Insider Robin Payne appointed NBN Co CFO


news The National Broadband Network Company, the company constructing Australia’s national broadband network, has appointed Robin Payne, Chief Financial Officer. Payne has been acting as CFO, succeeding Jean-Pascal Beaufret, who retired in January 2012.

Welcoming the appointment, NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley said: “Robin is a high calibre executive who has already made an important contribution to the NBN. His knowledge of the business and his extensive experience in financial management will be invaluable as the project moves from the planning and design stage to the large-scale rollout of the Australia’s largest infrastructure project.” In response, Payne said he had inherited a strong finance function, and looked forward to continuing to work with Quigley and the team to “deliver value for taxpayers on an infrastructure project that will touch the lives of every home and business in the country”.

Payne joined NBN Co in 2009 as General Manager of Planning & Development, and played an important role in developing the company’s initial Corporate Plan. Subsequently, he was appointed the company’s lead negotiator on the Definitive Agreements with Telstra (concluded last month), which unlocked the infrastructure that would enable the large scale rollout of the fibre optic network. Prior to joining NBN Co, Payne had worked for 10 years each at KPMG as Senior Manager, Audit and Advisory, and at Macquarie Bank as Division Director. He was also a co-founder of Anytime PTE, Asia Pacific’s leading supplier of Video-on-Demand (VoD) programming for IPTV, Broadband and Digital cable networks.

Payne’s appointment comes at the end of a “thorough” global executive search that began in August last year, when NBN Co had announced substantial restructuring and reorganisation of its growing operations, alongside the departure of Beaufret and Christy Boyce, NBN Co’s head of industry engagement. At the time, Quigley said that Beaufret had agreed to remain with the company until January 2012 while a search was conducted for his successor. The international search, which began then for the CFO’s position, finally ended on April 4th, with an internal hire.

Normally I can’t fault NBN Co’s hiring practices, and I’m not going to say that Payne isn’t the best person for the position of chief financial officer at the company. However, whenever one sees an executive acting in a position appointed to that position in a permanent capacity following a “thorough global search”, one has to wonder how thorough that global search was, and if the acting executive truly was the best candidate, why there was a need for such a search to start with.

NBN Co isn’t *that* complex an organisation yet. If Payne was that capable (and from his history at KPMG and Macquarie Bank, it looks like he is), it should have been apparent and he should have been appointed after a quick vetting exercise. NBN Co shouldn’t have had to expend the resources to look around the globe for Beaufret’s replacement. In this case, one suspects the global search process was a case of crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. NBN Co must be above all criticism at the moment.

I would also point one other thing out: Mike Quigley appears to like appointing executives who he’s previously worked with in the CFO role. Beaufret, of course, worked extensively with Quigley at Alcatel-Lucent prior to joining NBN Co, and now Payne, who will be one of Quigley’s right-hand men as CFO (if he wasn’t already) has stepped up from an internal role. One suspects that Quigley needs executives at NBN Co that he can strongly trust, and that he knows will do the job well. This is a good thing — and this sort of practice is also very popular in the private sector. At this uncertain stage of NBN Co’s development, it would likely be the wrong decision to bring someone completely new into this sensitive role.

Image credit: Pascal Thauvin, royalty free. Opinion/analysis by Renai LeMay