International publisher and advertising agency icon, Sandra Yates AO, holds a portfolio of positions in the private and public sectors. Here she discusses her views on management, and her enthusiasm for coaching the leaders of the future. Lauren Thomsen-Moore reports.
Downplaying the successful businesswoman label, Yates says if the definition of success includes the ability to work on things that you’re particularly passionate about, then that’s the stage she’s now at.
Currently serving as the Chair of the NSW TAFE Commission Board and Chair of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Yates says that, in the seven years that she has been involved with NSW TAFE, on the advisory board to the Minister for Education and Training, she has become very passionate about the role of skill building, especially in these times of skill shortage.
We meet about 10 times a year as a board, but I have a lot of regular involvement with TAFE institutes; particularly through the awards programs, and a series of regular visits to the institutes.
Yates is also involved in coaching high-potential executives from various industries through another firm; the Global Coaching Partnership.
I have a number of clients through the Global Coaching Partnership and that’s been a wonderful experience for me; working with very talented people that usually are reporting to the CEOs.
It’s not remedial type coaching; these are people who have been identified as future leaders of organisations. And it really is about spending time with them, asking them to reflect on what’s working for them, what’s not working for them, making suggestions about what might help them to function at a more optimal level… But these are very talented, high-energy people and coaching them is very rewarding, Yates says.
Yates believes that the principles of leadership can be taught, although some people do seem to be naturally gifted leaders.
People who can articulate a set of values, who are confident in their own skin, and can inspire others can lead anything from a Brownie pack to a Fortune 500 company.
She also says management can be taught: There are some very fine business schools in Australia who are turning out highly competent managers, who are often great leaders as well.
Yates has been a member of the Advisory Council of the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) for about five years. We meet a couple of times a year to offer advice and support to the faculty on the curriculum and the issues that they face in terms of the way they relate to business.
She also speaks to MBA students a couple of times a year: Relevant business experience is a very useful way for MBA students to learn.
Yates says she likes to use anecdotes in her presentations to MBA students. They’re getting a lot of dry academic type stuff, so I guess I’m the business end of it; where the rubber meets the road’, when you try and put it into practice.
I try and share with them some of the issues to do with diversity in business, the importance of being open to the views of people who may be different by reason of gender, or religion, or who are from a different culture. And how important those things are, particularly in creative industries. In any service industry that is relying on ideas for its future, a diversity of sources of ideas is fundamental to business survival.
Yates says it’s important for all managers (from SMEs to major enterprises) to gain a further education.
You can’t overstate the importance of keeping your skills current. And that’s true for everyone. Lifelong learning is something that keeps us all employable through the life cycle. Continuing education has just got to be part of everybody’s career plan.
Yates undertook the Advanced Management Program at the University of Hawaii in 1984, and says after that, her career really took off.
Advanced management programs turn specialists into generalists, and are a great precursor for anyone planning to make the move into management.
Yates says it certainly helps for organisations to have flexibility provided by their employers in terms of education; by providing more training, helping fund training, or by allowing staff to have time off for training.
Though I can understand the reluctance of some employers to fund training because of the increasingly volatile nature of the workforce, but it seems to me that it is exactly those sorts of investments that are more likely to be rewarded with loyalty. So that if they are offered training and rewarded appropriately, then I think you could have every confidence that they’d stay. Far more so than if you don’t invest in them.
In fact, one of the great slogans TAFE used years ago that I saw pinned up on an institute’s wall said What if we train them and they leave?’ then underneath it says What if we don’t and they stay?’. It bears reflecting on.
Success comes from great management teams and the key to putting together or appointing a good management team is diversity, according to Yates. But she warns that if everybody on the management team looks and sounds the same, then that’s not a great management team.
She says building a successful management team is about being open to new ideas, with a willingness to accept that ideas will come from many different sources.
So, a good management team is a mix of people with different skills and leadership styles, and a good leader is wise enough to listen to them all, Yates says.
She agrees that people are the strength of any business: Particularly for service firms, where all we really have to sell is the quality of our ideas, and the people who develop, manage and integrate them.
The disconnect happens when we tell our people that they are our greatest asset, and then expect them to work 60-80 hour weeks, or are disrespectful of their family commitments, or religious obligations. Great leaders don’t just say people are our greatest asset, they walk the talk as well, Yates says.
According to Yates, the term frequently used in business these days, creating a culture of success in an organisation, is just meaningless jargon.
I can’t think of too many people who set out to create a culture of failure, Yates jokes.
I think there are certainly effective leaders who contribute a great deal to the success of an organisation. However, it is the efforts of everyone working together and the skill of the leader in getting the right team and helping them operate effectively.
Yates regularly speaks to many managers, particularly through her coaching roles, and she describes the management style that she would advocate as being one that is very open, transparent and consultative: It seems to me that that is the way to get optimum results out of people.
New York magazines
In her past careers, Sandra Yates has been President and CEO of Matilda Publications Inc., a company she founded with her then business partner, Dr. Anne Summers, in New York in 1988, when they raised $US20 million on Wall Street, and completed only the second woman-led LBO in US corporate history.
After being sent to the US by the magazine division of Fairfax to start a magazine similar to Dolly , Yates and Dr Summers successfully launched Sassy (a magazine for teenage girls) and led Ms. magazine to its highest ever circulation. Yates ranks her time in New York publishing as one of her greatest achievements.
Most recently, Yates was Chairman of creative advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi Australia (known for its popular ad campaigns for clients including Toyota, David Jones, Westpac, and The Sydney Morning Herald ) from 1996 to 2004, and has recently stepped back to enjoy a more relaxed role as a director of their advisory board.
For confidentiality reasons, she is unable to elaborate on the details of her current duties with Saatchi and Saatchi, but says that her new role will see her working in an area that she’s really passionate about talent development and enrichment programs for emerging stars.
And while Yates’s past experience in publishing has been on the business side, she has recently started a weekly column for The Canberra Times ; which she describes as a lot of fun.
Yates says she respects great entrepreneurs, who create something out of nothing, and then go on to lead great businesses.
She believes Paul Cave, the Founder and Chairman of BridgeClimb, is a good example. I admire him very much for his tenacity, energy and commitment, he’s created a great business that will endure.
Yates says she has had one mentor who was from the advertising industry, and came along at a point in her life when she really needed support.
I think many men are uncomfortable mentoring women, because they fear their involvement might be misinterpreted. It’s a great shame. I coach a number of men and women these days, which I very much enjoy.
The lesson I learned from my mentor, which has really stuck with me, is the value of patience as a strategic tool. I tend to rush things, and the notion that waiting will sometimes deliver what you want was a very valuable one for me, Yates says.
Yates also has a wide network of influential female friends and believes that networking is only important if it’s strategic.
You can waste an awful lot of time networking with people who do not have any ability to affect your career. I encourage the people I coach to think about the people who can genuinely impact their career, and concentrate their networking focus on those people, she says.
As for the future, Yates hopes that the balance of her working life, which she hopes will not be all that much longer, will continue to be a mix of things she really likes doing.
I’m loving coaching and am finding that very rewarding. I like working with government and have had a number of government roles over the years. But that interface between the public and private sector I find really interesting. To the extent that if I can continue to make a contribution there, that’s great, she says.
Women in business
At the tail end of her career, Sandra Yates says it is disappointing to reflect on how little progress has been made in the area of women in senior management.
When you think that women have been in massive numbers in the workforce for about 30 years, it’s disappointing that we’ve made so little progress.
Yates said initiatives that, for example, encourage businesses and male CEOs to provide further opportunities for women are useful but very slow.
I think initially, we all hoped that just the sheer volume of women in the workforce, over time, as our skill levels built, would make a difference. But it’s becoming clear that time itself doesn’t deliver equity for women. As worthy as all of those initiatives are, none of them on their own are going to change the world, Yates says.
Yates’s views were reinforced with the release of the third Australian Census of Women in Leadership conducted by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA).
The 2004 census shows that while there has been a gradual increase in the number of women stepping up to senior positions with women’s workforce participation climbing to the highest-ever rate of 45 per cent, and 56 per cent of university graduates being female women are still scarce in the top most corporate positions.
Of the ASX200 companies surveyed, women hold only two Chairs of Boards and four CEO positions, even though a recent report by US research group Catalyst found that women are just as likely as men to covet the top jobs.
Sandra Yates AO CV
- Yates was honoured with the appointment of an Officer in the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours, June 2002, for services to the community, particularly women’s organisations, the development and management of vocational and education and training, and the advertising industry.
- Chair of the NSW TAFE Commission Board (since 1997), and the Sydney Writers’ Festival (since 2000).
- Chair of Books Alive! (since 2003), on behalf of the Australia Council for the Arts. Books Alive! is a Federal Government initiative.
- Member of the NSW Major Events Board (since 2003).
- Chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi Australia from 1996 to 2004, Advisory Board (since 2004).
- Board member of the Taronga Foundation (since 2001).
- Board member of the Advertising Federation of Australia (1999 to 2003).
- Chair, Australian Council for Women (1994 to 1995).
- Publisher, Time magazine, South Pacific edition (1990 to 1993).
- President, Matilda Publications Inc., New York (1987 to 1989).
- Past President of the Magazine Publishers Association of Australia, and a former director of the Magazine Publishers Association in the US.
- Past President of Chief Executive Women, and the YWCA of Sydney. Former director of UNICEF, and for Musica Viva.