Google Australia chief wants NBN benefits to flow

Maile Carnegie left a 21-year career at Procter & Gamble to run Google Australia in July. She talks to Lia Timson in her first interview since taking up the post.

Maile Carnegie left a 21-year career at Procter & Gamble to run Google Australia in July. She talks to Lia Timson in her first interview since taking up the post.

She bounces excitedly on the armchair, clapping furiously like a little girl describing a new toy. Maybe it was this youthfulness and passion that secured Maile Carnegie, 43, her job.

In jeans (on a Wednesday) and a red tailored shirt, the new Google Australia New Zealand managing director blends in perfectly at the company's primary-coloured Sydney headquarters.

In her first interview since taking up the role in July, Carnegie is relaxed. The Hawaiian-born, Sydney North Shore-raised mother-of-two is not a software engineer, app developer or computer geek. Technology is a product she sells.

The Procter & Gamble Australia veteran - she joined the traditional fast-moving consumer goods company straight out of university and left as its managing director - is a marketer through and through.

Consumer insights, advertising campaigns and packaging of shampoo, tampons and cosmetics come more naturally than technology to her. A point she says helped her land the role.

"At the end of the day, if you look at who Google's most important clients are, they tend to be in the marketing world, people who I was previously. So I bring to Google a wealth of understanding of what their clients want, what their clients need," she says of advertisers, brand managers and their agencies.

"There are a whole lot of pure-play internet companies that Google culturally understood because there's a huge affinity there. But partner companies like a P&G or a Unilever, and the work we need to do to make sure we're really helping them transform their business - having people who understand what their cultural barriers are - is really important."

Google is, behind its 500 million-plus users and innovative online products, an advertising platform. It accounts for a third of the world's $117.6 billion in digital advertising spend, according to eMarketer. Its closest competitor, Facebook, has a 5.4 per cent share.

Carnegie's previous employer wrote the book on marketing. It invented soap operas - much before the expression "branded content" was coined - and has experimented with alternative advertising channels, including a bespoke digital agency, Tremor, that has provided services to Coca-Cola, Dreamworks and Microsoft. Carnegie was one of a handful of people seconded to the agency in 2000 - her first internet start-up experience.

But that is not where the synergy between P&G and Google ends.

"There are some very stark similarities in terms of what fundamentally underpins both organisations ... their reason for being is to improve the lives of the world's consumers. They want to do it in small but meaningful ways, they both talk about our employees being our most important asset and innovation being the lifeblood of our companies.

"I agree that how they execute against those principles is very different. There's no doubt Google executes with a lot greater speed, a greater willingness to delegate authority and responsibility, and they pride themselves on you not needing to wear a suit to be taken seriously," she says, adding Google genuinely values staff with different professional backgrounds.

Carnegie's 800-odd employees are split evenly between engineering and marketing. The engineering teams, responsible for global product development, report to global management. While she has oversight across the local branch - "and making sure to the community we show up as one Google" - she is directly responsible for sales and operations only. A point Telsyte research director Foad Fadaghi says is unusual.

"Google as an entity treats its local operations as a marketing arm of its main enterprise. It's a little bit confusing. Normally the way business is done in Australia is that the head of an entity is empowered to have discussions across all of the business. It's problematic for MDs and CEOs in Australia who want to do strategic technology-based enterprise deals with Google. But it has always been like this," Fadaghi says.

One of the goals Carnegie has set herself, and one she hopes to be remembered for long after her tenure as Google MD, is for the internet giant to better contribute to Australia's digital economy and the impact of the national broadband network.

"It's a little bit frustrating in Australia. It feels like we could be on the cusp of renewal but I'm frustrated that we're not recognising the benefits," she says.

She cites the British government's "digital by default" approach for government services and the cost savings and efficiencies drawn from it as an example of where Australia should be heading. She wants Google to partner with the Australian government in such initiatives.

"I look at the energy around the NBN. At the moment it's focused around cost. I'd love to talk about the benefits and how we can change the rhetoric, from cost to disruption."

Carnegie says she has reached out to Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and is waiting for everyone to settle into their new roles since the election, before "going down to Canberra to talk to folks".

"We've had a good relationship with the Liberals and I'm sure that will continue," she says.

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