Barbara Derham is director of Derham’s Foreshore Motor Inn in Whyalla. She has had 28 years experience in the accommodation industry, and was the first woman to chair Flag International, of which she remains a board member. She was the deputy mayor of the City of Whyalla and is a member of the Tourism Commission of South Australia. She has held many civic positions. She is married with four children. During the interview she was working at the motor inn switchboard to get some front-line experience, which she does once a month. She was interrupted by seven phone calls.
AIM: What do you consider the most important elements of management?
Derham: I would say having good leadership skills and being a good communicator and a good listener.
AIM: What do you understand “good leadership” to mean?
Derham: I see leadership as being concerned with setting a good example, whether it be in behavior, dress or manners. I don’t believe a good manager can lead unless they can do the job themselves: if you are a bank manager you should spend time being a teller; if you manage chefs you should be a qualified cook. It is also important to provide staff with the opportunity for training and the opportunity to share skills. There is a lot more multi-skilling now than when I started. So many managers and executives go off to do all the training and acquire the skills themselves.
AIM: When you were the first woman to chair the Flag International board, did this have a special significance?
Derham: I’m a not a women’s libber: I like getting flowers and I have a lovely husband and four grown-up kids. I simply wanted to be treated as an equal. I wanted to be there because of my expertise, I like to be seen as part of the crew. [Getting that appreciation] wasn’t easy. But I think women are often their own worst enemy, they need to try to make it on their own.
AIM: What do you regard as the greatest weakness of Australian management?
Derham: I think the greatest weakness is that they don’t get down to the grassroots. They don’t encourage people in supervising positions to have ideas, and they are not receptive to ideas. At Flag International I wonder if head office gets down to the motel level. They do their marketing and their information technology and so on, but do they understand the real people, the moteliers doing the job? The other thing is learning. My secret is that I am always learning, I never stop. A lot of people in business think they know it all. When I travel, I always try to look at how someone is running a quality property: the Hyatts, the Hiltons, the Wentworths.
AIM: Has the hospitality industry changed greatly?
Derham: Yes, a lot. Customers are now a lot more demanding, people have much higher expectations. We have a lot of international business people. The property is four hours from Roxby Downs. We have an excellent rapport with them.
AIM: How many layers are there in your organisation?
Derham: The directors are my husband (Tom) and I, and then we have an operational manager. Below that, there are four people: the head chef, the head housekeeper, the maitre d, the restaurant supervisor, laundry and maintenance. It has changed over the past five years as I got more involved in outside things: I added the operations manager at the top.
AIM: What is your greatest management challenge?
Derham: The greatest difficulty is when young people and I am a great supporter of young people apply for a position and they can’t add up or spell: ABC needs to be taught in schools. They also often have the attitude that the world owes them a living, but that is not their fault.
AIM: How do you deal with this?
Derham: When people go to work at island resorts, what usually happens is that they do the job interview, and if they get the job, then they are asked to read the handbook. When I am doing an interview, I give the person the handbook before the interview. When I do the interview, I ask them if they would like to work here? When they say: “Yes”, they know what is involved. Young people usually accept and appreciate discipline. If you say “I have worked for Mrs D”, you can usually get a job anywhere in the industry.
AIM: What is your philosophy?
Derham: I believe that an owner or a manager should treat people the way they would like to be treated. I think you should give people opportunity, always give them a second chance, and above all communicate.