news iiNet made its outgoing Adelaide-based chief technology officer John Lindsay redundant, it has emerged, as the company appears to be increasingly centralising the technical management of its infrastructure to its head office in Perth.
In late December, iiNet chief technology officer John Lindsay revealed via his public blog and on Twitter that he had left iiNet. The move was significant because the executive was one of iiNet’s most high-profile technical leaders and had long been regarded as one of the Internet service provider industry’s most well-respected figures.
Lindsay had served as iiNet’s CTO for a year and eight months, having been promoted into the role after his previous employer, Internode, was bought by iiNet. Lindsay had worked in various senior positions at Internode, including chief technology officer and general manager of regulatory and corporate affairs, for around eleven years. He had also previously held several senior positions at iiNet.
In a blog post in December, Lindsay noted that it had been a privilege to work with the iiNet executive team and that the past two years had been a career highlight for him. It appeared from his statements at the time that the executive had resigned and was seeking a break from the corporate world; he announced his intentions to become a consultant working with start-ups and early stage businesses.
However, Delimiter has since confirmed with a number of different, independent sources that Lindsay was made redundant. One source claimed the executive was not the only former Internode manager to have lost his position late in 2013, although Delimiter has not been able to confirm this allegation.
Part of the issue appears to be the fact that iiNet is consolidating the technical teams of iiNet and Internode into a centrally managed team in Perth. Lindsay was based in Adelaide, where Internode has its roots.
A spokesperson for iiNet would not confirm that Lindsay had been made redundant. The company instead issued what appeared to be a misleading statement pointing to Lindsay’s new career as the reason behind his departure. “After two years as Chief Technology Officer at iiNet and 11 in the same role at Internode John Lindsay is taking a break from the corporate world and setting up as a consultant working with start-up and early stage businesses,” the company said.
In addition, the company praised Lindsay personally, noting that the executive was “an integral part of the team that sold Internode to iiNet in 2011” and that the executive had since helped to build iiNet “a global IP network with around 150 gigabits of lit submarine capacity”, rolled out the VDSL2 standard in Canberra, and grown the company’s Wi-Fi network to over 1,000 access points.
“John did an amazing job for the iiNet Group, we will miss him as part of our exec team but he is taking a well-deserved break and we wish him the best in his future pursuits,” said iiNet acting CEO David Buckingham.
However, the company did note that at this stage it has “no replacement” for the executive, meaning that iiNet will now have no formal chief technology officer. Instead, iiNet noted, chief information officer Matthew Toohey and Chief Business Officer (and former CTO) Greg Bader have split the role between themselves. Both appear to be largely Perth-based and have both been with iiNet for around a decade.
The departure of Lindsay means that iiNet’s senior management team is now wholly constituted of executives who have an extremely long-running history with the company. Bader, one of iiNet chief executive Michael Malone’s closest lieutenants, has been with the company since 2003, as has chief regulatory officer Steve Dalby and chief customer officer Maryna Fewster. Chief product officer Stephen Harley joined iiNet in 2001, and Toohey joined in 2004. Acting chief executive Buckingham has the shortest tenure, having joined iiNet in January 2008. iiNet’s board directors similarly typically have an extremely long history with the company, with the exception of marketing specialist Louise McCann, who joined in April 2011.
iiNet’s approach to Lindsay represents only the most recent time that the company has not been completely truthful with the public with respect to an issue. In October 2012, for example, the company was forced to admit that a now-defunct forum associated with its 3FL gaming network was recently hacked and that it concealed the break-in from affected customers whose login details may have been compromised.
I think it’s relatively clear what’s happening here. As iiNet is increasingly ingesting Internode, it appears to see less of a need for Adelaide-based staff and is increasingly centralising senior executive and management roles in Perth. It’s also been alleged this week that the company appears to be changing the nature of its call centres along similar lines. I haven’t researched that area deeply, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that were true.
iiNet’s character as a very closely managed company has been well-known for some time. In June 2011, I compared iiNet CEO Michael Malone to Don Corleone, the ‘Godfather’ of the famous books and films, noting that he maintained a close circle of trusted lieutenants around him such as Dalby and Bader that helped him keep tight control of iiNet. It’s pretty obvious that this phenomenon is still operating.
In a certain sense this activity is completely legitimate. The best companies are tightly managed by a trusted inner circle clustered around a charistmatic, if somewhat dictatorial leader. One need only look at Apple to see how successful that approach can be. And there is no doubt that iiNet is very successfully managed indeed.
However, I would also question how appropriate it was for iiNet to so coldly turf the long-serving John Lindsay late last year … during the Christmas season, no less. Lindsay is one of Australia’s ISP industry’s most respected technical network managers; an executive who was one of Simon Hackett’s right-hand men in building out the ADSL broadband networks we enjoy today. He’s certainly had a great deal of success in a similar role at iiNet over the past several years. I would say that he deserved better.
Then too … is it really appropriate for iiNet to operate without a chief technology officer? Bader’s very good at that job, but has notionally been promoted to a business role. And Toohey’s specialisation has been with IT systems — not networks. One wonders why iiNet believes it’s appropriate to divide these two executives’ attention like this — and whether the quality of iiNet’s overall network will start to suffer as the company lacks a central executive managing it. Only time will tell.
I want to say one further thing about this situation. A series of events over the past several years have led to a personal impression on my part that I really do not like iiNet’s corporate culture any more. The company has grown quite cold and even manipulative over the years … it’s a far cry from the youthful energy which it and fellow ISP upstarts such as Internode used to display. This move by iiNet to let Lindsay go is not the only such move I’ve seen from the company over time.
The irony of iiNet’s marketing mascot Finn being so cheery up-front in public while this kind of corporate behaviour is going on behind the scenes is a little too cutting. One can only hope iiNet hasn’t started taking lessons from the best in the business when it comes to corporate control … big bad Telstra.
Image credit: iiNet