news Incoming National Broadband Network Company chief executive Bill Morrow has turfed at least three key executives at the company after just one week on the job, with long-time and respected NBN Co head of corporate and commercial Kevin Brown, chief financial officer Robin Payne and chief technology officer Gary McLaren (pictured in order above) to leave NBN Co pronto.
As chief technology officer since September 2009, Gary McLaren has since that time been the company’s highest-profile technologist. McLaren has 25 years experience in the telecommunications industry with senior engineering roles at Telstra and Siemens. He was a member of the senior management team at Request DSL which successfully rolled out one of Australian’s first competitive DSL broadband networks between 2000 and 2004, before the company was merged with PowerTel.
From 2004, McLaren provided consulting services to various companies in the telecommunications and IT sectors with an emphasis on commercialisation of new technologies. These companies included Optus, Telecom Fiji and Telecom NZ-owned AAPT. He joined NBN Co in 2009 from his role as lead consultant working on the NBN for the Communications Alliance, the self-regulatory body responsible for developing guidelines and policy for the Australian telecommunications industry. He has degrees in Engineering and Law from the University of Melbourne.
As recently as several weeks ago, the executive was publicly called upon by NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski at an NBN Co investor briefing to discuss NBN Co’s technology choices. He has a deep history within Australia’s telecommunications sector dating back to 1989, when he started as a professional engineer at Telstra.
Head of corporate and commercial Kevin Brown has also been with NBN Co almost from the start, being responsible for supply management, procurement, commercial strategy and the management of NBN Co’s Definitive Agreements with Telstra and Optus, as well as overseeing the company’s human resources, legal and facilities functions. He was commonly viewed as a defacto deputy and possible successor to founding NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley.
Before his stint at NBN Co, Brown was formerly Executive General Manager, People at Qantas for 8 years and a member of its executive committee. Prior to joining Qantas in 2001, Mr Brown held a number of senior executive positions at Nortel Networks, based in the USA, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Australia. His roles included Vice President, Business Development, Asia Pacific as well as global responsibilities for human resources. He has a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney, a Bachelor of Social Science from the University of New England, and an MBA from the University of Sydney.
Payne is responsible for overseeing financial aspects of NBN Co’s business activities. He joined NBN Co in 2009 as General Manager of Planning & Development and was instrumental in developing the company’s initial Corporate Plan. The following year he was appointed the company’s lead negotiator on the Definitive Agreements with Telstra that were concluded in March 2012 and which was to unlock the infrastructure that will enable the large-scale rollout of the fibre optic network.
Payne worked for a decade at KPMG in the UK and Australia, specialising in banking and finance. Subsequently, he spent a further 10 years at Macquarie Bank in project and structured finance for the investment banking division and helped pioneer the bank’s expansion into South East Asia. He was a co-founder of the Asia-Pacific digital media company, Anytime PTE. Payne holds an honours degree in economics from University of Cambridge.
McLaren, Payne and Brown are widely considered three of the most respected executives at NBN Co, with all three having been with the project from its early days and having helped to set it up. All had respected careers before joining the company.
However, in a statement issued to all NBN Co staff today, new NBN Co chief executive Bill Morrow, who only joined NBN Co last week, revealed that all three would leave the company. Brown and McLaren have been made redundant, while Payne has agreed to remain with NBN Co until a successor can be found for his role. You can read Morrow’s statement in full here in Word format.
“A few weeks back, the company communicated our purpose, our goals, and our strategic imperatives,” Morrow wrote. “These were used to identify the current year business priorities and launch a transformative set of initiatives designed to help us create a better company and deliver on our commitments. This all begins to address the first root cause mentioned above – goal clarity and alignment.”
“To partly address the second root cause, we will move to a new ExCo structure effective 1 May. This new structure is process-based and will emphasise an internal customer-supplier relationship model.”
In the statement, Morrow revealed the new organisation chart for NBN Co, which will mainly consist of executives who he has appointed, or who were appointed by NBN Co executive chairman under the Coalition’s tenure in the Federal Government. They are:
Chief Strategy Officer, JB Rousselot; Chief Operating Officer, Greg Adcock; Chief Customer Officer, John Simon; Chief Legal Counsel, Justin Forsell; Chief Financial Officer, Robin Payne (Acting); Chief Culture & Transformation Officer, Bradley Whitcomb, Investor & Media Relations Officer (to be decided) and Head of Regulatory Affairs, Caroline Lovell.
Whitcomb (see his LinkedIn profile here) has up until now been Vodafone’s chief strategy and business transformation officer and also worked with Morrow in other roles internationally.
Morrow thanked Brown, Payne and McLaren and noted that appropriate farewells would be organised to “celebrate their contributions” to NBN Co. However, the CEO did not reveal why the well-respected trio had lost their roles at NBN Co.
Delimiter has also received an anonymous tip to the effect that NBN Co executive general manager of planning and design, Peter Ferris, who is believed to have conducted much of the design work on NBN Co’s fibre to the premises network and who has been with the company since October 2009, has also been made redundant. However, Delimiter has not been able to verify Ferris’s status at this point.
“In an ideal world we would be able to announce all of the changes that flow on from the new structure, however as you can appreciate there is still more work to be done to get this right,” wrote Morrow in his statement. “You can expect to hear more from me and the Executive Committee on the changes as we progress, as well as answering your questions as part of roadshows I’ll be doing in May.”
The news is not the first time a senior and respected NBN Co executive has been turfed from the company under its new management. In early November last year, NBN Co announced that its chief operating officer Ralph Steffens, one of the company’s most qualified and experienced international fibre rollout experts, would be replaced with a Telstra executive, Greg Adcock, who appeared to have little direct last mile construction experience but does have a pre-election connection with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Update: After the publication of this article, NBN issued the following statement regarding Peter Ferris:
“Mr Ferris remains a highly respected employee of NBN Co. He is currently providing input to the organisational review within the Chief Operating Officer’s area.
His former responsibilities have been subsumed across a number of areas, but principally into a new role, EGM Design Authority & Deployment Standards, reporting to the COO. Grant Bowden has been confirmed in this position today. Mr Bowden has widespread experience in planning and strategy for large scale network infrastructure developments.”
I have previously viewed Morrow as a smart operator, based on his turnaround strategy at Vodafone Australia, which appears to be on the cusp of success. However, I will note that I don’t support his move to turf Kevin Brown, Robin Payne and Gary McLaren. I view this as an unintelligent move and somewhat offensive to these very capable executives.
All three executives were respected within Australia’s telecommunications industry and within NBN Co for their work with the company, and all three had strong careers before joining NBN Co. They didn’t join the company to make money or to pursue an ideological or political agenda; they joined because they saw the chance to deliver a better future for Australia. And they have made substantial progress on that aim. They didn’t deserve to be outed in this fashion, given their contributions, and I’m sorry to see that this has happened this way.
I will also note that I consider it relatively unprecedented in Australia’s corporate community for a company to lose its CEO, COO, CTO, CFO and head of commercial in such a short period. NBN Co is being well and truly gutted, and I suspect that very shortly it will have very little of the old guard left — the old guard, that is, that got the company to its feet in the first place, burning the midnight candle constantly to do so. Well, if you wanted a recipe for corporate instability, this is it: Just get rid of anyone with any seniority in the organisation. It will be interesting to see how Morrow goes with much of NBN Co’s senior ranks decimated.
Image credit: NBN Co