Tough role to fill as Quigley quits NBN

The hunt is on for a new executive to manage the construction of Australia's biggest-ever infrastructure project, after Mike Quigley retired from his post as head of NBN Co.

The hunt is on for a new executive to manage the construction of Australia's biggest-ever infrastructure project, after Mike Quigley retired from his post as head of 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 NBN Co chairwoman Siobhan McKenna's suitability for the role and describing the company's behaviour as "unprecedented".

After four years running the company building the $37 billion national broadband network, telecommunications veteran 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 from the job, Mr Quigley said it was his decision to retire.

"I've frankly been in the company certainly as long as I had expected to. The process of handing over to a new incoming person - this is the right time in the phasing of the project," said Mr Quigley, who came out of retirement for the position in 2009. However, he signalled his replacement may have a different set of skills than himself. With the start-up phase of the project complete, the focus is on connecting millions of homes with fibre cables, limiting delays and handling challenges such as the asbestos scares.

The next NBN Co boss would need experience at "a company that builds and runs stuff", Mr Quigley said, arguing the rollout phase was comparable with running a large factory because it involves doing the same things thousands of times. "While telco experience would probably be helpful, given all the technology that is in this stuff, it's probably not essential."

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

Ovum analyst David Kennedy said the company was 18 months behind where its original corporate plan of 2010 had projected and a priority for the new boss would be reviewing troubled contracts. "If you look at [the 2010 corporate plan] as a benchmark they are way behind where they should be," he said.

The NBN board is responsible for finding a replacement for Mr Quigley. With an election due in the coming months and the Coalition planning to overhaul the project if elected, NBN Co 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 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 the NBN Co's expense to lobby the Coalition about her talents and achievements".

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

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

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

It had previously been projected the NBN would cost $36 billion, but Mr Quigley denied there had been a cost blow-out on his watch, saying its price tag had increased because the government had expanded the scope of the project.

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