Wild Geese: Michael Malone, iiNet, Western Australia
‘Ten Pound Pom’ child keeps Australia connected
Michael Malone: “We all lean towards the workaholic side of things. I suppose we have our dad to thank for that.”
Customer service has always been the cornerstone of Michael Malone’s business ethic, from the time he started digging ditches for his father’s fencing business as a teenager to his current position as chief executive of one of Australia’s largest internet service providers.
Malone left O’Callaghan’s Mills in Co Clare in 1974 at the age of eight, travelling to Perth with his parents and two brothers on an assisted migration programme known as the Ten Pound Pom scheme, which was designed to increase the Australian population in the aftermath of the second World War.
Malone’s father, an unskilled labourer, set up a fencing business from their new home, working 6½ days a week to make it a success. “It was very much a family operation, my mum in the trench with the kids at her side, and dad putting the fences up,” he recalls.
“There was no line between work and home growing up. Customers would be dropping in all the time to pay bills or get quotes, and the phone would be ringing through the night.”
His father’s hard-graft attitude towards running a company made an early impression on the young Malone and his two brothers, and all three now run their own businesses. “We all lean towards the workaholic side of things. I suppose we have our dad to thank for that,” he laughs.
While studying for a bachelor of science at the University of Western Australia, Malone was “inspired to be a teacher by a teacher”, and went on to complete a diploma in education. He approached his graduation in 1993 with every intention of working in a school, but began to panic about how he would cope without access to the internet, which he had become “obsessed” with but which was only available on university campuses at the time.
“It was about A$25,000 a year to get a 14kb dial-up link to the US, which I could never pay on a teacher’s salary,” he says. “I worked out that if I could get 200 customers to pay $25 a month, that would be enough to cover the costs. A few other uni graduates chipped in and told others.”
Malone moved out of his rental property and back in with his parents, so he could install enough phone lines in their garage to keep his internet operation, iiNet, going.
“Myself and my business partner lived hand-to-mouth for the first few years, but the company was growing as more people wanted to get connected,” he says.