By Tim Watts
The appointment of Fred Hilmer – a management academic with no media management experience who reportedly said that he does not read newspapers – to the chief executive post at John Fairfax Holdings was a surprise to many. But the decision of the Fairfax board highlights a growing trend in the recruiting of senior management.
Gone are days when the ability to manage an organisation effectively was considered to come from years of hard-earned experience in the ranks, understanding the organisation and its clients from the bottom up. The increasing professionalism of managers has ushered in an era of portable executives. The head-hunters estimate that the typical tenure of chief executives has fallen from between six and eight years in the 1980s to about three years for a new appointment today. A growing number of top managers are following a freelance career, traversing the globe applying an ever expanding set of skills to a variety of organisations in a range of industries.
David Pumphrey, partner at executive recruiters Heidrick & Struggles, interv
At the end of 1995 a business alliance was forged between the innovative high-tech New-Zealand company Spectrum Industries and the Hong Kong company Panda Computing, a company in the Ching Group. Panda wanted to move into the high-tech area that Spectrum was pioneering and was in a position to provide the alliance with the sort of market potential that Spectrum could never hope to match.
The alliance partners had decided on a sector with a short innovation cycle in the high-tech market of the Asia-Pacific region. As a result, the product and service that the alliance was developing needed to be launched quickly. As time was of the essence, executive appointments were made internally.
It was decided to locate the corporate headquarters in Hong Kong – close to the market for the product. The technical-support division of the company would remain in New Zealand, and senior management, marketing, finance and corporate and human resources would be gradually relocated to Hong Kong. A New Zealander, Peter Carpenter, was appointed chief executive. Joe Chan of Panda was appointed to the project as general manager; and, although
Rob Carter is chief executive officer of the Brisbane City Council, the world’s largest council (by area). Before that he was director-general of the Department of Planning and Housing in Victoria and director-general of the Housing Corporation of New Zealand. He has a master of economics from Monash University, and has studied at the Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. He is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management.
AIM: How did you begin your career?
CARTER: I ran my own consultancy for 13 years out of Melbourne. I did a lot of public sector projects in areas such as the labor market and industry studies, and developed a lot of contacts in public sector management. I took a job as the deputy of the director-general in the Victorian Ministry of Housing and Construction. The job in New Zealand (with the Housing Corporation) came up and I applied. That was when Roger Davis was changing everything: they had a very advanced approach and chief executives were expected to manage a high level of change.
AIM: How do the Australian and New Zealand public services compare?
I wish to make a complaint! Whether you are running a pet shop or a billion-dollar service industry, your reaction will probably be to hurry into the back room and hope someone else will handle things. By Jennifer Denham
Many businesses and staff complain about customer complaints. The most common perceptions of the process are:
However, there are benefits in customer complaints if you deal with them wisely. You can make them the avenue for improving your service.
WIIFM What’s in it for me?
The benefits of good complaint-handling:
Business teams and footy teams have much in common: ranging over the entire field has changed the game radically from what it was when each player stayed in position. But is the change for the best? By Adele Ferguson
In 1997 a financial services company spent countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars rejigging itself along team lines. It hoped to create a series of dream teams that would lift performance and change its command-and-control culture. Eighteen months later, the company is struggling. It has had mass walk-outs, its debt has blown out and it is recording losses.
Although this is an extreme case of what can go wrong with teams, it epitomises the problems corporate Australia is facing in the late 1990s. Most companies are organised along team lines. There are executive teams, cross-functional teams, process redesign teams, quality teams and self-directed work teams. Even management schools encourage, sometimes require, students to work in teams.
Teams have been a fad for 15 years. But, unlike most fads re-engineering, quality assurance, empowerment, benchmarking and the rest teams are still here.
De Best fashions is one of the four largest fashion-design companies in Melbourne. The company was established 15 years ago by the current managing director, Dorothy Lighthart.
About five years ago, while on a fashion tour through several states, Dorothy met Quita Wishnoski. Lighthart had seen a number of Wishnoski’s designs in a show and had taken an immediate liking to the designs.
As Lighthart considers herself to be a good judge of young talent she decided to hire Wishnoski to work in her company. At the time the company was only medium size, as a lack of top-quality designs had restricted the expansion of the company. Wishnoski was brought in as one of the company’s four main designers. Initially this meant a large increase in salary costs, but they were offset by the opportunity to design for a much larger clientele.
The four designers are directly responsible to the managing director, who coordinates all their tasks and maintains an active and informal relationship with them.
For three years Wishnoski worked hard and enthusiastically. She was not too happy as the most junior of the four desig
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
The world faces an environmental crisis. As we move into the 21st century, environmental issues will become paramount. If we are to resolve them, we need to transform our world view from an exploitative mode to a regenerative one in relation to people and the planet. The sustainability approach to change requires:
Covering all the bases in a rural management posting can be a source of valuable experiences seldom available to your city-based cousins. By James Dunn
Australians love their self-image as a laconic, self-reliant, decent people an image founded on a rural, pioneer archetype. Of course, Australia is one of the most urbanised societies on earth. Most of us live on the continent’s littoral strip, particularly in the Adelaide-Brisbane “boomerang”.
Most of us work there too; a fact that has made the nation’s managerial class a mainly metropolitan species. But the sub-species of regional manager is a surprisingly flexible beast. Now, liberated from isolation by communications advances, regional areas are mounting a case for providing management experience that head office cannot match.
Against the perceived isolation of a regional posting, younger managers are weighing the benefits of independence. Against leaving head office the centre of their universe and the seat of corporate power and dislocating their family, managers are looking at what a regional stint can add to their resume.
Quality Truck Australia produces parts for trucks, and it has been operating profitably in the domestic market. The business was established about 50 years ago and has been bought and sold several times by Australian conglomerates. It currently resides with the well-known Company A, which is in the top 50 Australian corporates. This latest acquisition occurred about five years ago. Before that the business was owned by the investment conglomerate Company B, which had it for eight years. During the time Company B owned the business little or no money was invested and it was milked of cash to pay for new investments or appease creditors in other businesses.
Production systems and shop-floor control were inefficient, outdated and poorly maintained when Company A bought the business. However, the business has a brand name well recognised across Australia and it has maintained a strong market share based on its reputation for quality and reliability. The threat of imports has been increasing over the past few years and market share has begun to erode.
Quality Truck was at a point where it had to become more efficient and improve