Quigley calls time on NBN

By Julian Bajkowski

The chief executive of the National Broadband Network Co., Mike Quigley has pulled the plug on his role at the top job of the $37.4 billion government infrastructure provider, a move that paves the way for a senior executive restructure most likely to occur following the federal election.

In an announcement this morning NBN Co. said that Mr Quigley is retiring from corporate life after four years of leading the massive project but would continue to serve as CEO until a successor is found.

While NBN’s board in theory will recommend who Mr Quigley’s replacement would be, the political dynamics of the situation are certain to colour decisions because an appointment would have to sit comfortably with the next government of the day.

Mr Quigley’s has been a target of persistent criticism from the Coalition, particularly Shadow Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull who questioned his suitability for the role.

However since Mr Turnbull’s appointment following the Coalition’s flatfooted performance on communications policy at the August 2010 election, the Opposition has reversed its vow to “demolish” the NBN to pledging a $29 billion copper-based fibre-to-the-node rollout it says will save time and money.

A former president of carrier equipment giant Alcatel Lucent, Mr Quigley stunned many of his attackers after he donated his first year’s salary of $2 million at the NBN to medical research into neurology including brain disease and recovery from strokes.

Mr Quigley said the reason for his (re) retirement was that he had essentuially accomplished what he set out to do.

“My job was to lay the foundations for the NBN for the next 30 years,” Mr Quigley said.

“That job is largely complete. NBN Co is now a well-established wholesale telecommunications company with a nationwide workforce, delivery partners, infrastructure agreements, complex IT systems and more than 40 retail customers which are supplying fast, reliable and affordable broadband to a growing number of Australians.”

Mr Quigley said that the role of NBN’s next CEO would be to build on the foundations now in place.

“It is now critical that we further strengthen our partnerships across the construction and telecommunications industries, as we escalate the build of the network and work closely with our retail customers to ensure a smooth migration of families and businesses to the NBN,” Mr Quigley said.

“I joined NBN Co because I believed better telecommunications was central to Australia’s ongoing success. I still believe that today. The ramp-up in construction and the news last week that the company had passed more than 200,000 premises with fibre gives me further confidence that the NBN build can be delivered by 2021 in line with the projections in the company’s Corporate Plan.”

That corporate plan could still change dramatically by Christmas in the event of a change of government, a point that will not be lost on potential candidates to replace Mr Quigley.

Although the Coalition has pledged to expedite the NBN rollout by plugging into existing infrastructure rather than laying-fibre-to-the-home afresh, it has also conceded that it will be necessarily guided by a stocktake and audit of the project to be undertaken almost immediately if it wins government.

The Australian Financial Review has reported that executive head-hunting agency Egon Zehnder has been told to start scoping for replacements for Mr Quigley at the behest of NBN chair Siobhan McKenna.

Meanwhile platitudes for Mr Quigley have flowed from the top of the government.

“Over the past four years, Mr Quigley has also successfully managed the switching on of fibre, fixed wireless and satellite connections right across the country, as NBN Co has established the full scale rollout of the National Broadband Network,” Communications Minister Anthony Albanese and Finance Senator Minister Penny Wong said in a joint statement.

“Mr Quigley can be tremendously proud of what he has achieved.”

The two ministers said that Mr Quigley “understands, intuitively, what all good infrastructure builders know: you do it once and you do it right.”

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