Departing NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley said he has no hard feelings about the political vitriol surrounding the high-speed network he was tasked with building.
“This was a politically contentious project, and I’ve simply dealt with that as we’ve gone forward,” Quigley said in a media conference call after announcing his departure. “It’s not something that I take personally and it’s not something that I worry too much about.”
In a doorstop with journalists after Quigley’s announcement, shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed that NBN Co chairman Siobhan McKenna “had been trying to get Michael Quigley sacked for several months and she’s finally succeeded.” He added that the board had already been searching for a replacement.
“He’s been pushed out of this company because it has not succeeded in meeting its targets,” said Turnbull, who has been one of the NBN project’s most vocal critics. The Liberal blamed “Labor mismanagement” and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for choosing a board and chief executive for NBN Co who Turnbull said had little telecom experience.
On the media conference call, Quigley said he would “let the politicians debate with each other.”
“This is the right time for me to be leaving. I’ve been with the company now for four years,” he said. “It makes good sense to transition. We’ve done all the startup, we’ve done all the architecture, done all the product. We are are pretty close to having the [special access undertaking (SAU)] finally approved.”
Quigley said the timing of his departure was agreed with the board “taking into account a number of factors.”
One was that he wanted to stay until NBN Co could announce it had met forecasts for the network announced in March. The company did that last week.
Quigley added that he has a “very good relationship” with McKenna. “There’s no acceleration as a consequence of any discussions I’ve had with Siobhan.”
It would not be surprising for any board to be thinking about succession in advance of a CEO’s departure, he said.
“I haven’t felt undervalued. This job is just too intense and too busy to feel undervalued.”
Quigley said he believes the NBN project has “momentum” that can withstand the upcoming election.
“There’s a certain momentum now in the project and there’s ... certain assets that are already built that are going to be useful no matter which way the project goes.”
“While there may be a bit of uncertainty [on] exactly the direction, I think the fundamentals ... seem to be now unquestioned. That wasn’t necessarily the case when I started the project.”
Both the Labor and Liberal NBN plans “have pros and cons, and that really is a policy choice that can be looked and worked through.”
The Communications Alliance praised Quigley’s determination leading a difficult project in a politically charged environment. Also in its statement, the telecom industry group said Quigley achieved “significant progress” over the past four years.
Quigley resigned “after a barrage of mainly politically motivated criticism,” said telecom analyst Paul Budde. However, he added that it was the right time to change the CEO at NBN Co because it takes away a “political target” and brings fresh eyes to the project.
“Australia should be grateful to have had such a passionate person and highly experience telecom executive to pull the NBN of the ground,” Budde said.
“He was the first employee of the company, and did build up the organisation from scratch. Under any circumstances that would be a massive challenge what made this a far bigger challenge was the political pressure behind the whole project.”
Quigley "has steered the company and presented well and understands the technology choices," said IBRS analyst Guy Cranswick. "Unfortunately, [the exit occurred] at time when there are serious questions about roll out and financial matters with contractors."
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