Search on to fill the shoes of NBN chief executive Quigley

The hunt is on for a new chief executive to manage the construction of Australia's biggest yet infrastructure project, with Mike Quigley retiring as head of the NBN Co.

The hunt is on for a new chief executive to manage the construction of Australia's biggest yet infrastructure project, with Mike Quigley retiring as head of the NBN Co.

The search comes as relations between the company rolling out the national broadband network and the alternative government fell to new lows, with opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull questioning the suitability of NBN Co's chairwoman, Siobhan McKenna, for the role, and describing the company's behaviour as "unprecedented".

After four years running the company building the $37 billion national broadband network, Mr Quigley said on Friday it was the "right time" for a change in leadership.

Despite delays in the rollout and reports he had been pushed, Mr Quigley said it was his decision.

"I've frankly been in the company certainly as long as I had expected to," he said. "The process of handing over to a new incoming person - this is the right time in the phasing of the project."

Mr Quigley came out of retirement for the job in 2009. But he also signalled that his replacement may have a different set of skills than his. With the start-up phase of the project now complete, the focus is on connecting millions thousands of homes with fibre cables, limiting delays, and handling challenges such as the recent asbestos scares.

The next chief would need experience at "a company that builds and runs stuff", Mr Quigley said, arguing the rollout phase was comparable to running a large factory because it involved doing the same things thousands of times.

"While telco experience would probably be helpful, given all the technology that in this stuff, it's probably not essential," he said.

Whoever gets the job, they will inherit a project that is running late and facing ferocious political scrutiny.

Ovum analyst David Kennedy said the company was 18 months behind the original corporate plan. A priority for the new boss would be reviewing several troubled contracts.

"If you look at [the 2010 corporate plan] as a benchmark they are way behind where they should be," Mr Kennedy said.

The NBN board is now responsible for finding a replacement for Mr Quigley. With an election due and the Coalition planning to overhaul the project if elected, NBN did not say when it expected to make the appointment.

There have been reports Ms McKenna, a director of Lachlan Murdoch's Illyria, had put her own name forward as a potential successor to Mr Quigley.

But Mr Turnbull argued she would be the wrong choice, saying there were "real questions" about her capacity to chair this business. Mr Turnbull also said Ms McKenna had hired a lobbying firm at NBN expense to lobby the Coalition about her "talents and achievements".

"It's certainly unprecedented," he said of the move to hire lobbyists. "I've never seen a government business enterprise managed in this sort of way, ever." NBN did not respond to this claim in time for publication.

Mr Quigley has come under intense public scrutiny in his role, including having to defend his former role at Alcatel-Lucent, a company that was embroiled in a corruption scandal while he was a senior executive. Mr Quigley was never implicated in the scandal.

A former NBN Co chairman and Commonwealth Bank director, Harrison Young, described Mr Quigley as a "terrific guy", but would not make further comment because he had left the company four months ago.

It had previously been projected that the NBN would cost $36 billion, but Mr Quigley denied there had been a cost blowout on his watch.

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