Spark chief financial officer David Chalmers jokes that he has a history as something of a “Black Widow”.
He enjoyed unexpected elevation from CFO to interim chief executive in Melbourne at iSelect, an ASX-listed comparison website. Two years later in 2016 media history repeated while Chalmers was CFO at MediaWorks when Mark Weldon exited suddenly.
Now four years after joining iSelect, Chalmers is on the top management rung at Spark, the dominant New Zealand telco with a market capitalisation of $NZ6.84 billion.
When he arrived at Spark he pointed out the danger to chief executive Simon Moutter, arguably the highest-profile CEO in the country and someone who saw the joke.
After a five-month stint as iSelect interim CEO and some gardening leave, Chalmers considered CFO roles in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. It was no harder moving to Auckland than Sydney. Besides, his father was a Kiwi and he spent his first few weeks living in Palmerston North before emigrating to Melbourne. Over the years he spent a lot of time in Auckland visiting family.
He has risen through the ranks quickly in New Zealand. Three years after joining iSelect from a financing executive role at Macquarie Bank, he is in a high-profile role. Local business leaders say that his experience at MediaWorks would have appealed to Spark CEO Simon Moutter.
Spark is pushing harder into content and media with its own subscription video-on-demand service called Lightbox. So his experience with content – and even his background leading a website based company – will be useful.
MediaWorks is owned by US private equity firm Oaktree Capital. He saw at close range what amounted to a coup against Weldon – albeit one he was not involved in.
Former executives say Chalmers was always seen as allied to Weldon, who hired him as CFO. He also stands by Weldon as a businessman and his focus on making innovative change. The upshot was that he was the obvious choice as acting CEO – albeit for just two months.
At MediaWorks Chalmers is a good manager and staff credited him with restored calm in what had become a troubled workplace, especially in the newsroom.
Given his rapid progress, his sideline interest in a watch company seems apt. After leaving iSelect and after before joining MediaWorks he and three others formed Time + Tide, a luxury watch website, a sideline business where he is still a director and which he sometimes advises. He collects watches. But he stresses it is a hobby that sometimes sees him spending a weekend poring over inner workings of a top-end Tag Heuer.