10/06/2016 - 05:27

10 minutes on leadership with … Richard Goyder

10/06/2016 - 05:27


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Leadership WA chief executive officer Robin McClellan spent 10 minutes discussing leadership with Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder, who said leaders should surround themselves with good people and set and live the standards of the organisation.

Robin McClellan with Richard Goyder, who says Asia offers abundant opportunities for WA businesses.

Leadership WA chief executive officer Robin McClellan spent 10 minutes discussing leadership with Wesfarmers managing director Richard Goyder, who said leaders should surround themselves with good people and set and live the standards of the organisation.

RM: Wesfarmers has to be one of the most diversified organisations in the world. You have retail, mining and finance – all with different sector approaches – how do you deal with that as a leader?

RG: There are some things that transcend those different groups and there are others that don’t. To me, there are three key things as a leader – setting direction, surrounding myself with good people (that means putting the right people in the right roles), and setting and living the standards of the organisation. Those are the three high-level traits I would hope to see across any group.

Leadership WA has business, not for profit and government all coming together, and I think that is quite unique. Graduates are not just business people, they are people from all walks of life with many experiences, and to me that is one of the great things about Leadership WA programs – the diverse backgrounds.

For a business leader, I am looking for a high degree of commerciality and someone with a track record of performance. But, when you are looking for a senior executive for a NFP, you also know it is important for organisations to be viable and sustainable. Increasingly, government has to be commercial because resources are finite. Then there are other things that really go to the culture of the organisation. Sometimes we are focused on customer service and other times we want a very high awareness around safety

RM: Wesfarmers, one of the country’s largest employers, seems to be very open and willing to bringing in people from anywhere in the world when you see a need or a good fit. How do you help those people who are new to Australia?

RG: We actually go one step further. When we see real talent, we say ‘come and join us and we will find you a role’. Because at the end of the day we know the only sustainable long-term competitive advantage we have is the competitiveness of our people. If we see exceptional talent, we try and bring that talent into the organisation.

We also have our own development programs, whether that’s Harvard Business School or INSEAD in France. We are also pretty good at wrapping our arms around people who need help or assistance as well as ensuring that, from time to time, we knock some people into shape.

If people don’t leave their ego at the front door, we remind them about the way we do things, usually in a nice, gentle subtle way. One third of our senior people now have overseas experience in business, which is terrific, particularly given the fact we don't have too many overseas businesses.

That does two things; it equips us with the knowledge and capability of world best practice and also, when the opportunity arises, we can go into new geographies.

RM: There are some Wesfarmers’ operations overseas. How does the leadership across cultures vary,or is it the same?

RG: It does have to be different and it has to be about the understanding of different cultures. Guy Russo, CEO of our department stores, started life as a hamburger flipper at McDonald’s and then went on to run McDonald’s in Australia and China. We recruited Guy to come and run Kmart seven years ago. 

Guy is a very open person; open in the way he deals with people and in his thinking and ideas. So now, in the leadership team at Wesfarmers, he has the best understanding of China. So here we have got someone running our ddepartment sstores who is sourcing large quantities from China and who has an in-depth understanding of how that country works. So he brings great value to the table. His openness has also helped results, and it is in line with one of our company’s key values.

In regards to the organisation, we need to be open to new ways of doing things and different cultures.  That evolves, but I don’t see Wesfarmers as a closed organisation.

RM: At Leadership WA, we say it is ok to give someone bad news, but it is important to do it in the right way.

RG: One of the things I love about Leadership WA functions is that participants are upfront and bold in the questions they ask. Whether it is on some of the things we do or issues like climate change, subjects that people are worrying about. It’s obvious that they feel it is ok to express a view and ask questions.

RM: Do you have any suggestions on work/family balance?

RG: I wish, 20 years ago, I had taken my work life a little less seriously. I look at the opportunities we give parents for parental leave and gee, I would have loved to have had some time with each of our children. But even if the opportunity was there, I may not have done it because I took myself a little too seriously.

I have always prioritised family as number one. But that doesn’t mean to say they would think that. I am not a big one for work/life balance because a lot of your life is out of balance, and that is great fun, actually. The role I am in is a wonderful role, and a lot of the time it is incredibly busy and there is adrenaline that goes with that. The family deals with that and supports me. Personal fitness and health is important, because without that you have nothing.

Making sure that others, from time to time, see me spending time away from here and taking my leave is also really important. Then doing other things – supporting medical research, the arts and education. That is great fun.

I recently heard Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the former Indonesian president, speak at a University of Western Australia graduation ceremony. It is so easy, with a busy life, to say, ‘I haven’t got time to go to that,’ but it was a just a treat.

RM: One of the challenges in Western Australia is gaining knowledge and understanding on our neighbours such as Indonesia, India and China. How can we up our game?

RG: I think we are a bit better at it than 10 years ago. The UWA ceremony included high-achieving graduates and PhD students and there was a significant proportion of those who were from our near neighbours – from Indonesia, India and China. That is terrific and that is knowledge is here. But, as leaders, we need to embrace it.

I sat at the ceremony and thought about the fact that people talk about the Asian century but they don’t really know what it means. In my view, as a business person, it is all about Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and India. That is going to be the centre for global growth, probably for as long as we can see forward. The impact on the growth of those countries on Perth, and WA, is going to be hugely significant – more significant than the US and UK have been in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. That is the future. Whether it is making investments, hiring or education. That is where our focus should be. At Wesfarmers we can embrace that through our diversity in employment.

RM: Any quirky leadership lessons?

RG: You never stop learning. Early on in my career, I had a general manager say to me: ‘Richard, I think you’d be better off, if you focused more on your current job, than what your job in two or three years will be.’ That was pretty blunt, but spot on. I have always been ambitious but clearly my ambition was overt and slightly ahead of reality back then. It was really important advice.

When I joined the leadership team at Wesfarmers, Michael Chaney was CEO. After a year, he said something like: ‘You have a valuable contribution to make, but you need to speak up, literally. Increase your volume. You are so quiet around the table, you are not getting your message across.’ A bit of instant feedback can be really important.

Whenever I am doing public speaking, it is good to have someone critiquing me. It could be my wife, or Wesfarmers corporate affairs manager Alan Carpenter. They will say ‘that was good but ...’ As soon as the ‘but’ comes, it actually means it wasn't that good and could have been better.

You need that in leadership roles. I also have a mentor at Harvard Business School. I speak to him a lot and he challenges me on a whole bunch of things that others can’t or won’t. Having someone who can be open and honest with you is important. We usually speak about an hour every couple of weeks.

RM: What do you think our challenges are in WA?

RG: I think we are blessed to be living here. We have had decades of economic growth and economic growth solves a lot of issues. It helps employment, enables a social security net and provides opportunity. But we are still seeing a reliance on commodities.

The challenge is how can we build a more resilient economy that enables us to deal with fluctuations, whether they are fluctuations in commodity prices, climate change, or how our trading partners are performing. For me, that requires a long-term plan. We shouldn’t be saying that is not our problem, that it’s government’s problem. We actually all should be part of the solution. In fact, all we should be asking government is that it enables a platform for us to be getting on with it, for us to be innovative and creative.

We shouldn’t be looking to government for the answers. We should be looking in the mirror. Your groups in Leadership WA this year should be asking: ‘What are the things we can be doing to make sure we are more resilient, creative and adaptable?’ because the biggest natural resource we have here is the quality of the people.

In WA we are innovative and entrepreneurial. That is the challenge. So whether it is by being the centre of excellence in education that I think we are and should be, or in the areas of medical research, resources, agriculture and tourism, there are a bunch of things, based on where we are positioned, that we can be doing. The opportunities are phenomenal.


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