From Telecom to Infratil

Q and A interview the head of technology at Infratil Rhoda (Holmes) Phillippo

In 1999 Rhoda (Holmes) Phillippo was working for British Telecom, running services in south East England, when she put her hand up for an overseas posting. Sent to Korea, two weeks later she received a call and was told that BT had acquired Clear Communications and the company would like her to move to New Zealand. In talks to Sarah Putt about her career in Kiwi IT.

What was your role at Clear Communications when you moved to NZ?

The job was Alliance Director. We (BT) literally had a 25 percent business and mobile was what we were into in Asia Pacific. So we ended with a 100 percent holding (in Clear) during a time when BT wasn’t really trying to get on top of what its mobile strategy was globally.

I spent the first 18 months of my time in NZ writing about 39 versions of a business case for a third mobile network. The other thing I did was sit down with Theresa Gattung and her team at Telecom and negotiated an interconnect agreement between Clear and Telecom.That was a breakthrough negotiation, it was something that nobody had been able to do, all sides had been engaged in legal battles for years and it was a bit of a turning point. Then BT decided that they were going to sell out of New Zealand which eventuated with them selling Clear to Telstra.

What did you do?

I didn’t want to go back to the UK, I’d only been here just over a year. During all those discussions with Telecom I had ended up stumbling across Jack Matthews, who at that time was chief executive of the newly merged TelstraSaturn and Jack offered me a role.

So my first New Zealand-paid job was with Telstra Saturn as the chief operating officer and I had such fun for nine months before Telstra and Clear was finally put together and we were all made redundant on the TelstraSaturn team. That was a little bit scary. But Theresa [Gattung] got in touch and said: ‘I enjoyed working with you when we had our negotiation, admired your style, would you be interested in joining Telecom?’

So I literally moved out of one into the other and joined Telecom in 2002. I took the role of head of networks, working for Simon Moutter and the day after I joined there was a huge restructuring. Simon became head of New Zealand and my role broadened to look after fixed and mobile networks, the strategy and chief technology teams, and the Alcatel outsourcing relationship.

How long were you with Telecom?

My career with Telecom was from 2002 to 2008 and during that time I ran the networks team, I spent nearly four years in Australia running customer service for AAPT, and then latterly the role managing the re-win of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia account for Telecom and then managing Gen-i in Australia and then the top 30 trans-Tasman customers.

I was head of Gen-i Australia and Chris Quin was head of Gen-i NZ and the two businesses worked really closely together because they were so different.

Then Paul Reynolds joined, Simon left, and the decision was made that there was going to be one Gen-i job and I decided to go because I’d lost a little bit of faith in whether they really were serious about the top customers. CBA was a challenging and difficult customer, it was enormous, but I loved that and I believed that was what was truly going to take Telecom forward in terms of understanding big business customers.

I was offered another job in Telecom by Paul Reynolds, a job on his executive and I said no.

The next role was with Optimation?

I took the job as CEO of Optimation, a privately owned tier two ICT player. An interesting company, it had been run by the owner (Neil Butler) up until that point which I knew was going to be a challenge, because you are, to all intense and purposes, managing somebody’s personal family cheque book for them.

I knew that it would either work really, really well, or it wouldn’t. Because the trust and the working alongside each other and the complete alignment on things to work in that sort of way has to be fairly special. I enjoyed my year there, did a lot of work writing what might be the consolidation strategy for those tier two players in the market. It was a good time to be in that market if you had the appetite and the focus for how you might add some of the companies together - instead of 19 of us taking $15m out of the market, we could take more. But it didn’t work for the owner and we parted ways in 2009. He brought his brother on board.

Didn't you get the Vodafone contract?

We won some great business when I was at Optimation. We won the Vodafone testing contract. I think that contract still stands, it probably changes with Vodafone insourcing a lot of things from IBM at the moment.

The other thing I did while I was there was the SAP re-implementation for the Department of Corrections. You talk about challenging projects – Satyam, India’s fourth-biggest IT company, were our Indian outsource partner (Satyam were involved in a massive fraud scandal a few months into the contract).

Managing the Optimation team through the nuances of the financial exposure at every point along the way called on every skill that I’d learned in a bigger organisation - without the support network that you tend to have in the bigger organisation, where you have teams of lawyers and commercial people and accountants to help you through all of that. But that project was successfully implemented before I left. I have a lot of strong relationships with people who were at Corrections at that time as a result of how I managed through that.

What next?

I left there and then thought I’ll set up my own company (Raghnall). Then I worked with Mike Bennetts (Z Energy, which is owned by Infratil) before we signed the deal to buy Shell. It was signed in April 2010, so it was six months to plan how we were going to transition it and I worked inside what was Greenstone Energy and is now Z Energy managing that transition for them for the next year. And then when that finished Lloyd Morrison (then owner of Infratil) said would you come and joining the team, so I took a permanent role on that basis. I permanently joined them in August last year.

I’m also on the Kordia board of directors and I have a strategic advisor role for a company called Wired over in Australia, which is a telco project consulting company.

What's your role at Infratil?

We don’t have job titles here, its one of the things I love about the company, so I'll tell you what I do. I’m responsible for all technology issues for the group and that’s both HRL Morrison (the company that owns Infratil) technology environment but also running a forum across the Infratil group of companies, with all of the CIOs in our group. This includes Z Energy, Trust Power, Wellington Airport, Snapper (which Phillippo is also chair of), Lumo Energy and NZ Bus. We’re quite a big buyer collectively of IT and technology services in New Zealand.

So you're in charge of group IT buying?

We’ve done some very successful group buying now, saving six-figure digits on what we would have bought individually. A lot of that started around the fact that Z Energy almost needed to start again as has been massively covered. I run forum with all the CIOs in the group.

We’ve (the group) a strong interest in Business Intelligence, and have actually focused one of our CIO forums on that because Loyalty NZ is part of the family with Z Energy’s 25 percent shareholding in that. They have great skills in data mining and data management.

Just recently our focus was on programme and project management. It was how were people setting up major programme offices, what tools and techniques were they using and how were they benchmarking and measuring the value that their business technology team was bringing to the organisation.

Tommorrow, Rhoda Phillippo looks at cloud adoption at Infratil and discusses the future of Kordia.

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