Telecommunications runs in the blood of the new country manager of Bluesky Phillip Henderson.
The born and bred Kuki has returned to Rarotonga to take the helm of the country’s only telecommunications company – and he’s got his work cut out for him.
But like many Cook Islanders, Henderson has an air of ease about him, ready to tackle the many, and often highly technical challenges thrown his way.
Born in Rarotonga, Henderson and his siblings were immersed in their culture growing up.
After attending Tereora College, he completed his seventh form year at Otago Boys’ High School, before returning to Rarotonga to take up at a job at newly-established company Cable and Wireless.
“I was ready to come home.”
Henderson became an engineer technician and was trained in the UK by Cable and Wireless, before becoming a branch engineer.
He stayed with the company until 1990, when the government terminated Cable and Wirelesses’ contract and formed Telecom Cook Islands, of which Henderson became general manager.
“Those were exciting years because that was when Telecom decided to build to the outer islands.”
This included building nine satellite stations to the Pa Enua, sparking stronger connectivity between Cook Islanders.
Then in 2005 Henderson took a punt and moved to New Zealand with his wife and three children.
“We went for the kids; they were approaching secondary school and we wanted to give them the best opportunity.”
Henderson landed on his feet, and took up a job as a senior project manager for Alcatel-Lucent.
“I got thrown into the deep end of rolling out some pretty significant projects.”
Then using his understanding of the Pacific, Henderson became the project manager for Alcatel deals in the Pacific Islands including Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and Kiribati.
Henderson said it was important to know the difference when operating in Pacific environments.
“Basically when you design in an enviroment like New Zealand, the enviroment is not harsh… but in Vanuatu, they’ve got every known natural disaster you can think of.
“You can’t just take a cookie-cutter approach – you’ve got to cater it.”
And it was during this work that Henderson met Bluesky Pacific Group chief executive officer Adolfo Montenegro, who was looking for a new country manager for the Cook Islands.
Henderson liked Montenegro’s vision and was keen to return home, taking up the position in August.
“In my opinion this is the first overseas company that has come into the country and offered a share of the business,” said Henderson.
“I can’t think of any other enterprise that’s done that… because I know Cook Islanders can do the job they’ve got the competency and it was about time they were given the opportunity to be able to invest and get some of those benefits.”
Henderson said the role had been different to his other work, and he was determined to focus on customer service first and foremost.
“We’ve got to deliver what the customer needs, not just what the technician thinks they want.”
With government still holding a 40 per cent share of the business, Henderson said the company maintains a “very healthy” relationship with government.
And he even has to work closely with his brother, who happens to be the new Financial Secretary, Garth Henderson.
Asked about recent talk of changing legislation to deregulate the telecommunications market, effectively taking away Bluesky’s monopoly in the country, Henderson said the Cook Islands government needed to be cautious
“If they look at the current operating model and the figures Bluesky is delivering, they need to tread carefully.”
But Henderson has his eyes on other objectives, such as bringing the best and brightest young under his company’s wing.
“One of the first things we started up was an internship programme. I really wanted to attract the best and brightest.”
Bluesky currently has five interns, and Henderson is not ruling out providing future scholarships.
“It’s not outside the bounds of our plans to organise scholarships – if you want the best talent you’ve got to pay for it.”
Henderson said he was fortunate to be able to go away from the Cook Islands for 10 years before returning with a fresh perspective.
“I wouldn’t be the right person for the job if I hadn’t left.”
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