16/06/2011 - 00:00

Board evolution a vital link in the Chain

16/06/2011 - 00:00

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ROBERT Radley first worked with community care organisation Silver Chain during his time as joint managing director at GEM Consulting and Poynton and Partners.

Board evolution a vital link in the Chain
WORK SUPPORT: PwC partner Robert Radley has helped Silver Chain refocus on its core service. Photo: Grant Currall

ROBERT Radley first worked with community care organisation Silver Chain during his time as joint managing director at GEM Consulting and Poynton and Partners.

Mr Radley started doing strategic consulting and, having grasped a firm understanding of the organisation during the first six months of involvement, was later asked to join its board.

Currently a partner at PwC, Mr Radley has been on Silver Chain’s board since 2008 and it is evident he is committed to the organisation and the changes made so far during his time.

In late 2009, the board decided to sell-off its residential care facilities – such as nursing homes – and hone its focus on community (private residency) care.

Describing the 12-month process as “agonising”, Mr Radley said it was not a decision taken lightly.

“It was huge decision and it was quite traumatic for the organisation, but ultimately we did the right thing; the passion of the organisation really lies in community care,” he said.

“It is not the type of thing that happens quickly, we agonised over it for a year.”

Mr Radley believes it is the difference in the nature of the board’s moral code that distinguishes not for profits from commercial boards, itself something that can involve painstakingly long decision-making.

“I was going to say it is in the level of commerciality applied to the decision, but that is not true. It is in the way you think about the decision-making process. It is a debate we go through often. Who owns Silver Chain? Who is the moral owner of Silver Chain? Really, the moral owner is the community you work in,” Mr Radley said.

“Every decision we make, we don’t only look at the commercial side, we agonise over the impact on the community; does it deliver a positive impact?”

He uses the sale of the residential care side of the business as an example.

“If we were a private sector player, we would just sell it for as much as we could get, but you can’t do that. You want guarantees the beds won’t be taken out of the community ... it becomes a far more complicated decision than a simple commercial, ‘let’s just sell it off’,” Mr Radley said.

As a result of the consolidation of service offerings, Silver Chain is now focused on expanding its strengths in community care across Australia, and the national expansion is one element Mr Radley said made it exciting to be on the organisation’s board.

Watching the board’s evolution during the past three years has been a positive experience, according to Mr Radley.

“There has been a lot of strategy debate within the board. The conversations the board has gone through together have slightly lifted the level on which the board operates,” he said. “There has been a lot going on around defining the role of the board, where it should be involved in strategy, where it shouldn’t be involved.”

Mr Radley said the structure of the board meetings had also changed; where Silver Chain’s board used to focus more prominently on operational detail, it now worked to a schedule focused on strategy and the issues around key stakeholders in the community.

“What you find in not for profits is often their capacity at a management level can be limited by virtue of their ability to pay and the attractiveness of working in it if you are not passionate about the cause,” he said.

As a result, Mr Radley said the board could be forced to be more involved in the day-to-day running of the business than they would be on a listed public company.

Mr Radley said the other not-for-profit boards he sat on – Autism West and Aquinas College – also had moved away from being too involved at an operational level.

“I genuinely think the level of intervention we have in the detail of the business has changed,” he said of Silver Chain.

Mr Radley is currently winding up in his role at PwC and moving to newly established Perth office of global management consultant company Bain and Company.

He said his ability to be involved with Aquinas, Autism West and Silver Chain was thanks to organisations like PwC and Bain and Co supporting their staff in their charitable pursuits.

“I couldn’t do what I do if both Bain and PwC didn’t let you do it. With them giving you support you can actually do it otherwise your professional career is demanding and if they didn’t give that to you it would be hard,” Mr Radley said.

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