Kathleen Newcombe is managing director of the education institution Martin College in Brisbane. Before that she was principal of the college and director of international marketing. She is chairwoman of the Queensland International Education Advisory Board and a board member of the Abused Child Trust. She has a graduate diploma in business administration and marketing at the Queensland University of Technology.
AIM: How did you rise up through the management ranks?
Newcombe: I started in teaching, then moved into business education 12 years ago. It was a gradual growth into management. I have done every job in this organisation over time: I started off in sales and marketing, then personnel and human resources, then I moved into international marketing.
AIM: How did you approach your own education?
Newcombe: I did post-graduate studies, and I read quite extensively in the popular press. My view is that a lot of it is intuitive. I am interested in vision and direction. If you get those two things right, the mechanisms sort themselves out. I like people such as Charles Handy who challenge you to think about the organisational design and the relationship between the organisation and the community.
AIM: What are the main managerial challenges facing education?
Newcombe: Technological change is the greatest challenge. There is now the possibility of delivering “just in time” Education: delivering what people want when they need it. You have to ensure that you can manage in that environment: you have to deploy human resources properly. I want to take my organisation into mass customisation. So much knowledge is emerging in the broader community and general environment that educational providers are no longer the only holders of that knowledge. We become instead managers and facilitators and packagers of the knowledge.
AIM: Do you have global competitors?
Newcombe: We are part of a global organisation: we are wholly owned by the Daily Mail. We were acquired two years ago. Our vision is about global opportunities. The phrase “act local, think global” may be a bit tired these days, but it remains true. I try to think about global opportunities while I work on local lines.
AIM: Did the takeover bring change?
Newcombe: The cultural change was minimal, but in terms of access to a global network it has been very exciting. I was recently in London for a meeting with managing directors from Britain, the United States and Australia.
AIM: How does Australia compare?
Newcombe: Australia stands up well. Worldwide we are rated high, even though we don’t have an Oxford, a Cambridge or a Harvard. We have a generally high standard. In the US there are thousands of universities: some of them are good, others you wouldn’t send your children to.
Sometimes I complain that it is a very regulated industry here, but by virtue of that we have high standards.
AIM: What are the financial lessons you have learned?
Newcombe: What the key performance indicators are for ensuring the level of good campus management that leads to profitability. We do the key performance indicators weekly. I don’t like surprises. When I look at the accounts each month, I do not get a shock.
In our business the key is efficiency of classes student/teacher ratios. People are the biggest cost in our industry. The student is a sale and the teacher is an expense. But I don’t just look at cutting staff: I might look at other technologies or at finding other ways of delivering the training.
AIM: Do you have a philosophy?
Newcombe: Everyone in the organisation should be treated with the same respect no matter what their role. I expect people to give 120%, and an organisation has to reward people for doing that. Nobody should come to work expecting to do the bare minimum. I see myself as a spoke in the wheel. I have a lot of managers who are highly intelligent, so why would I make a decision without them?
AIM: What is the worst thing about managing?
Newcombe: The hardest part of management is working hard with people to develop them and then, when it doesn’t work, feeling betrayed and let down. I try to give the benefit of the doubt to people and sometimes I wind up disappointed.
AIM: And the best part of managing?
Newcombe: I love success. I like the organisation I’m part of to be recognised as number one.