Thoughts about my transition from Internode to NBNCo

Back on November 27th 2013, I found myself with a speaking role in a live performance event.

The event was called “Cutaway – a Ceremony“, and it was held at the home of the Vitalstatistix Theatre Company in historic Port Adelaide.

The over-arching theme was about ‘being a good ancestor’ – in other words, it was about the process of considering how each of us can choose to find their own way to leave society a little better through their efforts.

Cutaway - a ceremony

What it turned into, for me, was a reflection on the personal transition process from having spent more than two decades building up a small business in the Internet space to become quite a large one, and a reflection on the more recent step of transitioning myself out of that role and into a new one with NBNCo.

You can play the audio here: 

(…or download it here: Simon Hackett at Cutaway – A Ceremony)

One minor note about the audio recording – within it, you’ll hear me refer to Obi-Wan (Yes, as in Obi-Wan Kenobi!). The lead performers for the evening, at that rather wonderful live performance, had assumed the personas of various well known fictional figures. Obi-Wan was the MC for my little part of the evening :)

Here (below) is a transcript of that speech.

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It’s an interesting thing I was asked to come and talk about tonight, this whole notion of being an good ancestor is such a tremendously wide topic in the end. I think the way that we as human beings think about that is to bring it back to something specific in our own lives, and so that’s what I have decided to do.

In the process I’m going to tell you briefly a story about yesterday, today and tomorrow in my life and about how that’s given me some perspectives on the idea of being a good ancestor.

The longest unbroken single relationship in my life isn’t with a person, its with a company. The company that I started in May 1991 called Internode, as Obi-Wan mentioned.

And so I have a effectively known that creature longer than I’ve known any individual human being other than my parents; and one of the ways you can be a good ancestor in the modern world is in being involved with things like companies.

Companies, like buildings, like other things in our world are capable of living longer than people. So when we move beyond them as the people that started them (in my case), the thing you leave behind, the shape of the thing you leave behind is capable of being self-perpetuating through the people that follow behind you.

And it’s an interesting beast – companies have a personality, they have the shape, they have a feel to them that is somehow more physical than it almost deserves to be.

As has been suggested or has been mentioned, I’ve spent my business career through that company connecting people to this thing called the Internet. I became, in effect, a ‘high technology plumber’. And through that ‘plumbing’ I have found a lot of personal pleasure because I really like making people happy – and that turns out to be a way that I found that my particular skill-set allows me to make people happy.

I want to tell you a little bit about that past and about ironically something that has happening this very day. So I want to tell you that little bit about today and tomorrow.

And I don’t mean that in the abstract, I mean actually today, this day. As it turns out, by sheer co-incidence, this day is the last day that the company I started is actually paying me a salary. This is the last day of my being employed by the beastie I began.

So that notion of the company continuing beyond me is not a theoretical one for me, it’s a physical and actual one. And I’m sure at some point when that catches up with me, I’ll be a bit sad about it. It’s been a long relationship, and it’s not going to end, but it’s going to be a different relationship now because it’ll be somewhat from the outside, not the inside.

The reason I’ve done that is to do something that, for me, is very much about being a ‘good ancestor’. I got tapped on the shoulder a few weeks ago by a certain Malcolm Turnbull, who for some reason wanted the largest critic of government policy in building the next generation of broadband networks in Australia to become a part of fixing them!

iiNet Coffee Cam for the NBNCo roleSo, I got asked whether I’d be mad enough to join the board of the National Broadband Network Company, and tomorrow I’m on a plane to Sydney to start doing that job.

So, this moment, this evening, is precisely, for me, the cusp between the past and the future in that respect. And really quite big day for me personally.

Because I happen to be successful in business, and that for me was a sheer accident – I never did stuff for money, I did stuff for love – because I happen to be successful in business, I don’t need to work for a living in that way any more. So I’m doing that because I want to.

I’m doing that because I’m conceited enough to believe that twenty years of skills that I’ve learned in the past can be applied in the future to try to produce more social equity and that’s something that I happen to care about. This very abstract notion of hooking us all on the Internet is something I’m deeply involved with, obviously.

I happen to believe that that next big utility, that next big way of connecting to our homes and our businesses beyond power, water, gas and sewerage – that next set of ‘pipes’ – can be tremendously important to us if they are available to everyone, if they work properly, and if they cost the same for everyone. They’re actually things that have a social equity.

So I care a lot about that, and so I’m devoting the next few years of my life to trying to make that environment better, precisely in the hope that the National Broadband Network can be a part of the ‘ancestry’ of this country in its future, that’s a positive one for all of us. It lets us do new things in our future that weren’t possible in our past.

And I think as I get older I’ve found that more and more I want to do things in my life that are capable of leaving a trail behind me that is about more than just my own needs and more than just about what I want to do.

And that’s the challenge I give all of you – in a positive sense – we are all capable of finding these things around us in society, whether it’s helping a neighbour, whether it’s building a new thing, whether it’s just… whatever works for you, whatever plays to your own skill-sets and your own desires, it’s worth spending a little bit of time in your life doing something to leave a good result behind.

The one other thing I’ll mention in that context is I’m reminded of by this building, by the notion of this building being something that lives beyond it’s original owners.

I’m privileged to have been able to buy an old building in Kent Town a year or so ago that I’m turning into an office in which I’m going to start a new generation of people on starting their own companies. Building a thing called an incubator – that’s the modern phrase for it. A place where people can start their own companies up and hopefully have a chance of building things, as I’ve had the privilege of building things over the last twenty years.

It’s an old building – it’s a classic old Adelaide building – an 1865 heritage-listed bluestone building. And I’m putting a lot of resource into restoring that building. It needs re-pointing, it needs re-roofing, it needs a while lot of things. And I’m dead keen to do that, not because I’m going to live to see the result of that in the long term, so much as wanting to have that building last another few hundred years as it has lasted the last hundred. To actually have it there for my descendants to enjoy as a beautiful physical place, whatever new uses get put to it when I’m gone.

So there is a lot you can do to be a good ancestor, and I’m certainly enjoying exploring that in my life, and I hope that you’ll do that in your own.

Thanks!