Optus hopes to begin a new chapter under new CEO Stephen Rue

Singtel's embattled Australian arm Optus has appointed a new chief executive and freshened up its governance model for good measure.

Nick Wood

May 7, 2024

3 Min Read

The new guy is Stephen Rue, who currently serves as the CEO of NBN, and has done since 2018. Putting it mildly, the state-run wholesaler endures its fair share of public scrutiny – and has done ever since its inception – so Rue should be well equipped to carry out his mission to repair Optus' tattered reputation.

"My job will be to take care of Optus' customers, people and business and to provide strong competition and choice," said Rue. "I look forward to accelerating the transformation at Optus so fellow Australians continue to have the choice of a strong alternative telecoms provider and the country as a whole can harness the power of digital connectivity to drive economic participation and social inclusion."

Rue replaces Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, who resigned last November in the aftermath of a nationwide network outage, described as the biggest in Australian history. As well as cutting off millions of subscribers it paralysed transport systems, hospitals, and multiple government departments.

At the time of the outage, Optus was trying to move on from the reputational damage caused by the massive data breach that occurred a year previously. It exposed the personal information – including passport numbers – of as many as 9 million current and former customers. The hack was similarly described as the largest in Australia's history.

Unsurprisingly, these disasters didn't do Optus' reputation any favours, particularly among enterprise and public sector clients that place a high value on security and reliability. Its troubles have also been compounded by a general slowdown in Australia's enterprise market.

Late last month, parent company Singtel warned of S$3.1 billion ($2.3 billion) of non-cash impairment charges for the second half of fiscal 2024, of which S$2 billion is attributable to an impairment on the goodwill of Optus.

Rue's appointment takes effect in November. Until then, Michael Venter will continue in his role as interim CEO.

Optus will also have a new governance model to go with its new leader.

The new structure will see the CEO and senior executives report to the Optus Board. Rue will also become a member of the board, reporting to Optus chairman Paul O'Sullivan. Optus said that the board and management will work together to reset strategy and rebuild customer trust.

The new model also makes Optus more independent from Singtel, in line with the 'decentralised operating company-driven structure' it adopted in 2022.

"In today's uncertain economic environment, businesses need greater independence and agility to better navigate the market and we believe the new governance model will set the Optus management up for success and help Optus restore and cement its position as a leading player in the Australian telecommunications market," said Singtel CEO and Optus board member Yuen Kuan Moon.

"Optus has been part of the Singtel stable for two decades and remains a strategic long-term commitment," he said. "We are extremely excited to have Stephen, with his deep understanding of the industry and strong operational experience to take Optus forward."

As for NBN, it announced that CFO Philip Knox will become interim CEO until a permanent replacement is found.

Thanking Rue for his service, NBN chair Kate McKenzie said he fostered a culture of purpose, innovation, collaboration, and excellence, and delivered against challenging targets.

"Under his leadership, NBN completed the initial build of the network on time in December 2020; reached the milestone of connecting more than 8.5 million homes and businesses; and set the company on the next phase of its journey to become a fully operational customer focused company," she said.

"It has been an enormous privilege to work alongside a talented team dedicated to connecting Australians to high-quality broadband services across the country," added Rue.

"Our purpose has always been such a great source of pride and I am so proud of what the team at NBN has achieved, and will continue to achieve, in the future," he said.

Indeed, with all that he has achieved at NBN, and with the challenges facing him at Optus, let's hope he doesn't come to rue the day he decided to change jobs.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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