Morrow relishes NBN challenge after Vodafone role
Vodafone's outgoing chief executive hopes running NBN Co will be harder than his current job, which he is leaving two-thirds of the way through a three-year turnaround strategy.
American Bill Morrow said he was not "bailing" on Vodafone but wanted to help build a legacy for Australia that would reshape the country's digital economy.
Vodafone had addressed its network issues, expanded coverage by 50 per cent and its brand perception scores were rising, he said.
"We have pretty much beat every financial target that was given to us for this year, that was a part of the turnaround plan," Mr Morrow said on Thursday. "[NBN has] absolutely nothing to do with leaving because the job can't be done or the company is not in a good position."
He said the next round of results would show "we have sorted the problems" and that Vodafone in Australia was a good company that still enjoyed the ongoing support of shareholders Vodafone Plc and Hutchison Telecommunications.
Mr Morrow arrived in Australia in March 2012 as a turnaround strategist for Vodafone. He plans to start at NBN Co in March or April and said the Vodafone board would select his replacement.
Even though he had not yet read the strategic review of NBN Co released by the government on Thursday, he still believed an open-access, wholesale-only broadband network would give Australia a huge economic advantage. "I have been a champion of NBN ... I think it is a big bold move by the government [and] by the taxpayers to try to reshape its entire ecosystem around the digital revolution."
Mr Morrow said he felt "comfortable and confident" with Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NBN Co chairman Ziggy Switkowski, and their plans to use a mix of technologies to deliver faster broadband. He confirmed he was asked by headhunting firm Egon Zehnder before the election if he was interested in working at NBN Co, but he did not want the job until the change of government settled down and "the stabilisation of Vodafone was more evident".
Mr Morrow said he had experience building networks in Japan, Belgium and the US. "This is actually spot-on with what I have been doing in my career over the last 30 years," he said. While his contract with NBN Co was open-ended, he was taking a pay cut to work for the government-owned company, where the previous CEO earned about $2 million a year and shunned his annual bonus.
Senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media Tony Brown said: "Although he has not been responsible for a major fixed-line network rollout, Morrow has a lot of experience in the telco field and has excellent knowledge of the Australian market from his time at Vodafone."
Mr Morrow had no obvious local political affiliations and could "hopefully - to some extent at least - operate above the fray and be seen as an honest broker", he said. "The fact he is not ex-Telstra is also a bonus," he said, referring to the appointment of four ex-Telstra executives to NBN Co.