What lures a telco executive out of retirement? “A $43 Billion budget and the opportunity to do something fundamentally good for the nation,” said Mike Quigley, CEO of NBN CO, at Meet the CEO, an exclusive Australian School of Business alumni event at UNSW.
In an interview with Narelle Hooper, Editor of AFR Boss Magazine, Quigley said the lure of working for NBN Co is so strong that in the first year he, “literally had people calling and offering to work for no salary.” Such was their passion for being part of the now 1500 workforce building the government’s National Broadband Network.
Mike Quigley grew up in Kent, England before his family migrated to Australia as ‘ten pound Poms’. He was always fascinated by maths and science and fell into an engineering career. Quigley said he had every intention of remaining in technical roles but gradually found himself climbing the management ladder.
As a leader, he rejects management fads and has “A low tolerance for nonsense”.
“The difficulty is figuring out what’s nonsense and what isn’t. You have to suspend judgement when people come up with what at first appears to be strange ideas. There’s a difference between considering ideas and identifying quickly when there’s spin,” he said.
Quigley worked for telecommunications multinational Alcatel for 35 years across numerous countries, including the position of COO for the company’s American arm.
“You have far fewer constraints in a large multinational because you don’t have that constant external examination of the company. Being at NBN is like working in a fishbowl. Every move you make, every number you generate is subject to scrutiny. You have much greater freedom in a multinational. But it’s a real buzz not just making a product but doing something you feel is good for the nation.”
Quigley describes NBN Co as “an instrument to execute on government policy.”
“Our job is to build the network as efficiently as possible so we can provide the return to the government and drive prices down as fast as we can. That’s the measure of success for us.”
“It is a monopoly but it’s a deliberately constructed monopoly. I’ve been in private enterprise for 35 year but I think this is a natural monopoly. It’s just too expensive in a country like Australia to duplicate fixed line infrastructure…no private enterprise company would build this,” he said.
After spending many years working abroad, Quigley said what struck him most about returning home to Australia was the lack of optimism.
“I want Australians to recognise how lucky we are. We have a very low national debt. When I talk to people overseas they are jealous – they recognise the NBN infrastructure is fundamental for the digital economy in the future. They wish they would build it, but they simply can’t afford to. We are in an extremely fortunate position,” he said.
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