Colleen McGann is managing director and company secretary of St Luke’s Private Hospital in Launceston, St Luke’s Health Insurance and the computer processing company QM Services. Among other public positions she is chairwoman of the Health Benefits Council of Tasmania and a member of the Australian Health Insurance Technical Committee. Colleen is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management.
AIM: The health sector is facing big issues. What specific management challenges does this hold for you?
McGann: It is riddled with challenges. Some are caused by misunderstanding in the minds of the general public because it is a such a political topic. We need to try to demystify some of the misinformation. That’s been our biggest challenge for the past 10 years or so.
AIM: Critics of Medicare say it is unsustainable in its present form. How do you assess its future?
McGann: There will always be a Medicare. I have no doubt the form of it will change. But what was it there for in the first place? If you go back to what Neal Blewett (former federal health minister) said, it was there as a universal scheme. It was available to everyone at a certain cost. Now those costs have altered. Are people willing to pay the higher price through their taxation?
AIM: What attracted you to the health sector?
McGann: You want me to be deadly honest? I left school at age 15, having completed the equivalent of Year 10. I intended to go on and do matriculation, which is now Years 11 and 12. They changed it from one year to two years. I believed I was smart enough to do it in one year so I said: “Forget it. I’m not going to do it at all.” I intended to go into nursing or teaching but I had to be 16 – which would have fitted in with doing a one-year matric. So I said: “I’ll go to work for 12 months.” In hindsight, I wouldn’t have been suited for either. I wouldn’t have been particularly attracted to going through the rigors of teachers’ college. And blood and gore, as I have found out, does not attract me either. So I went out and worked for 12 months and stayed. The biggest single decision I failed to make was to go on with one of those career paths and, in hindsight, it was the best “non-decision” I ever made.
AIM: As last year’s Telstra Tasmanian Business Woman of the Year, what are your thoughts on the different ways men and women go about management and business?
McGann: A male can be as blunt and as direct as he likes and he will be seen as a good, strong business leader. If I used the same terminology, I would be what is known as a female dog. That’s just a fact of life. I think women have a different business style to men. We are more about, if you like, consensus-style management whereas in my opinion men tend to make the decision and then implement it regardless of what the consequences may be.
AIM: One of the problems facing Tasmania is that many young and talented people leave for the mainland. How do you tackle this issue as a manager of a large business?
McGann: It’s very difficult. A lot of companies have taken away any business decision-making from Tasmania and transferred it to the mainland. So we tend to see a succession of people come here to learn their trade and go. In my own business, we need to have a very clear career path for our people. We also have to make it an enjoyable experience for them. Consequently we have a very firm company policy that if someone wants to undertake further studies, even if it isn’t directly related to the job, we support it, financially and time-wise. We also understand we don’t just employ the person, we employ the whole family. We are very much a family-oriented company.