NBN who's who: people behind the dream

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.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

When Mike Quigley donated his entire first-year salary of $1.95 million to a new medical research organisation in late June, it became clear just what kind of man is running the largest civil-works project in Australia's history.

Indeed, independently-wealthy Quigley — a 58-year-old UNSW graduate and leukaemia survivor who came off a successful 36-year career with Alcatel-Lucent to take a job he didn't need — has relished the chance to get stuck into a project of national significance, working with government support to pull the fledgling organisation up by its bootstraps.

There is little surprise, then, that he would do the same for Neuroscience Research Australia, using his contentious salary to kickstart an initiative to deliver rehabilitation therapy to stroke victims over the NBN. "We are all lucky or unlucky," he told The Australian recently. "As a society we only advance by understanding science and then finding the technologies that spin out of that."

CEO Mike Quigley (Credit: NBN Co)

It's a motto he is living by every day: over the course of the past year, Quigley has emerged from relative obscurity — and semi-permanent retirement — to help NBN Co grow from nothing to employing over 150 people and managing hundreds of millions of dollars in government spending. Quigley's distinctive bald dome and engaging manner have made him the figurehead of an organisation that has become larger and more complex by the day; his days are filled with government meetings and events where he fronts the press and other interested parties to explain NBN Co's progress

Despite his strategic role in the company, however, Quigley is only one of many executives driving the company's direction: one of his first responsibilities has been to surround himself with the best executive team — and he has embarked upon that task with aplomb. Nine key executives are named on NBN Co's site, with others being appointed all the time.


Powering the network

A number of key executives are responsible for the actual technology going into the NBN, keeping the network and its computing infrastructure running. With pedigrees stretching into every major telco — and with many of the NBN Co recruits having worked with each other in the past — the group comprises a dream team of expertise.

Steve Christian, head of network operations, is a long-time telecoms veteran, having worked as managing director of Optus' networks business for many years and in the industry — initially at US carriers including BellSouth and US West — for nearly 40 years all told. However, there are inconsistencies around his tenure: Christian's own LinkedIn page has a five-year gap between a gig with US West cable TV and internet spin-off US West in 1998-to-2000 and in 2005 starting with Australian telco Optus, while a 2008 Optus press release noted that Christian had started with the telco in 1992. His plan had been, according to the release, to spend a comfortable retirement sailing and spending time with family in Mission Beach, Queensland.

Assuming that's the correct story and the LinkedIn inconsistency is just an oversight, that makes Christian an extremely experienced operator which Optus credits with having been "instrumental in managing the investment in and growth of Optus' mobile and IP networks". The fact that he would eschew a cozy retirement to help build the NBN certainly suggests a real commitment to helping the effort succeed — or an irresistible pay packet.

Head of network operations, Steve Christian (Credit: NBN Co)

Christian was building networks when chief technology officer Gary McLaren was still proverbially in nappies, but McLaren still packs an extensive range of industry experience underpinned by dual bachelor's degrees — engineering, in 1985 and law, in 2001. His careers extend from Telstra and Siemens to a position with now PowerTel-owned Request Broadband.

More recently, McLaren ran mobile payments provider Utiba and worked with telecoms consultancies iProvide and McLaren Williams, where he cites engagements with a virtual who's who of the industry: Alcatel-Lucent, Siemens, Optus, AAPT, Nextgen Networks, Telecom Fiji and others. McLaren served as deputy chair for the Communications Alliance's Network Reference Panel for 11 years, focusing his role as NBN lead consultant before commencing as NBN chief technology officer (CTO) in September 2009.

McLaren's breadth of experience on technical, legal and regulatory matters puts him in good stead to not only drive the company's technology, but to liaise productively with executives in the all-critical regulatory space. His Twitter page went mysteriously quiet in July 2009, just before he commenced with NBN Co, but before then he described himself as a "specialist in commercialisation of new technologies and services".

The company's information strategy is being headed by chief information officer (CIO) Claire Rawlins, who was appointed in November 2009, bringing a wealth of past experience. She most recently guided technology transformation projects at AAPT, but has also previously served in a variety of executive positions including managing director of BT Group Technology, chief operating officer (COO) for IT with US telco Qwest, CIO for Online Markets with boutique investment firm Dresdner Kleinwort, and roles with financial-services players BNP Paribas and Lloyds TSB. Rawlins has both the financial clout and the executive experience to bring NBN Co a top-notch information architecture with solid roots in financial realities.


Making the NBN pay

In a major project with such far-reaching political and social implications, NBN Co can't afford to go lightly on its financial and product planning. The company has dived deep into Australia's base of telecoms analysts, product development experts and commercial strategists to build a team whose basic role is to make the NBN pay for itself.

A key player in this effort is Tim Smeallie, head of commercial strategy, who comes to NBN Co after stints in telecoms research at Citigroup and UBS. He has also held the role of finance manager at both AAPT and BT. He started his own telecoms analyst firm, Numerico Advisory, after leaving Citigroup in November 2008 after which he was an outspoken observer on the NBN and everything around it. Among his past roles, Smeallie was reportedly involved in planning with the Acacia consortium, which launched a bid for the initial fibre-to-the-node NBN in 2008. These roles gave Smeallie the financial and telecoms industry background he will need to engage with the industry on a commercial basis, largely with Telstra and its NBN team.

Tim Smeallie
Head of commercial strategy, Tim Smeallie (Credit: NBN Co)

NBN Co scored a major coup by winning a commitment from Jim Hassell, a seven-year veteran of Sun Microsystems' Australia and New Zealand operations who relinquished the reins for some personal time — and home renovations — in late 2007. Hassell started at Broadcast Australia in 2009 holding roles of COO and interim CEO, but left it again to become NBN Co's head of product development and sales director this year. The role will see him driving the strategies that will engage the retail service providers necessary to keep the lights on at NBN Co. Hassell can draw on his channel, product and sales experience gathered during years at Sun and IBM to spruik the NBN's benefits to the industry and all-important partners.

Quigley once described her as "sharply dressed", but former McKinsey & Co principal Christy Boyce is clearly sharp in other ways as she heads towards her first full year as NBN Co's head of industry engagement.

An alumnus of Sydney University's Women's College, Boyce has worked on behalf of the government for years. For example, she co-authored a 2002 report entitled "Australia: Winning in the Global ICT Industry" prepared for then-comms minister Richard Alston.

That report put forward the belief that Australia's ICT industry would succeed most with "a combination of visionary leadership, long-term determination, sensible government policy, effective coordination and cooperation across a range of industry stakeholders, risk-taking by those in the best position to take it — and a lot of hard work". We're not sure whether this perspective continues to drive Boyce's philosophy in her industry engagements, but she is clearly a woman who recognises the need for proactivity and change.

The chief financial officer (CFO) position has been filled by long-time Quigley associate and ex-Alcatel-Lucent CFO Jean-Pascal Beaufret. Beaufret is no stranger to government enterprises: a former Treasury executive in the French Ministry of Finance, his portfolio included export, credit negotiations and development aid as well as government debt management and financial industry regulation. In 1997 he was even appointed as general manager of the French tax administration.

Jean-Pascal Beaufret
CFO Jean-Pascal Beaufret (Credit: NBN Co)

But not all was good at Alcatel-Lucent: Beaufret's departure came in the wake of 4000 job cuts made as part of a major cost-cutting and restructuring effort to turn around the companies' flagging per-merger operations. Beaufret orchestrated major changes that promised €1.7 billion in pre-tax cost savings over three years — but at a cost of 12,500 jobs, far higher than the 9000 initially estimated. Reports say that, in the wake of three successive profit warnings, stakeholders had begun baying for Beaufret's scalp, but that he had the support of Alcatel's board, being referred to as "one of the best CFOs in the industry".

When he left Alcatel-Lucent in 2007, CEO Patricia Russo called Beaufret a "terrific professional" and thanked him for "experience and dedication to this new [merged] company [which] have helped us through the difficult, early stages of this complex merger while dealing with a challenging market".

Given his history, Beaufret brings both the financial experience and the government nous to steer NBN Co's financial ship through the rough waters ahead. However, his pedigree does raise its own issues: having two senior ex-Alcatel-Lucent executives in senior positions at NBN Co was always going to raise eyebrows among those watching for conflict of interest — which is why Beaufret joined Quigley in withdrawing from deliberations over the Gigabit Passive Optical Network (GPON) equipment supply deal that will put up to $1.5 billion into Alcatel-Lucent's coffers.


Building the network

When you're building a major infrastructure project, you need someone to head it who knows how to deliver.

NBN Co scoped the field and placed its bets with Patrick Flannigan, who as head of construction will bear overall responsibility for the entire NBN build across Australia.

Flannigan, who left school at 15 to start his career as a boilermaker at a Williamstown abattoir and played for the Williamstown Lacrosse Club for over 20 years, re-entered the business world after completing a business degree at Victoria University as a mature-age student. He worked his way up the ladder quickly, with a number of management roles culminating in a position as CEO of $600 million telecoms and utility-focused integrator Service Stream.

That job put Flannigan in the thick of the action when it came to actually getting telecoms services connected: Service Stream's customer base is a who's who of Australian telecoms. The company even scored a $1.2 billion deal in 2007 to manage copper and fibre networks to Telstra customer premises. Clearly, Flannigan has the chops and knows his way around a complex telco network.

Head of construction, Patrick Flannigan (Credit: NBN Co)

Of course, it's worth noting that Flannigan stepped down from his role just months before his NBN Co appointment, due to what he called "very disappointing" financial statements for the company. Nonetheless, with someone else handling the financial side of things and Flannigan freed to do what he does best, he may well offer crucial experience such as the ability to deal with all kinds of workers and the unions that represent them, which have been watching the NBN project very, very carefully. Interestingly, Flannigan could well end up working with his old colleagues again, as Service Stream is one of the 21 companies shortlisted in June for the design and construction of NBN Co's fibre-access network.

If Flannigan is engaged on the mainland, Doug Campbell is remaining engaged in Tasmania as chairman of the state's NBN Co. One of NBN Co's better-known hires, Campbell has nearly 50 years' industry experience including 18 years as a senior executive at Telstra, where he ran business divisions including Network and Technology, Wholesale, International and Telstra Country Wide. His service in the latter division earned him membership in the Order of Australia to recognise his services improving capabilities in rural areas.

Campbell is well-respected in the industry, with analyst Paul Budde calling him "most probably Australia's foremost national infrastructure expert" in a 2008 commentary; Campbell was also the highest-profile backer of a bid by mystery group Acacia to build the NBN under the government's original fibre-to-the-node plans.

Of course, nothing gets built without something to build it with. Alasdair Fuller joined NBN Co in January as chief procurement officer after a decade spent managing procurement with SingTel Optus. During his time there, Fuller's work included managing a team of four lawyers that offered pro bono legal work for Optus-affiliated charities.

Procurement is a key part of NBN Co's business, with rapid growth requiring progressive and efficient procurement strategies. Fuller has the pedigree NBN Co needs: a member of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply, he is formally qualified to lead what one industry journalist called "the largest single procurement project in Australian history".


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 Brown
Kevin 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 Brown
Caroline 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.


And then the rest

Those at very top echelons aren't the only ones driving NBN Co onto its fibre future. We trawled through NBN Co's employee list and found a number of other interesting staff handling everything from billing to the company's basketball team.

The broadband market has come a long way since Landry Fevre — NBN Co's general manager of media and commercial strategy — was conducting broadband surveys as IDC's telecommunications and consumer markets research director. Just consider the results of the 2005 survey in which 70 per cent of respondents were on 256Kbps broadband connections and almost nobody was using voice over internet protocol (VoIP). Times have changed significantly since then, but Fevre seems to have had his eye on the future for some time.

He noted in 2004 that "industry cooperation and consolidation will be common market characteristics" for next-generation networks and that "successful players will be those nimble enough to embrace a new go-to-market model, one that is user-centric and less technology-driven". Even back then, in the depth of the Howard administration, he couldn't have been describing NBN Co more aptly.

Tony Cross, general manager network architecture and technology, knows his way around fibre-optic networks: as general manager for access technology, he was instrumental in building up Telstra's Velocity business, which is laying fibre throughout new housing estates. He also helped drive Telstra's recent upgrade of its hybrid-fibre coaxial network to 100Mbps throughout Melbourne. He played a key role in negotiating Foxtel-related commercial issues between Telstra and News Corporation and planned a Telstra legacy IT upgrade that reduced operating costs by $250 million per year.


Matthew Lobb, an ANU and Oxford-educated telecommunications specialist whose previous stints included providing policy advice to Queensland MP Craig Emerson and NSW Minister for Transport and Roads Carl Scully. Lobb has also had a role as wholesale regulatory manager and effective monopoly apologist with Telstra, and has now taken up the mantle of general manager for industry engagement with NBN Co.

Lobb currently acts as NBN's representative on the board of directors of industry group Communications Alliance. That position puts him at the table with the likes of Alcatel-Lucent's Ric Clark, Primus Telecom's Roger Nicoll, Telstra's Warwick Broxom, SingTel Optus' Gary Smith, and representatives of every other major communications player.

Then there's Kevin Morgan, who joined NBN Co as a systems architect earlier this year. His more than 35 years' telecoms experience includes 20 years in IT architecture and design roles, with prior gigs at Telstra, Optus and AAPT. Morgan is an expert in business support systems (BSS) and operational support systems (OSS), having expertise across a broad range of fixed and mobile services. As NBN Co gears up to build out its Melbourne network operations centre, he'll likely work alongside the likes of Peter Ferris, general manager of design and planning to figure out what goes where.

Ferris, for his part, has come from being general manager for network technologies with 3 Mobile. He's also held technology planning roles at Optus, where he spent 15 years. An adjunct professor of telecommunications with Macquarie University, Ferris has also done extensive additional work in people management.

A long-time basketball coach and hands-on manager, he's popular with his direct reports: premises planning manager Stephen Middleton, who worked with Ferris at Optus, calls him "without doubt the most technically adept manager I have ever had the pleasure of working with ... enthusiasm and drive combine with intense company loyalty to yield a senior manager who is definitely not one of the 'yes' men... Peter can inspire an auditorium or a team to unusual feats of delivery".

Middleton has years of experience in application design, access technology planning, consumer access management and more. His specialties include fibre-to-the-node and fibre-to-the-home access architectures as well as IPTV, middleware, applications and more. Middleton brings "excellent technical and business analysis, especially when dealing with new and emerging technologies", one-time manager Steve Christian wrote of the time he spent with Middleton at Optus.

Also on the team is Greg Tilton, general manager of systems architecture and technology. Tilton taught Masters in Telecommunications courses at Melbourne University from 2002 to 2007, and has headed technology strategy at a range of organisations including DGIT, SingTel Optus, AAPT, PowerTel, Request Broadband, Telstra BigPond and more. Tilton occasionally presents at industry conferences such as this year's CommsDay Summit, where he discussed the process of provisioning OSS/BSS systems at NBN Co.

Pricing architect Dieter Schadt previously worked as a senior advisor and principal consultant at Henry Ergas' now-defunct firm Concept Economics, vice president at CRA International, and in pricing and finance manager roles at Sensis and Telstra.

Schadt lists his specialties as value management, business strategy, cost modelling and telco regulation — all critical to helping make NBN Co's numbers add up — and has enough to offer that Quigley looked past Concept Economics' scathing 2009 cost-benefit analysis, which found the costs of the NBN outweighed its benefits.

One part of NBN Co that cannot remain unfinished is billing — an area due to be worked on by Steve Nichols, the company's billing development manager. Nichols, a Swinburne University graduate who most recently acted in business analyst roles at Telstra and AAPT, previously led billing operations for Request Broadband.

Nichols might well also put up his hand in organising NBN Co staff bonding days: in his spare time, he maintains a calendar of adventure-race events via his AdventureRace venture for like-minded individuals keen to do a bit of endurance racing, mountain biking, orienteering, kayaking, trail running and rogaining.

Adrenaline sports aren't the only thing going on at NBN Co. Commercial strategist Nadeen Jayasundara, plays on NBN Co's basketball team in the NSW Corporate Games competition alongside Peter Ferris, Gareth Simmons (general manager of commercial networks) and several others.

The name of their team? The NBN Co Broadbanders. Stop laughing. No word on whether Telstra has fronted up a team too — but if so, perhaps there's a better way to resolve all the back-and-forth over the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Regardless of whether the match ever happens, however, it's clear that Mike Quigley has assembled his own Dream Team and is rushing a full court press to get the NBN well underway.

(All executive headshots are courtesy of NBN Co.)

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