Leading questions: 2degrees boss Mark Aue on the right and wrong way to deal with Covid

2degrees moved to new building recently – and a new way of working, with many staff now spending only two or three days in the office post-pandemic. Chief executive Mark Aue looks back on a tumultuous 2020, and what’s in store for this year.

How would you describe 2020 for your business?

A year of unprecedented challenges. But looking back, I’m immensely proud of the team’s resiliency and unwavering commitment to our customers, while ensuring our networks didn’t skip a beat when they were even more critically needed.

Seeing our people move rapidly to flexible ways of working and thrive whether at home or in the office was a reminder of the special culture we have here.

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We’re all about “fighting for fairness” and last year was very unfair for a lot of people. The early decisions we made to remove broadband data caps and late payment fees during lockdowns and ending 2020 happy with small gifts were incredibly well-received. There are a lot of people who just want someone to recognise what they’ve been through.

Of course, none of that would have mattered if we hadn’t made earlier decisions to boost our broadband capability and mobile network coverage in urban, regional and remote areas.The $1 billion we’d invested in our network and significant expansion in 2020 meant we really had New Zealand covered.

How do you think the Government has handled the Covid-19 crisis?

The Government’s leadership and the community response has been quite humbling, especially when we look at how things are playing out overseas.

The fact we’ve all been able to travel around the country and have a summer holiday is something other countries can only dream about now.

As an essential service provider that works closely with Government, we found support and decision-making was clear and the lines of communication were always open.

What are two key things the Government should do for economic recovery?

Having created a sense of freedom, we need to manage the border relentlessly and find a responsible way to reopen it.

No one will be happier to see international travel restored than us – we’ve seen our international roaming revenues disappear – but I’d hate to see the economic momentum impacted by further lockdowns.

How is your business planning to tackle 2021?

We did a lot of planning in 2020 for 5G, so we’re looking forward to launching that later this year.

But our core business opportunities remain the same.Pre-Covid we were the fastest-growing home broadband provider in the country, and continuing to expand our share in mobile, with significant gains in the business market.

A lot of those smaller businesses are starting to realise the need for greater security when they have people working from home, so there’s a deeper discussion to have beyond just staying connected.

What will be the major challenges and/or opportunities for your industry?

Keeping it simple is a bit of both – we’re investing in new digital capability to make the customer experience better, and it’s an area we should lead in given we have the best customer service in the industry. The networks our industry provides have the potential to do so much more for communities and businesses, so we’ve got a job ahead of us to help people understand that and see that potential realised – we really are very lucky in New Zealand that we have a competitive industry that continues to invest in the networks customers need.

What was the most interesting non-Covid story of 2020?

Elections.Regardless of political biases, it was pleasing to see the orderly and professional outcome of the NZ election and our ability as a nation to move forward. In contrast watching the US election and fallout is completely terrifying.

What was your favourite binge-watch of 2020?

Schitts Creek – compelling watching, many laugh out loud moments that were sorely needed this year

Where are you holidaying this summer?

Errr NZ!Walking the Routeburn Track, and many a summers day spent with family on our beaches

What are your predictions for 2021?

We’d love to believe new year and completely different story.Unfortunately, I think we know there are likely to still be many challenges as we progress through this pandemic.However, I’m hopeful that rapid deployment of vaccinations and responsible reopening of borders will see us travelling again and start the rebuild of global markets.

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