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Ziggy Switkowski to face challenges leading the NBN in Australia: academic

Stephanie McDonald | Sept. 30, 2013
Former Telstra boss may have trouble mobiliising a demoralised workforce, says Mark Gregory

Former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski is tipped to become NBN Co's newest chief executive, but one academic has predicted he may struggle in the role.

Mark Gregory, senior lecturer at RMIT, says Switkowski could struggle due to his lack of construction knowledge in rolling out fibre optic networks.

"I don't feel that he has the motivating capability given that there's still a lot of concern over his tenure at Telstra," Gregory says.

"I feel that there's a belief amongst staff at Telstra and also amongst the shareholders that he missed a number of opportunities and that really, Telstra didn't go anywhere [during his tenure]."

Gregory says Switkowski might also have trouble mobilising a demoralised workforce — he says there could be a high staff churn rate that will require strong leadership in human resource management.

Switkowski is likely to handle this by personalising his management style by visiting and engaging with staff, according to Gregory.

"He's more of a visible person, but whether or not he's visible enough and has enough time to be able to get around to put out fires before they take hold — we're yet to see," Gregory says.

However, Guy Cranswick, analyst at IBRS, says the CEO of NBN Co does not need construction experience. He says Switkowski's experience in leading a major Australian telco is enough.

"It's not as if the executive board of the NBN is ... necessarily out there in the field dealing with ducts and that kind of thing," he says.

"It's having an appreciation of how to deal with management and how to get the right people, how to ask the right questions, how to make decisions and the right kind of timing."

Switkowski has extensive experience in the telco industry.

In 1999, he was appointed chief executive at Telstra. He resigned from this position in 2004 and left with a reported payout of $2,092,000, not including leave, entitlements and bonuses. Following his departure, he said he wanted to become a "normal" person again.

"Running Telstra requires near-obsessive commitment to the details of the job," he said.

Switkowski has also held the chief executive role at Optus and Kodak (Australia).

More recently he led the review into practices and procedures at Essendon AFL club following drugs investigations. He also has a history as a nuclear physicist.

As early as May this year, communications minister Malcolm Turnbull was scouting former Telstra employees for a new board for NBN Co, including Switkowski.

"Obviously, Ziggy Switkowski is a person of outstanding ability and experience," Turnbull told the AFR in May.

More recently, Turnbull told ABC Radio Switkowski was "one of our most distinguished business leaders".


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