Admiral Chris Barrie was appointed chief of the Australian Defence Force in 1998. A navigation sub-specialist, he also has a bachelor of arts degree (with a special focus on international relations and politics) and a master of business administration. Admiral Barrie is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management
AIM: What is your managerial approach to the military?
Barrie: My approach is to get the right people into the right jobs and then leave them to get on with the tasks at hand. I have a clear focus on succession planning. I have communicated to all my senior people how they stand in the order of things, what the expectations of them are and how the system works. My vision is to secure the defence force’s reputation, to eliminate those things that harmed our reputation and to get some good stories about the defence force out into the community.
AIM: What parallels are there between business and the military?
Barrie: Strategic leadership issues are the same in any organisation. The military’s business by and large does not change: our core business is using armed force. There’s a whole range of processes and structures and hierarchies we use to do that, but that does not stand in the way of good business sense.
As people progress in their careers in the military, we constantly re-examine their qualifications and their education. They have to be up to contemporary standards.
One big issue for armed forces in the 21st century will be dealing with guerrilla movements, and the new demands the world community is going to place on the forces. These are the sorts of questions business needs to ask itself. Is what we were doing 10 years ago still relevant? If not, we should change.
AIM: What prompted you to take a master of business administration?
Barrie: In the mid-80s, I could see that business was being transformed. I thought I could learn a lot from getting an MBA because the military in peacetime has got to be run like a business. I think the attitude that, in peacetime all the military has to do is to continue to say Were warriors, just pay for us, is irresponsible. From my study of history I think that is why, in 1939, our defence forces were run down. That was a strong lesson for me on how important business principles are in managing a peacetime military outfit.
AIM: Military leaders traditionally have had little business orientation. Is this changing?
Barrie: We are in the process of putting all our military through a company-director course. That is just an example of what we are doing.
AIM: Is the military bogged down with procedures that don’t match its long-term goals?
Barrie: The military has a strong sense of tradition. Provided it is not out of control, tradition is a good thing, as it is valuable for explaining why things are as they are. But it should not be allowed to bind the organisation.
AIM: Innovation often comes about by breaking rules. How does that fit in with military culture?
Barrie: The military has to constantly think about innovation, technology and what it means for the battleground of the future. The United Nations could hold up Australia’s involvement in East Timor as a model for the rest of the world. It is a validation of the sort of reform we have been going through.
AIM: Where do you see the management of our armed forces heading in the next 10 years?
Barrie: As I mentioned, we are going to have to deal with some difficult issues guerrilla movements and world community expectations. Attracting, recruiting and retaining good people is another. We are operating in a tight labor market. Companies are resorting to extraordinary measures to recruit the right sort of people; so we’ve got serious challenges.
The November AIM magazine contained predictions by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that for the decade 2020-2030 we will have only 165,000 Australians entering the workforce. In that 10-year period, on our current models, we want to employ 30% or 40% of them. So, for the next few years we’ve got to think about how we are going to solve this problem.
It is worrisome because, by most estimates, the population in 2050 will be about 22 million. We have security responsibility for one-tenth of the earth’s surface. Looking at our region, I don’t know what the population projections are for China or Indonesia; but they are going to be much bigger than 22 million. Positioning Australia to deal with that must be at the heart of our long-term thinking.