Optus appoints Stephen Rue as new CEO

Optus has got a new permanent CEO – and a new governance structure for him to operate under – as the company seeks to rebuild trust in the brand.

Stephen Rue will head up Australia’s second biggest telco from November this year, the company announced this week.

Rue joins the telco from NBN (National Broadband Network); he has been the CEO of the network since 2018 and was also its CFO for the four years before that. During Rue’s tenure, NBN completed its initial network build, which now connects over eight million Australians.  He will be succeeded at NBN by Philip Knox; Knox, previously the company’s CFO, will be interim head of the business until a full-time replacement is found.

Optus is currently helmed by Michael Venter, who has been interim CEO since November last year. Ventner, who was formerly Optus’ CFO, took over the role after then-CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin resigned.

Optus outage and Kelly Bayer Rosmarin resign

Bayer Rosmarin stepped down after an outage that affected over ten million Australian consumers, along with hundreds of thousands of businesses including hospitals, banks and train companies. Mobile, fixed-line and web services were all affected by the outage, which lasted several hours. Optus attributed the outage to a number of Cisco routers automatically isolating themselves after a routine software update at a Singtel exchange, in order to prevent an overload of IP routing data, which ended up causing a cascading failure throughout the network. The company’s communication strategy around the outage, and its perceived poor disaster recovery planning, proved highly unpopular at the time.

A steer from Optus’ owner, Singtel

Incoming CEO Rue will also operate under a new government structure: he will join the board and will report to both the board itself and the company’s chairman. “The Board and executives will work together to reset strategy and rebuild customer trust in the Optus brand,” the company said.

The new governance model is inspired by changes at Optus’ owner, Singaporean telco Singtel, which is moving towards a more decentralised structure.

In a financial filing last month, Singtel registered a writedown of 3.1 billion Singaporean dollars. It attributed a significant part of the write-down to Optus: both to its fixed enterprise assets, whose value has declined due to churn and price erosion according to Singtel, and to Optus’ goodwill, due to factors including its prospects in the enterprise market overall and the telco’s performance against a tough economic background.

Optus, however, announced a major network-and-spectrum-sharing deal with TPG in late April: the $1.6bn, 11-year arrangement will see TPG using Optus’ regional network to effectively double its 4G mobile network coverage, reach 98.4 per cent of the population.

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Jo Best
Jo Best

Jo has been writing about technology for over 20 years, and has always been fascinated by emerging technologies and innovation. These days, she's particularly interested in the intersection of technology, science, and human health.