David McNee is director of the metals trading company Pinard Enterprises and director of Sheet Metal Supplies, a company of which he was formerly executive director. He is a Fellow of AIM.
AIM: How did you start?
McNEE: When I finished school I didn’t want to go to university, so I decided on an apprenticeship, so I went into an engineering firm.
AIM: So you started at the bottom. How did you rise up?
McNEE: A lot of hours, and some of it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. I have also wanted to be involved in other areas. I have always enjoyed my jobs.
AIM: How important is education in management?
McNEE: I have only become involved in education in the past two years when I did a business-management certificate at AIM and a diploma at the University of New England. When I was in the sheet-metal industry I would do 60 to 70 hours a week, so I didn’t get time. But since I have started doing training, I realised what I was missing; why this approach or that approach didn’t work. In hindsight, I wish I had started 10 years ago.
AIM: What have you found instructive?
McNEE: One thing is the distinction between wide and narrow management spans. Narrow management is when the person at the top wants to know everything and control everything. Wide-span management is where you have 20 people under you, and the person at the top lets those people make the decisions.
AIM: What tends to happen in the sheet-metal industry?
McNEE: It has been narrow management, but it is changing a little now; more people are starting to use wide-span management.
AIM: What gives you the greatest satisfaction in management?
McNEE: Setting up a project and achieving the target with the team. It can be a project with complicated pieces of machinery, or something as simple as organising a warehouse or the layout of new computers. That has always been tremendously satisfying, it feels good at the end of the day.
AIM: What is the worst aspect of management?
McNEE: I suppose the opposite, when you have worked on something and it doesn’t come to fruition, or you get a person who tries to “white ant” something. They might work for the company, but they do not work to get the job done. That is always frustrating.
AIM: How do Australian managers rate?
McNEE: I have been fortunate enough to travel to the United States, Canada and Europe and I think Australian management stands up adequately, although we could do better.
AIM: What is the reason?
McNEE: It is partly isolation. We don’t get as much information about management trends. But more international speakers are turning up and more books; that helps Australian manager keep in touch with the debate. You can see what the rest of the world is doing.
AIM: In your overseas dealings, how do you rate the different countries?
McNEE: US and Canadian managers are much the same; they are very open. But the Americans automatically assume that dealings will end in litigation, that everything will end up in court, even though that is not necessarily going to happen. The Europeans are a bit more closed. The Germans are very efficient: when you want a boat delivered at a particular time, that is when it is delivered. The English are good to deal with.
AIM: Have you been affected by the Asian crisis?
McNEE: The crisis has only affected the export side of the business, which is not big. I am in continual contact with them, I talk with them and give them sympathetic offers because I understand times are tough.
AIM: Do many women work in your industry?
McNEE: There are women office staff and a few in sales, but it comes down to the fact that it is a dirty industry and women haven’t been very attracted to it. Even in the warehouses there have been few women. I don’t know if that is good, bad or indifferent.
AIM: Which are the greatest challenges in management?
McNEE: Training is very important. If senior managers get training they can pass it down through sales to other levels. I don’t think management will be easy next decade. It is just a matter of saying: “Today is another day I can’t influence what is happening in the US or Asia, I can only look after my own area.” I also think that as a manager you have a moral obligation to look after people. They are not just there for 30 or 40 hours to get paid, they need to be looked after as well.
AIM: Does that ever get taken for granted?
McNEE: It probably is, but I don’t think that is a reason not to do it. In my experience it does pay off.