16/06/2016 - 05:34

CEO lunch takeaways with Mark Barnaba

16/06/2016 - 05:34

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In the first of a series of interviews with top WA business leaders, Business News met with inaugural 40under40 First Amongst Equals winner and Macquarie Group chairman (WA) Mark Barnaba. Far from the boardroom, in the relaxed setting of Julio’s restaurant in West Perth, Mr Barnaba spoke of his education, mentors, leadership style, culture, diversity, and social media.

CEO lunch takeaways with Mark Barnaba
OPPORTUNITY: Mark Barnaba says his time at Harvard Business School was a defining life experience. Photos: Attila Csaszar

In the first of a series of interviews with top WA business leaders, Business News met with inaugural 40under40 First Amongst Equals winner and Macquarie Group chairman (WA) Mark Barnaba. Far from the boardroom, in the relaxed setting of Julio’s restaurant in West Perth, Mr Barnaba spoke of his education, mentors, leadership style, culture, diversity, and social media.

Mark Barnaba does not come from a wealthy family. Both his parents were born in Italy and he attended Trinity College from grade four, eventually becoming tennis champion and school dux. The headmaster at the time, Brother Kelly, who taught him mathematics, was an early influence.

“Brother Kelly was of a different class,” Mr Barnaba told Business News.

“I was driven then, and still am today. I’ve always believed that failure is not coming second or third; failure is not doing as well as you can do, regardless of how well that might be.”

At the University of Western Australia, Mr Barnaba was fortunate to have, as he described them, two world-class senior academics – Philip Brown and HY Izan.

“They raised my sights and aspirations. I’d never thought about doing something like an MBA at Harvard. They redefined for me what it meant to be world class,” he said.

Graduating with the university medal from UWA, Mr Barnaba went straight to Harvard Business School. Harvard takes 900 students a year, but only a handful directly from university, and he was the youngest in his year group.

“I had no work experience. Initially, I wasn’t sure I would make it. It forced me to grow. I look back now and see it as one of the most defining experiences of my life,” he said.

Having worked for a couple of years at Bond Corporation, Mr Barnaba went to McKinsey in London and South Africa. During his time at McKinsey he met his future GEM Consulting partner, Geoff Rasmussen. The ‘E’ in GEM was Errol Levitt.

“I wanted it to be called ‘MEG’, but I lost that argument,” he recalls.

Mentors

After spending a decade overseas, Mr Barnaba returned to Perth thanks to his relationship with John Poynton.

“John was always good counsel in those early years. I find it valuable discussing and sharing ideas with people I trust and whose judgment I value (and quite frankly, like),” Mr Barnaba said.

“Those individuals include people like Rod Eddington, Michael Chaney, Andrew Forrest, (Macquarie MD) Nicholas Moore and Julie Bishop.

“I should also add that my close mates, wife and mother are also a wonderful source of counsel; they know me best, never sugar coat the hard truth, and always have my best interests at heart. My mother today still remains my role model in how she has lived her life and raised her family with strong values.”

The corporate ladder

There are no short cuts to getting on in life, Mr Barnaba believes, with good, old-fashioned hard work still the most important factor.

“It comes down to not just how talented and trained you are; it’s about how much you want it, and doing the hard yards,” he said.

“Don’t underestimate the need to be passionate, patient and tolerant. Experiment at an early age so you can work out what you really want to do. I haven’t found anyone who is very successful who does not also love what they do.”

Leadership & culture

Mr Barnaba believes successful leaders share traits such as authenticity, the ability to capture hearts and minds, superior judgment, and a tendency towards optimism and resilience.

“Good leaders are the first line of defence on shaping and strengthening a culture, and culture wins over strategy any day of the week,” he said.

“Being a guardian of culture has to be the single most important obsession of an outstanding leader. If you cannot attract, retain and excite outstanding people, then your shelf life is limited.

“Call me biased, but two organisations with the most unique and compelling culture I’ve experienced are Fortescue (Metals Group) and Macquarie.”

WA economy

Although times are more challenging in 2016, there is no reason for doom and gloom either, he argues.

“Our state has grown enormously. The infrastructure in place will service us for a very long time,” Mr Barnaba told Business News.

“Unemployment has crept up a bit to 6 per cent. Yes, it’s tough at the moment, in many sectors. Australia-wide, the past six months, we’re growing at 3.6 per cent (annualised). You have to put things in perspective. WA is a very resilient state. ”

Work-life balance

Mr Barnaba’s business commitments are many and varied, and he sits on several major boards, often as chair. There’s no doubt this presents challenges in his other major role as a family man.

“I value being a dad above everything else,” he said.

“I travel quite a bit due to my global role at Macquarie, but when I am in Perth my family takes priority.

“On my community and not-for-profit roles, (for example, Black Swan State Theatre Company, West Coast Eagles, UWA, Edge Employment), one’s involvement allows you to shape these organisations, but they in turn shape you. It’s a win-win, and you are blessed to be able to be involved. It makes you a better and wiser person.”

Social media and reading

Unusually for such a high-profile business leader, Mr Barnaba stays away from social media.

“It’s not that I don’t believe in it, but you can’t do everything. I have had a look, but for now, it’s not something for me,” he said.

“I still read a book every two weeks. Macquarie has a book club from which I get wonderful ideas on what to read. I have just finished reading The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard Feynman, a famous physicist. He was part of the team that constructed the first nuclear bomb. He had a wonderful career because he found out what he loved, was very good at it and stayed with it for a lifetime. ”

Workplace diversity

Workplace fairness and gender equality are important issues requiring strong leadership from business, with current Australian of the year, David Morrison, suggesting people should be careful when using words such as ‘guys’ at work to address everyone.

For his part, Mr Barnaba said being respectful and sensitive to gender issues was vitally important.

“As a nation we have come such a long way in our inclusiveness. Firstly, it is simply fair and just, and secondly, it is good for our country, as in many areas, women have greater capabilities than we do as men,” he said.

“At Fortescue, nearly half the board is female. A Black Swan, six of the top 11 people are female.

“We need to think broader on diversity. Diversity is also age, cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, geographies.” 

 

The interview took place at Julio's restaurant in West Perth.

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