‘How is it that Australia could see she wasn’t crisis ready, but the board missed it?’: PR crisis experts weigh in on Bayer Rosmarin’s Optus exit

Optus CEO Kelly Bayer Rosmarin followed inexcusable inaction with a defensive Senate appearance, then a swift resignation on Monday.

It’s been quite a month for Optus – less than a fortnight after the country was left reeling from the largest infrastructure failure in our country’s history (aside from Olympic Park station) the telco now finds itself in reparation mode, chief-less and with its next-most public leader currently fighting to clear her name of corruption charges.

As we do when a massive Australian company (at least on the surface of things) stutters and splutters, we ask the PR crisis experts for their reactions. Was Bayer Rosmarin’s resignation the correct move? Who should Optus put in the top spot next? Does it even matter who they choose? Let’s find out, shall we?

Peter Wilkinson, crisis expert and chair of Wilkinson Butler

When you get to be top dog, you are expected to know how to compensate for your weaknesses. Bayer Rosmarin, doubtless with skills, but dismally weak at crisis and as spokesperson, failed in that.

How is it that all of Australia could see Bayer Rosmarin was not crisis-ready, and not a good spokesperson, and the board missed it? They had a year after the first calamity to prepare for this outage, plus put in measures to compensate for her shortcomings.

This begs searching questions about the actual role of the board’s Risk and Sustainability Committee, compared to the bold assertions in the policy docs. In the last 12 months, where were the committee’s chair, Teo Swee Lian, and the Australian member, John Arthur?

Note to the wannabe next CEO: It’s a tough gig. being good at a crisis and being a spokesperson does not mean you have the full kitbag of skills to run a hugely complex telco.

Benjamin Haslem, director of media and public affairs, Icon Reputation

Bayer Rosmarin’s resignation provides Optus with an opportunity for a reset and attempt to regain consumer trust.

Stopping the bleeding from a major crisis often requires someone to take the fall – the more senior and the quicker the better. The cumulative effect of last September’s cyber breach, this total outage of the system, and the CEO’s ham-fisted media responses to both, made her position untenable.

Given the complete organisational failure of Optus during the recent outage, parent company Singtel should look for a replacement from outside the company – QANTAS was criticised recently for replacing its CEO Alan Joyce with its CFO, Vanessa Hudson.

Optus needs a highly credentialed telco executive to fill the role. It will be tempting to bring in someone from overseas, who can be positioned as bringing fresh ideas and a new set of eyes. However, the Australian telecommunications market is unusual, with a relatively small customer base and unique challenges posed by a widely dispersed population.

Optus executive and former NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has been cited as a replacement for Bayer Rosmarin but a finding of corruption by the ICAC (she is appealing the decision) and a lack of telco and corporate management experience should rule her out.

Whoever gets the gig will need to move fast. Optus customers can easily switch telephone and internet providers, so the new CEO needs to convince them to stay.

Bayer Rosmarin was against compensating customers, another misstep. Her successor can differentiate themself by offering existing customers sweeteners such as a free month’s mobile and internet coverage, cut-price smart phones or higher internet speeds.

Optus should announce a root and branch review of operations with the objective of ensuring the 8 November outage is never repeated. If other heads must roll then any dismissals should be swift and very public.

Bayer Rosmarin’s resignation can hardly come as a shock, so woeful were the company’s and her communication efforts in the first few hours of the crisis. This was only compounded by it coming so soon after the 2022 data breach.

Bayer Rosmarin’s appearance before a Federal Parliamentary committee last week was the final straw, adding to perceptions of poor leadership and internal chaos

Her admission that Optus had no plan to combat a catastrophic nationwide outage and concession that was in the dark on its extent until more than 3½ hours after the network collapsed, were inexcusable.

She also blamed parent company Singtel for the outage, only for Singtel to deny the charge. Blaming your boss rarely goes well, publicly or professionally – from then it was just a question of negotiating the exit package, and bringing in a fresh face to clean up the mess.

Stephen Ellis, director of growth and strategy, at Lush – The Content Agency

Customers don’t care who the CEO is. The departure of a chief executive under these circumstances is largely symbolic. Symbolic actions might please politicians or Singtel shareholders but are meaningless to people who just want Optus to provide a high-quality and reliable service.

I expect most Optus customers don’t care who leads the business. They want to trust that Optus can deliver upon its promise of great network coverage and provide a first-class customer experience.

The Singtel board would have been better to embrace Optus’ essence of optimism by saying yes to meaningful change and no to Bayer Rosmarin’s resignation. Accepting  Bayer Rosmarin’s resignation feels incongruent with their brand, making it feel more hollow and less believable.

Optus can absolutely rebuild trust in its brand. It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen if they address their issues with network reliability and double down on providing a remarkable customer experience.

Optus will rebuild trust in its brand by addressing its issues with network reliability and doubling down on providing a remarkable customer experience. If in doubt, Optus can always call Telstra to ask how they did it a decade or so ago.

It’s not sexy, but what happened to risk management? Optus’ response looked like they were completely unprepared for a catastrophic outage. Yet, one expects to see something like this in Optus’ risk matrix, which the board owns.

Even if it’s unlikely, a catastrophic outage’s potential material and reputation damage warrants a response plan. If Optus did not have a response plan, then Optus might have bigger issues that a change in CEO is unlikely to solve.


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