Why the embattled Optus boss could probably use a long walk and a good book

The mass failure by the Optus communications network has turned the spotlight not just on the hapless company, but also the woman leading it,  writes Madonna King

Nov 09, 2023, updated Nov 09, 2023
Optus Chief Executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin. (Image: Melbourne Business School)

Optus Chief Executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin. (Image: Melbourne Business School)

Before penning this, I tried and tried to excuse Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, the hapless CEO of Optus who yesterday had to resort to using WhatsApp to explain publicly how the telco she led had been plunged into a second crisis in 13 months.

But as the day wore on, any sympathy was drowned out by the stories of some of the 10 million odd customers who had lost both their phone and internet connections.

Children who could not contact parents. Patients who had to forgo Telehealth appointments, small businesses who had to close up shop. Crises popping up across education and health and technology industries, across the public and private sectors, as Optus users tried to work despite the telco’s failure.

And then it got worse. Optus customers were advised that if they needed to call emergency services, they should try and find a family member or neighbour with an alternative device.

That’s right. A choking child, and Optus wants you to pop around the corner to a friend’s place, who might not use Optus, to call the ambulance.

Perhaps the same advice would be just as relevant to anyone worried about a home invasion or a car jacking or an armed hold up even. Just find someone who doesn’t use Optus, and get them to call the police!

Oh, and landlines couldn’t be used to make emergency calls. That was just not possible. But no worries, because the Optus CEO told us that the telco had “messages on our website” – until it was pointed out that customers didn’t have online access because of the outage!

Of course this advice was given hours and hours after Optus crashed and the government was chasing Bayer Rosmarin, who eventually used WhatsApp to tell us she was alive and well – but didn’t know anything.

The root cause of the problem was unknown. “Unfortunately, I don’t have more information to give at this stage. We have had issues since 4am,’’ she said.

She wasn’t the only one, with shift workers and early starters already contacting radio stations saying they could not access Optus services. And while Bayer Rosmarin said her team had tried restoring services, “so far we have not had the results that we have hoped for’’.

This is only just over a year after almost 10 million Optus customers had their personal information stolen when he company’s data system was breached.

It appears some of us are too ready to give second chances.

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But Bayer Rosmarin – whether she is accident-prone or just plain unlucky – has already had more than enough chances. Remember the photos of her off in the country walking her dog during the breach of personal information?

Timing can be cruel, but as Bayer Rosmarin’s public I-Don’t-Knows were broadcast around the nation, former chair and CEO of the Dow Chemical Company Andrew Liveris was entertaining a Brisbane audience with stories, drawn from his new book Leading Through Disruption.

In that tome, drawn from his decades at the centre of business and government, Liveris laments a leadership vacuum (including across government) and calls for a new leadership paradigm to deal with a new world.

I asked the President of the Board of the Brisbane Organising Committing for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games what advice he had for Bayer Rosmarin.

He doesn’t know her, but made a mighty good point. A leader should always have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C. And one needed to seamlessly meld into the other in any crisis, which all CEOs faced at some point.

Almost 24 hours after the Optus outage, we are still clueless – as is Bayer Rosmarin, it seems – about the cause of the outage. Plan A – a telco system that worked – failed. So why wasn’t there a Plan B and a Plan C; a plan for customers to be able to contact emergency services or a plan for Optus to be able to broadcast messages or updates to customers?

In the end, all the Optus CEO leader could do was apologise. And sometimes, like this time, sorry just won’t cut the mustard.

Bayer Rosmarin might soon find herself with more time to take her dog for a walk.


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