ‘I’m Darren 2.0,’ “ says Eros Spadotto, executive vice-president of technology strategy. “And he kind of was. The passion didn’t go away, but how he presented himself shifted.” Spadotto, who works out of the Toronto office, says he wasn’t exposed to Entwistle’s eruptions in the earlier days, but adds, “Now, when he gets angry, it’s almost like you’re disappointing your father.”

That softening is part of a plan, says Auchinleck, who has been encouraging Entwistle to take on more of a mentoring role with Telus employees. The CEO has long thought he would make a good teacher, and Auchinleck suggested he look at Telus as an opportunity to be one now. The goal is not just about selfimprovement—it’s to ensure a smoother succession next time by creating stronger leaders within the company.

John Manley, the former Liberal cabinet minister who has been a Telus director since 2012, says after the “false start” with Natale, the board sees it as “something we’ve got to make sure we get right the next time. We can’t falter a second time.” That strategy has involved giving everyone on the executive team a broader range of experiences. Take Josh Blair, for instance. The former HR leader now has responsibility for Telus’s health business, as well as its Western Canada business solutions division. “Today, I’ll tell you that executives are performing at a much higher level. And I think enjoying it more too, because Darren’s giving them the freedom instead of giving them all the answers,” Auchinleck says.

These days, most analysts are bullish on Telus, pointing to the fact that it has reached the halfway point in its fibre build and, with most of that huge expense out of the way, the company is back to generating cash. Its share price continues to outperform BCE (see “Telecom stock performance” chart above), and on the wireless side, Telus’s rate of subscriber turnover remains well below that of its rivals, thanks to its continued attention to customer service.

Entwistle says age and learning from mistakes are factors in his personal shift, and he again mentions his teaching ambitions. He wants to be the “chief helping officer,” he says, and he gets more out of “human capital development” than anything else these days. He has a plan for leaving the company and has been in active discussions with the board about possible candidates. He strongly believes in promoting diverse leaders and mentions several female executives who climbed the ranks and went on to achieve senior roles within the company. He also names two strong longerterm candidates to head up Telus. Number one is Zainul Mawji, a vice-president who has played a key role in the fibre build; the other is Navin Arora, president of enterprise services in the West. Others see Josh Blair and Dave Fuller (Natale’s former right-hand man) as more immediate contenders.

But Entwistle’s not leaving just yet. “I hope to be here for the next three to five years,” he says, adding that he learned from the last attempt at passing on his job. He intends “to engineer it differently this time around,” he says. “I’ve got a plan in my head that I’m very confident of because it reflects the tuition value garnered from past mistakes.”

Before he goes, though, he wants to finish a few things: He’d like to complete the Falcon fibre build, as well as the transition to 5G, the next generation of cellular technology. He also wants to build a few things: He sees health care as a business model Telus could export and he wants to grow Telus International—a call centre, IT and business services operation—into a multibillion-dollar business. “When I get that done, I have firmly reached [a decision] in my head that I’ll do one year on transition, and then I will leave—leave the board and leave the country,” he says. “I think, categorically, that the departure has to be surgical and done in such a way that you can never reconnect it. So, permanently. Surgically.”

Then, perhaps, he’ll head back to the U.K., where his wife Fiona’s family still lives. “Maybe it’s silly, but maybe [I will have] a flat in London and a cottage in the Cotswolds, and teach on a professional program—maybe at a business school or Oxford—and try to help young people along the way. That would be absolute nirvana,” he says.

But even he doesn’t quite trust himself to let go. In a previous Report on Business magazine profile, he made the same claim, saying he was planning to quit Telus and become a teacher in the U.K., perhaps a few years hence. That was back in 2006. This time, he’s serious. He really will leave. Otherwise, “you’ll never break the addiction. And I am addicted to Telus. I’m intoxicated.”