Greg Bader describes his entry as chief technology officer at iiNet as becoming a "big fish in a small pond", but a quick look at his past shows exactly that. After ten years in the army, he spent the next ten years building a respectable career in communications, working in network deployment for Optus and subsequently at three of the biggest network engineering companies - Nokia, Lucent and Ericsson.
Now a head honcho at one of Australia's most customer-oriented service providers - and now the second largest ADSL2+ provider - Bader talks to Computerworld Australia about iiNet's fierce vision and the changing landscape of telecommunications.
You served in the RAAF for ten years as sergeant. What was your role there and do you feel it gave any rise to your subsequent career in IT?
It was a interesting start. I finished Yr12 up north in Western Australia and had the choice of University or the RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force). Being young (and a bit silly), I joined the RAAF.
It was a fantastic experience and a great learning environment – as you can imagine, you grow up pretty quickly in the military and the training was great. That said, as you get older and more experienced, the rewards (salary, opportunity) tend to lose pace compared to the private sector and the moving around can become an issue once you have kids.
There used to be a time when employees looked for people with military experience in the technician area. I do think it helped me land a job but, more than that, it also taught me to be a little independent when required and also a team player when needed.
I have a very strong work ethic; I'm not sure if that is a military thing or Aussie in general, probably both.
You've also worked quite a bit in network deployment or the back office staff, but as Michael Malone said, 81 per cent of iiNet's staff are in customer service. Do you find much difference working at the ISP to other companies you have worked for in the past?
Very much so. iiNet is a very specific culture and you either love it or leave. I don’t mean that to sound harsh but we have a dream/plan of what it takes to succeed and everyone in this organisation needs to be firing in the same direction for us to achieve our goals. So yes, customer service is our number one target.
I like to think of the corporate staff (back office) as the support group to our people on the front lines (in the call centres, the toughest job in the company).
There seems to be a growing dichotomy amongst service providers of changes in business models from simply providing Internet access to content delivery and other extras added onto plans. Do you think the two go hand in hand, or is there a natural predisposition for companies to side one way or the other?
You can look at this a couple of ways – from a technology point of view we have increased our capabilities so that we can offer other products that compliment traditional internet access (Voice, Mail, IPTV etc). Another angle is that we think that we can offer these things better than the competition, so we do.
Broadband is becoming a commodity so there is a natural move to services that people can use over their connection – if we maintain a strong service culture and a brand that reflects that – then people will come to us for these services.
It's very much a moving target and we intend to stay at the front. Passion is what we are about (and maybe a little bit of arrogance on the way through).
I honestly believe that Australian consumers are better off today because iiNet exists, I don’t mean just our customers but I mean everyone in general. We were the first to roll out national ADSL2+; this forced a change in the market with lower prices and increased speeds. We were the first to introduce flat rate billing (shaping instead of excess usage), we run the largest VoIP network in the country and our “iiTalk” packs giving people unlimited local/national calls was another first on that scale. Most recently we introduced IPTV. It's early days yet but this product is going to change the way people consume TV.
In short – we get out of bed and come to work because we are “changing the world” and that’s a pretty bloody powerful message to staff.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in IT during your career?
I have generally got by on referral from one job to another. iiNet was the first interview I had had for many years.
I am pretty ambitious so after leaving the military I always felt that my qualifications would need some boosting at some point to hit the senior ranks. Took me a while but I did go back to school.
Do you feel was most of your IT knowledge gained through self-experience, or did you align yourself with mentors to get that knowledge?
Mostly through direct experience – I certainly have mentors but these tend to be the people I work with. The current executive at iiNet is a great example, we all have different strengths and weaknesses and being a close and social team we can be very open with our feedback to each other. I have a saying: “You will never die wondering what someone at iiNet is thinking".
For aspiring IT workers looking to get into the field or move up the career leader, what are your suggestions? Can someone gain the requisite knowledge to get ahead on similar terms to yourself, or is university and/or course education required?
Education is certainly important – it gives you the theory and to be honest, gets you through the culling process
But when I interview I am looking for attitude and passion. I have no interest in working in a “beige” company - we go out of our way to employ a very diverse group of people.
In terms of getting a start (coming from an old bugger):
- Be true to yourself (don’t act, bloody hard to do that 9-5 forever)
- Be passionate (I know you are supposed to think with your head, but I tell you – leading with your heart is needed some of the time)
- Be confident but not cocky
- If you say you are going to do something, do it
- Be accountable and take responsibility
- Don’t be afraid to change jobs, when you are young – take a risk
Are there any specific ways to really stand out from the crowd?
The challenge is to stand out in a positive sense.
I have over 150 staff that work for me (and we have over 2000) in our company. In my team I reckon I would have about 30 people that I call my “hand grenade guys” (not just guys, military analogy that they would dive on a hand grenade to protect their mates). This sort of person can be at any level in the company and in any discipline (engineer, marketing, call centre) – these are the people that are passionate about our company and the people they work with. Of course they are the ones that work extra hours etc. but more importantly these are the ones that you see at every staff function, genuinely happy to be there and mixing it up. These are the ones that love change and are first to put their hand up when asked, they respect “rank” but believe it is no boundary to getting things done – they do not have an ounce of “self promotion” in them, they live and breathe to improve this business
In short – these are the people that for them, iiNet is a lifestyle not a job. These are our keepers and the ones that will rise to the top.