New Chorus boss Kate McKenzie didn't plan it that way, but her CV reads as though it was custom designed to lead a company like Chorus.

She has a law degree, experience in government, heading the regulation of telco infrastructure, and a stellar career with Australia's Telstra, heading innovation and strategy and finishing up as chief operating officer.

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"Telco is in my blood," says the boss of the former Telecom division that maintains the country's ageing copper wire telephone network, as well building the biggest chunk of the new ultrafast broadband fibre network.


Born in Melbourne, McKenzie was attracted across the Tasman by what she describes as an excellent industry model and the chance to be involved in the rollout of New Zealand's ultra-fast broadband network.

It's a rollout which puts Chorus into contact with hundreds of thousands of New Zealand households - and occasionally, into conflict with some of them.

Last year a series of disgruntled customers created some issues for Chorus. It had problems with the copper network and wet winter weather, and issues with new fibre installations.

"We're still not perfect; we'd like to be perfect and we still have a very big focus on the customer experience," says McKenzie, who started with Chorus in February.

She isn't shy about acknowledging the problems Chorus has had, while also pointing to the scale of the job and the progress that's been made.

Chorus has trained its crews better, improved quality standards, planned better for winter, and "so far it's going well ... we never get it perfectly right".

"It's still relatively painful, just the nature of the installation experience, you have to dig up the ground and do fairly basic things," she says. "We're connecting a new fibre service every minute so that gives you some idea of the scale of it. Compared to where we were a year ago, there has been quite a lot of progress."

On the UFB installation, the proportion of jobs rescheduled because Chorus couldn't meet the date it committed to has fallen from 14 per cent to 4 per cent.


Lead times - how quickly you can get fibre installed, from the day the retail service provider (Spark, Vodafone, Orcon etc) sends through the order - have been reduced from 20 to 11 days.

The scale of the fibre rollout is impressive.

Chorus and the other smaller fibre providers will soon have something like 85 per cent of New Zealand's population wired for ultrafast broadband, if they want it.

Some 526,000 properties are now able to connect to broadband, which means 708,000 potential connections when you count flats and apartments.

I've had to learn about Chocolate Fish as part of the reward and recognition system ... and Pineapple Lumps.

Of that, 243,000 - about 34 per cent of the potential connections - have connected.

In fact as - as Chorus' communications chief points out after the interview - that's likely to be the highest take-up rate in the world. "We've either been one or two in the OECD for the last couple of years," he says.

It's a something, says McKenzie, that New Zealand has got very right.

"The model here is good, the Government should really be congratulated for coming up with a great efficient way of doing it," she says.

"It's been done a pretty affordable and efficient way. Having a publicly listed company with all the market discipline that comes with that has been a great way of doing it."

She even approves of the shared infrastructure approach. There are five infrastructure companies involved but the balance between co-operation and competition has been about right, she says.

With the big infrastructure job almost done, it does beg the question: what next?

Does Chorus just sit back and clip the UFB ticket?

"In this industry you're never done," McKenzie says.

"Technology shifts happen pretty regularly, say every five years or so; what does the next set of share infrastructure look like? We're headed for a 5G world. People are already starting to talk about the internet of things ... so we're starting to think about where Chorus can play a role. Where it makes some sense to have some share infrastructure and platforms for the next wave of technologies."

Of course, most consumers aren't necessarily interested in the underlying technology, she acknowledges.

So Chorus has begun to get more involved with talking to consumers about the potential of broadband - it recently launched an ad campaign called "Ask for Better".

"That's about us having a role to play explaining to people that they can get a much better service than they've got now. Our estimate is there are about one million kiwis who could be getting better broadband," McKenzie says.

Meanwhile, she says she is loving adapting to New Zealand life.

"I'm very interested in Maori culture, which is very different to indigenous Australian culture," she says.

On the business front, she's been struck by the whole concept of "NZ Inc".

"At practically any business leaders' forum you go to, people will talk about what's in the interests of New Zealand. Maybe that's the advantage of being a small country, you have to actually band together to get things done so it's a slightly more co-operative culture."

Beyond that, the two countries can seem similar, but McKenzie says she's noticed some "very subtle differences".

"I've had to learn about Chocolate Fish as part of the reward and recognition system ... and Pineapple Lumps," she says.

Kate McKenzie

Job: Chorus CEO
From: Melbourne, Australia
Education: Sydney University
Lives: Auckland New Zealand
Family: Married with two adult children
Previous jobs:NSW Government Department of Commerce CEO, COO Telstra
Last book read: Tangata Whenua: A History
Last movie: Fences