Rod McGeoch is widely recognised as one of the most prominent lawyers in Australia. He is national chairman of partners for Corrs Chambers Westgarth. The Australian Government in 1990 recognised his contribution to law by awarding him membership of the Order of Australia. McGeoch is a director of numerous boards, including AAPT, Ramsey Health Care and FXF Management. But he is best known for his contribution to the Olympics in his capacity as chief executive officer of Sydney’s successful bid for the Olympic Games. He is a Fellow of AIM.
AIM: How did you begin your career?
McGeoch: I started as a law clerk and then became a solicitor. As a solicitor I found myself doing more and more work for sporting groups. With television and sponsorship, more and more sports were turning professional and needed legal advice. Sport is a fascinating business.
AIM: You have specialised in the law and the business of sport. What do these two have in common?
McGeoch: A great deal. You can break down the sort of elements of running any business into a few key points: making sure the business is an efficient organisation; keeping an eye on costs; establishing a sensible marketing presence; and adopting an intense customer focus.
AIM: How does the management of law partners differ from the management of sporting events?
McGeoch: The biggest difference is that in a law firm you have shareholders on the premises and they are being asked by management to do things; yet they have the right to kick the manager out at any time. In a law firm you have numerous lawyers with a high intellect, and they do not want to jeopardise their individuality. So, I take a sporting analogy and adopt it to the law firm. A coach and a football team need to build a common goal to beat the opposition. But the team is made up of a lot of individual players that don’t lose their individuality by reaching for a common goal. It is pretty much the same for any business.
AIM: How important is communication in management?
McGeoch: Communication is vital for good management. I have an open-door policy, because I believe it builds a better culture.
AIM: What are the elements of good communication?
McGeoch: You have to have a constant program of communication, whether it be through e-mail, regular presentations or workshop retreats. You have to let people know what is happening in the business, remove secrecy and allow staff to participate in decision making. If people feel that they are involved, while realising that they have a leader, it makes for a better culture.
AIM: You have extensive experience advising the public sector on management and strategy. How does this advice differ from what you give to the private sector?
McGeoch: In an era when privatisations and corporatisations are happening rapidly, it is important that managers know how to make the transition. The most important things that they have to understand is that the new business requires a marketing and consumer focus. This means changing the culture. A good manager will take the staff through these changes by explaining what needs to be done.
AIM: You are on a number of boards. What have you learned from those experiences?
McGeoch: I have learned that to be a good director you have to be careful not to interfere in management. A good director will counsel management and keep a watchful eye on the company’s strategic direction, its planning, budget and human resources practices. The greatest piece of advice I was ever given was by former director Nobby Clarke. He said: I just sit there; and every hour I ask myself: Am I adding value? Nobby challenged himself; and I do the same thing.
AIM: What is your management philosophy?
McGeoch: If you take care of your side of the business the scoreboard will take care of itself. I am a big believer in setting goals. Consequently, I believe in setting a competitive tone in the company; but it also has to have a sense of humanity. Added to that is a commitment to a consumer focus.
AIM: What problems do you see in Australian management?
McGeoch: I think Australians are strong people, but they could be stronger in business. Look at the Anzacs: they showed tremendous courage in their attempts to beat the enemy. Look at our success in sports. We are a small nation yet we usually rank very high in the number of competitions we win. But it seems the Anzac in us only works when we are threatened. If we applied this attribute to business, we would be unbeatable.