NBN who's who: people behind the dream

NBN who's who: people behind the dream

Summary: The National Broadband Network — a massive undertaking which needs a stellar team behind it. We delve into the team, telling you where they came from and what makes them tick.

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Working behind the scenes

Not all those who work on the National Broadband Network will be toiling on its high-profile network aspects. There will be an army of support teams working tirelessly to keep the company machine oiled.

Mike Quigley's first hire was Kevin Brown, who was tasked with building the company's human resources into a fully functioning administrative body. Brown, who is serving as chief human resources officer and head of corporate services, has a curriculum vitae including stints as a management consultant at Accenture and head of human resources at Qantas, where he helped steer the company to success in a major Oracle HR systems implementation. Brown is now applying that expertise to building an HR infrastructure within NBN Co, which in May contracted IBM to host its core business functions in a scalable datacentre environment.

Kevin BrownKevin Brown, chief human resources officer (Credit: NBN Co)

Developing smooth and productive relationships with government and private-sector bodies will be essential to NBN Co's eventual success, which makes it clear why the company has called on proven smooth operator Mike Kaiser for the post of government relations executive. Once referred to by Peter Beattie as "one of the most gifted campaigners [the Labor] party has ever produced," Kaiser's silver tongue could well make him a real asset to NBN Co — or the biggest white elephant in the company's executive line-up.

Kaiser, you will recall, was a Queensland politician who resigned his seat of Woodridge in 2001 after it was revealed that he had given a false address on the electoral roll in 1986 in support of an Australian Workers Union campaign to unseat a left-wing candidate in South Brisbane; Kaiser later orchestrated a career comeback as chief of staff first to NSW Premier Morris Iemma and, most recently, Anna Bligh.

Kaiser's reputation proceeds him, with agitating news outlet SOS News compiling a rap sheet (PDF) on the man, describing Kaiser as "orchestrating election fraud benefiting ALP interests in marginal seats". Once word got out that Kaiser had been inserted into the $450,000-a-year role on a Conroy recommendation without screening of additional candidates or even public advertisement of the job — the feeding frenzy began.

Scepticism over his appointment came to a boil when Mike Quigley was being interrogated during Senate Estimates Hearings in April, and chairperson Ian McDonald referred to Kaiser as "a guy who has been up to his neck in political manipulation". Quigley, however, has backed Kaiser, arguing that his skills are proving incredibly useful in dealing with state and local governments.

Kevin BrownCaroline Lovell, regulatory affairs principal (Credit: NBN Co)

If Kaiser is the brawn of the administrative organisation, the "brains" title may well belong to recent NBN Co appointee Caroline Lovell, regulatory affairs principal, who built a reputation at law firm Clayton Utz as a capable legal operator with a long-running interest in communications, intellectual property, media, and online law and policy. She was a director of the Communications Law Centre (CLC) before it was subsumed into the University of Technology Sydney earlier this year, an advisor to communications think tank the Network Insight Institute, and she jointly ran Clayton Utz's Telecommunications, Media and Technology specialty practice — a role that saw her heading the team that advised the government when it was formulating its $250 million Regional Backbone Blackspots Program.

Lovell is heavily published, amassing significant telecommunications expertise through cases like Dynamic Data Systems' action against Ingenico International and her role as UNSW tutor in telecommunications law. Lovell has — literally — written the book on Australian communications law, as a contributor to the telecommunications portion of legal bible Halsbury's Laws of Australia.

Chief legal counsel is Justin Forsell, who comes to NBN Co after a six-year career as general counsel, company secretary and head of governance with Vodafone Australia. There, Macquarie University-educated Forsell was in charge of corporate responsibility governance, legal and regulatory, public policy, health and mobile technology, stakeholder engagement, and compliance. Forsell also oversaw a team responsible for corporate responsibility, sustainability and community relations. In 2008 he was shortlisted for the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association's Corporate Lawyer of the Year award but was beaten by Helen Gillies of Sinclair Knight Merz.

Forsell is also an avid martial arts practitioner, having worked as a trainer in the Muay Thai discipline since the early 1990s. "I remember the first time I met him," writes regional fighter Ngakou Volcano Spain. "I thought he looked like a complete nerd ... being young and naïve, I was beginning to think that he was a real pushover. That was until we sparred for the first time. I became humbled ... I couldn't believe a four-eyed geek gave me the lesson of my life... The one lesson I learned from him was to seek the truth in martial arts. Always learn and unlearn. And to find what works for you and what doesn't." If Forsell takes a similarly focused mind to his legal negotiations, NBN Co could find him to be a particularly strong asset in establishing the company's governance framework.

One of the most recent appointees to the administrative team is Debra Connor, who came on-board as NBN Co company secretary in June. Charged with supporting the board of directors to deliver good governance and effective administration, Connor previously spent three years as board secretary of the Port of Melbourne Corporation — during which time she would have helped steer the authority through a period of intense scrutiny and governance pressure related to the dredging of Port Philip Bay — and seven years with IT firm SMS Management & Technology as company secretary and in-house counsel.

Connor has a law degree from QUT, as well as a graduate diploma in corporate governance and a certificate VI in quality management and assurance. She's a member of the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association, Chartered Secretaries Australia, and the Law Council of Australia; and can practice law in Queensland and Victoria.

Topics: NBN, Broadband, IT Employment

About

Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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