Quigley on retiring from NBN Co

Quigley on retiring from NBN Co

Summary: As NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley prepares to retire from the company, he told journalists today that he'd been in talks to retire with the previous NBN Co chairman Harrison Young.


Next week will mark four years at NBN Co for the company's first employee and first CEO, Mike Quigley. As the company prepares to replace Quigley following the announcement of his retirement, the CEO has told journalists that the political controversy surrounding the AU$37.4 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) project never got to him.

(Image: Josh Taylor/ZDNet)

Quigley came out of retirement in 2009 to take on the task of building the NBN fibre, wireless and satelllite network after an extensive history in telecommunications, with a large portion of his career spent at network giant Alcatel-Lucent.

Prior to the 2010 election, Quigley largely avoided most of the political controversy surrounding the network, aside from announcing that the NBN would have 1Gbps speeds shortly before the August election date. After the election, however, new Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull turned his focus onto the CEO and his management of the rollout of the network, which he hit on as being overpriced and too slow.

Despite directly coming under fire from the opposition, Quigley said he did not take the attacks personally.

"The fact that I'm the CEO means I'm going to be subject to some of that as well. It's just a fact of life. It doesn't worry me particularly. It sometimes makes the project a little difficult to do, but I just try to get on with life and try not to allow too much to influence me what is going on externally," he said.

"I let the politicians debate with each other. I can only tell you, this is the right time for me to be leaving."

Quigley said that he decided to wait until NBN Co had reached its June targets before announcing that he was leaving, but said discussions over his decision to leave the company went back "quite some time ago", when former chairman Harrison Young was still with the company.

In reaction to reports that new chairwoman Siobhan McKenna was seeking to replace him, Quigley said he had a good relationship with McKenna, and her appointment as chair had no impact on the timing of his decision to leave NBN Co.

He said the timing was right to leave.

"We've done all the startup, we've done all the architecture, we've done all the product. We're pretty close to having the SAU finally approved. In fact, I hope I can be here for the day when the SAU gets the final stamp of approval," he said.

"It's now a question of continuing that, bedding stuff down and scaling. It just makes good sense for a transition to take place at this time."

On his replacement, Quigley said he believes that the next CEO of NBN Co should have an operational background.

"Operational in terms of a company that builds stuff, builds and runs stuff. I think it would be very useful if someone coming into that job has that particular skill," he said.

"By the way, running a factory is not dissimilar to what we're trying to do. It's a big distributed factory, because you're doing the same thing, [building] these FSAMs all over the country."

Quigley disagreed with Turnbull's assertion that the NBN Co CEO should have telecommunications experience.

"While telco experience would probably be helpful because of all the technology that's in this stuff, it's probably not essential."

Quigley had informed both former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and new minister Anthony Albanese of his decision before the announcement. He described the former as "a man of quite some vision and drive" and said it was a pleasure to work with him. He said that whoever takes on the role of CEO will need to continue to have a close relationship with the minister of the day.

"The relationship between the CEO and the minister is important. It's unrealistic, given the importance of this project in the portfolio of the communications minister, that the minister won't be asking lots of questions at lots of times about the details of stuff," he said.

He even had praise for Turnbull, who he said has brought the debate forward to the point where everyone has agreed that upgrading broadband in Australia is important, and was able to create a substantial alternative broadband policy without inside knowledge from NBN Co.

"Mr Turnbull's done that without the benefit of having a lot of the detailed information we have inside the company. So it would have been a tough job, and it's quite a formidable document," he said.

He said that the choice between fibre to the premises (FttP) and fibre to the node (FttN) is ultimately a policy decision for the government.

"You can make a larger upfront investment in the fibre, or you can make use of the copper using different technologies. Both of those have pros and cons, and that is a policy choice that can be looked at and worked through," he said.

"There are no simple answers. Even right at the beginning with fibre to the premises, there were a lot of detailed and complex issues to work through."

The CEO said that the NBN is expected to still be on track to be completed by mid-2021, and refused suggestions that the company is "in crisis".

"The management team that reports to me are a very capable team who work extremely well together, and we have no sense of crisis in the company at all," he said.

"I believe that our retention rate is in fact considerably better than the national average. Our turnover is half the national average. That doesn't reflect a company in crisis."

Quigley will stay on as CEO until a replacement is found.

Topic: NBN


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Quigley certainly has done and amazing job despite the setbacks and having to deal with twits like Telstra. His departure a loss however assuming the proper NBN is completed as planned he can be proud of the visionary project he set in motion. Everyone in 2021 will thank him for FttP.
    Hubert Cumberdale
    • at least Mr Turnbull

      escaped your scorn this time around!
      Knowledge Expert
      • Quigley says the obvious about alternatives

        All shouted down by HC et al.

        Josh, didn't he recently sign a 3 year contract extension?
        Richard Flude
        • "Quigley says the obvious about alternatives "

          You take every mention of the "alternatives" as some glowing endorsement. More logical fallacies from fluddy. Nothing new. Move along...

          "All shouted down by HC et al. "

          Boo hoo? Good to know I'm occupying prime real estate in your mind 24/7 but you "shout down" the vastly superior FttP option so what is your point exactly?
          Hubert Cumberdale
          • These alternatives were squealed at

            by fanboys every time they were mentioned, as we're evidence of risk. Unworkable they ranted; making stuff up and exposing their ignorance. The confederacy of dunces posted with confidence.

            Nice takedown of your ridiculous coalition leadership change insignificant post by Renai the other day BTW. Fanboys can't catch a break these days;-)
            Richard Flude
          • LOL, fluddy calls others dunces. Seems we have an honorary coalition clown member in the making here. Too funny;-)
            Hubert Cumberdale
          • Alternative unworkable ?

            Depends on what the product is, a basic broadband service with FTTP to the schools and uni's and business, but not to the premises of the students, lowly paid undergraduates, researchers and employees etc. There is even suggestions of using existing fibre infrastructure owned Privately or by Government authorities or utilities, at what cost, who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs - truly an expensive can of worms over the medium to long term, but Hallelujah lower headline cost for the nedia to promote whilst looking after the Coalitions mates, who would want to buy such a mish mash of a company that will truly be lucky to obtain any positive ROI for many decades.

            So Yes it is workable, but at what cost long-term on so many levels and is it worth all the complications and issues

            Or are we building an Integrated ubiquitous communications economically upgradeable platform for the coming decades which will include broadband and media platforms at a possibly higher headline cost with a lesser opex and a higher ROI. That as a package is a desirable one which we should never sell off

            So yes we have considered the alternatives and found them inadequate in comparison at every level.

            It brings to mind the cause of the GFC, duly whitewashed, poorly regulated financial market and institutions, crooked mortgage brokers and banks. But what did the damage was the Merchant Bankers, Goldman Sachs and Co who packed those bad debts as AAA securities and flogged them off to the gullible trusting investors with the assistance of the Financial advisors and gurus and especially the media as their promoters. Those Nerchant Bankers made a killing, the rest of the world has borne the consequences.

            IMO we have a Merchant Banker who was employed by one of those institutions flogging another attractive looking Package with the assistance of the finance sector and the media

            Deja Vu qnyone
            Abel Adamski
          • True

            They should have been allowed to fail; their risks were undervalued, those buying their products should have carried the liability.

            The transfer of these liabilities to the public was offensive; many connections to present govt. But it was easy to buy out the votes required (pollies also doing well on the public's teat).
            Richard Flude
      • "at least Mr Turnbull escaped your scorn this time around!"'

        That's important to you, isn't it?
        Hubert Cumberdale
  • of course HC

    you are the guru and source of all knowledge .
    Knowledge Expert
  • Rudd captured beautifully

    "Rudd and Conroy roughed up the commitment to the NBN, perhaps literally, certainly figuratively, on the back of an envelope, during a VIP flight to Canberra.
    They got on to the plane with their plan to spend $12 billion on a more modest, more sensible, essentially rational fibre to the node network in ruins, because of Telstra playing hardball. They get off the plane committed to spending $40bn, almost certainly going on $60bn, and ending up as much as who knows where, on an utterly, hysterically irrational fibre to the premises network.


    The NBN. Committing to spend a completely unknown and indeed unknowable amount of money -- except that it would be counted in tens of billions of dollars -- on a pie-in-the-sky project. Without even the merest cover of any sort of cost-benefit analysis."

    It has been an amazing 6 years! Impossible to imagine such incompetence and delusional leadership. And now the narcissist is back...

    It'll take generations to repay the money borrowed then wasted by this govt.
    Richard Flude
  • RF, Try understanding

    The MSM is still at their FUD as you have demonstrated, that supposed back of the envelope was the result of 2 Years of work by an expert comittee.
    That FUD of course demands an associated emotive irrational hysterical rant to go with it.

    But then they can't help themselves with the rest of the distorted article


    "Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull took to Twitter to accuse the project of being in disarray.

    "NBN project in crisis, leaderless, divided, failing," Mr Turnbull wrote.

    Mr Quigley who earlier praised Mr Turnbull for putting together a comprehensive broadband policy without the benefit of internal company knowledge, rejected the call.

    "I wouldn’t agree that description fits the company as I see it today.

    "It’s certainly a tough project, we have our challenges. And, by the way, when the vision of the company is source of debate, it is a hard [job] to do. Having said that, ... the management team that reports to me is a very good group of people, that work well together and deal with the challenges...

    "I believe, and what HR people tell me, is that our retention rate is considerably better than the national average. Our turnover is half of the national average, that doesn’t smack to me of a company in crisis."


    Read the comments which severely dent Tony's arguments.
    Abel Adamski
    • Measure them by what they do

      not what they say.

      Senior staff jumping ship, rollout targets missed requiring 55k listed as "premises passed" when they can't connect (for upto 18mths).

      We've posted from the beginning the significant challenges (acknowledged only now); warned of the risks. The abuse we received!

      The expert panel was assembled after the flight thought bubble and gave the govt exactly what they were after (and paid generously for) as did the audit.

      I love the last link;
      "While it is intriguing to believe that News is personally committed to destroying the NBN in order to protect Foxtel, the argument does not really stand up to close scrutiny..."

      Actually any scrutiny, yet another unsupport nut job conspiracy theory. Like those the other day falling for BS claims about me, there's those that need to believe such slurs made without any evidence. With nothing it's all they have left.

      Surprised you didn't raise the new chair's Murdoch connection;-)
      Richard Flude
      • Really

        "Read the comments which severely dent Tony's arguments."

        Actually the expert panel assessed the FTTN plan and the Nations Broadband Needs over 2 years and the FTTP NBN was the result of that .

        Yes there are issues, when are there not in the real world??, they are being addressed
        Abel Adamski
        • I stand corrected

          Panel did indeed report first. Flight was costing of the FTTH solution.

          Issues are expected but its failure is too large to ignore as the lastest rollout figures show (third revision down, under 15% of corp plan I, then 55k unconnected premises thrown in).
          Richard Flude
      • Interesting

        "Surprised you didn't raise the new chair's Murdoch connection;-)"

        You are of course aware of the fact that she is seeking to be the CEO
        Abel Adamski
  • The comedy continues

    "NBN Co chair Siobhan McKenna has hired lobbying firm Bespoke Approach in a bid to secure the jobs of its directors in case there is a change in government."

    This company is now offensive; their abuse of taxpayers money unprecedented.

    Sorry AA, another biased source;-)
    Richard Flude
    • There is some agreeance

      Chair's ambition and the board, you did raise mention of the CEO and their association with unsavory characters.
      Maybe normal business practice for some private sector companies, but completely outside the pale for a GBE. Unacceptable

      Abel Adamski
  • Richard, an opportunity

    With your much vaunted knowledge and skills that you parade, here is a Golden opportunity to show us all how it should be done, apply for Quigley's job, it is vacant, If you miss that I am sure other senior executive roles will become vacant if the Libs win so you can demonstrate your brilliance and show us
    Abel Adamski
    • NBNCo's failure is not exclusively of its own making

      No one will deliver Conroy/Rudd's promise and their corp plan - it isn't feasible. The challenges were underestimated, as we're costs. Signs of this have constantly plagued the project, only to be ignored or abused.

      If the Libs get in I suspect you'll have a far more hands-on role over at Telstra than NBNCo;-)
      Richard Flude