Not everyone transforms the business they go into, but journalist-turned-news executive Lee Casey who died last week at the age of 78, did that to an extraordinary degree.
In December 2000, Telecom New Zealand completed a $NZ2 billion takeover of AAPT, the third-biggest telecommunications company in Australia.
AAPT had been conceived a little over a decade earlier when Mr Casey, then AAP chief executive, and some senior executives, sketched out the idea for a new telecommunications and data company that could challenge the national carrier, Telecom (now Telstra).
It was daring and bold in scope. Editor-in-chief to Mr Casey from 1982 to 1990, Barry Wheeler, tells of how the AAP board reacted when presented with the AAPT proposal.
“One of them said ‘you’re going for the pot with a pair of twos’, and we did,” Mr Wheeler said.
“He had nerves of steel.”
Mr Wheeler, who oversaw the development of AAPT from 1990, said Mr Casey left two great business legacies: the transformation of AAP into a truly national news agency and the creation AAPT.
“In my experience he was always the smartest guy in the room,” Mr Wheeler said.
Mr Casey started as a cadet journalist at the former Australian United Press in Melbourne in 1954 and went on to work at the Telegraph in Brisbane, the ABC and Brisbane TV station BTQ7 before heading overseas.
He worked with NBC International in Lagos, and with news agency Reuters in London, Hong Kong, and Tokyo before taking on the role of managing director for North America.
He returned to Australia in 1975 and took over as general manager of AAP in 1977, progressing to chief executive in 1983.
AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson said Mr Casey was remembered as one of AAP’s most successful CEOs.
“In a tenure that spanned 22 years, Lee took advantage of the new technologies of the time to modernise the way in which the agency created and delivered content,” Mr Davidson said.
“But perhaps Lee’s most enduring legacy was the establishment of AAPT. Launching a telecommunications operation was a brave move, and one that ultimately proved a financial success by returning a massive windfall to AAP’s shareholders.”
Mr Casey became chairman in 1995, becoming the first person to hold the dual title of chairman and CEO and continuing until his retirement in 1999.
AAP editor-in-chief from 1996 to 2003 Tony Vermeer said Mr Casey had great vision and energy to match.
“He was one of those far-reaching CEOs who came up with ideas and infected everyone with the enthusiasm to get things done,” he said.
Mr Casey is survived by his wife, Chris, daughters Leah and Catherine, and grandchildren Jordan, Benjamin and Amelie.
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