After three years, Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie is stepping down. She spoke to Bill Bennett about her job shepherding Chorus through its change from network builder to helping customers get the most of out of the fibre network

Outgoing Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie joined the company three years ago at a time when it began switching its focus from building the fibre network to a more operational role. It’s been a time of change and one that called for a refresh of the company’s culture to reflect its new priorities.

She says: “The culture needed to evolve to become more market-oriented and to be more commercial. We wanted people to start thinking about the future of the fibre network and what we could do with it now it is built. This thinking doesn’t happen by magic, it takes work and effort.

“I’ve put a lot of time into the vision. We’ve recast our values. We have refreshed our capability-set to make sure we have people who are good at data analytics and who understand what’s happening to customers. Our people are getting out and about and talking to retail service providers to see what else they would be interested in buying from us. These things were not part of the landscape when I arrived because the company wasn’t in that phase.”

McKenzie acknowledges Chorus has long had a proud and engaged workforce. That was clear when she arrived. Yet, the switch of focus means the company had to face a different set of challenges from those of its early years. She says her proudest achievement as CEO has been to get the business fit to face yet another set of challenges that will arrive over the next three years or so. She says the business is now change-ready.

Innovation is part of this. Chorus may be operating along the lines of a utility as far as the regulations governing its operation are concerned, but this doesn’t mean it has to fall into a defensive mindset. During her first year with the company McKenzie worked to embed innovation in the organisation’s culture.

She says: “We’ve experimented with innovation. The act of putting it on the agenda is an important part of changing the culture. It’s about orienting people to think about what else is going on out there that’s an opportunity. We’ve had some good innovation experiments.

“It got us thinking about 4K TV and what will happen to broadcast technologies. And we did some great work with Wi-Fi and schools, using Wi-Fi to extend the school fibre footprint. We’re now pointing some of this activity back and turning the ideas into new products and services.”

Chorus has changed its innovation role and it now falls under chief customer officer Ed Hyde’s remit. He is presently looking at how to make these ideas relevant to customers in the immediate future. This includes ideas like rolling out 10GPON technology to power a 10Gbps broadband service. Also on the agenda is a future-product roadmap for the fibre network and smart locations, which means connecting things that are not buildings to fibre.

MANAGING CUSTOMERS BETTER

McKenzie’s other big project as the company moved from one era to another was to work on improving the customer experience. Overall customer satisfaction has increased during her time.

A lot of this is down to improvements in the way installs are handled. She says: “We have made some dramatic changes to the way the installation process works. It used to be three visits. Now it is one for about 75 percent of the installs.

“It would have been hard to do this at the beginning when we weren’t sure about the demand. Now we’re confident about the demand we can do it this way.

“We’re part of a broader ecosystem. There is us, the various service companies, the retail service providers and the end-customer. That’s really important because it used to be a battle over who was in control of managing the customer experience. Now we know that’s something for all of us to manage.”