11/10/2016 - 06:20

CEO lunch with Tracey Horton

11/10/2016 - 06:20

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Educated in Rockingham, Vancouver and at UWA, and with a corporate career stretching between San Francisco and WA, Tracey Horton has some interesting perspectives on business and academia, as Business News discovered over lunch at Julio’s in West Perth.

Tracey Horton. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Educated in Rockingham, Vancouver and at UWA, and with a corporate career stretching between San Francisco and WA, Tracey Horton has some interesting perspectives on business and academia, as Business News discovered over lunch at Julio’s in West Perth.

Tracey Horton’s parents emigrated from their home in Wales to Rockingham when their daughter was starting high school, not realising their lengthy journey to Australia was just the start of Tracey’s educational globetrotting.

Over the public address system at school one day, Tracey heard about a scholarship opportunity to attend one of the overseas United World Colleges. Only a few such scholarships were awarded annually to Australian schoolchildren, and Tracey was fortunate enough to win one of them – spending two years at the Lester B Pearson UWC on Vancouver Island.

UWC education is based on a rounded curriculum, with social service (Ms Horton did sea rescue), the International Baccalaureate, theory of knowledge, and extended essays among the course elements. At the college, she excelled in her work, with economics a favourite subject.

Back in Perth, Ms Horton completed an economics degree at the University of Western Australia. Although she knew few of her fellow students in the early years (having not attended the schools that typically feed into the university), she did meet her future husband, Jonathan Horton, who is now a leading fund manager.

“I thought I wanted a job in economics, as I loved the subject.” Ms Horton told Business News.

“I went to work at the Reserve Bank, as a cadet, in Sydney. There’s a very good training program at the bank, and they invest a lot in you so people tend to stick around. My first boss was Glenn Stevens, who has just retired (as governor). They move you around, and overall I was there six years, going to do a Stanford MBA in the middle.”

Moving between California and Western Australia was a regular part of Ms Horton’s life for the next decade or so.

Mr Horton had quit his job to move to the US and worked in investment banking. After Ms Horton came back from Stanford University, they decided to return to California, where she took a job with top-tier management consulting firm, Bain & Company, in San Francisco.

It was the 1990s, and the technology boom was gathering pace. The couple spent a decade living and working there, as well as starting a family (their two sons were born in California).

Although settled in the US, the Hortons wanted to check out opportunities in Perth, not least for their sons’ schooling, and so undertook a reconnaissance trip.

“Consulting can be a hard career when you have young children, as it can be full on with long hours and lots of travel,” Ms Horton said.

It was during that trip that the next stage of Ms Horton’s career began to take shape, following a conversation over dinner in Perth.

A fellow dinner guest told Ms Horton that he’d met a Perth man when he did his MBA at Harvard, and that she should follow up with him. It was Mark Barnaba.

Ms Horton and Mr Barnaba had been at UWA together in the same year, although they’d not met. When Ms Horton contacted her former professor Ken Clements she was then put in touch with John Poynton.

So she met Messrs Barnaba and Poynton, plus Geoff Rasmussen, and instantly was well connected into the Perth business scene.

In 2000, the family returned to Perth, although Mr Horton continued to commute between WA and the US, as he now had his own company in San Francisco.

Ms Horton took on a role with Poynton & Partners for a few years after that.

University challenge

Then, a very different opportunity opened itself up.

“Becoming a dean of the UWA Business School was not planned,” Ms Horton said.

“If I’d simply responded to a job advertisement out of the blue and put in my resume, I am sure it would not have got very far. The fact that I had been consulting at the university for several months meant it was a bit of ‘right place, right time’ for me.”

The UWA vice-chancellor had approached Ms Horton to do a strategic consulting job and, as she was quite intrigued by the university sector, she spent her time working with the business school. The previous dean’s tenure was up, and a few people suggested she apply for the role.

“It was fantastic to have had a year of strategy work before taking on the big job,” Ms Horton said.

“Once the job started, everything was flying at you from all directions.”

Huge changes were implemented; two faculties were rolled into one business school, and a major fund raising campaign was kicked off to build the new building. After six years in the job as dean of UWA Business School, Ms Horton went on to be a professional director of several boards.

Her advice to those looking to climb the corporate ladder is to concentrate on what you’re doing and do it as well as you can.

“Don’t be so focused on the end, just enjoy today,” Ms Horton said.

“When you are in your 20s and 30s, most of what distinguishes you is what you personally bring to your role. The attitude that you have, the work you complete. People notice that. You have got to pursue what you enjoy doing and do a great job, and that’s what makes you shine, and attracts further opportunities.”

Having had a distinguished corporate consulting life prior to academia, Ms Horton has her own perspective on the challenges now facing universities.

“I have no doubt that the university model will have to change, and will change,” she said. “I don’t worry about it. Each university is a standalone business, and there seems to be some protection in that. However, many people are vested in their places, and there’s a lot of inertia.”

How does she classify the current economic climate in WA?

“We are still in a multi-speed economy, this time with WA on the slow side,” Ms Horton said.

“Commodity cycles are fairly long term, so it will come back again. It always does.”

Ms Horton argues that WA will need to think about what investments are required for non-resources industries to pay off. For example, with many national and regional centres vying for the education or tourism dollar, WA will have to work hard and smart to get these areas to grow strongly.

On the subject of digital disruption, Ms Horton believes local businesses need to be aware that they are making enough investments in important areas so they are nimble, and are not disrupted by others.

Ms Horton would not describe herself as a ‘power user’ of social media, but she does use Linkedin, finding it helpful in staying in touch with people from all over the world.

She keeps up to date with information she receives from Stanford University and Bain & Company as well as her directors’ materials. She loves having more time, as a director, to read and think, as compared to when she was a full-time executive.

Ms Horton is a big reader, and always reads a book at night. The last book she read was A Chinese Affair by Isabelle Li, a collection of short stories about recent Chinese migration which all involved strong women as characters.

Ms Horton sits on multiple boards, including Navitas, Tourism WA, AICD, and the Australian Takeovers Panel, and is also chair of Presbyterian Ladies College. She’s been a board member at the Water Corporation, Fashion Council WA, AHG, CCIWA, Skilled Group among many others.

In terms of gender language in the workplace, Ms Horton reckons current Australian of the Year, David Morrison, has it right.

“David Morrison makes a valid point, so if some people are offended by that, then why wouldn’t you try to make changes to your behaviour?” Ms Horton said.

“Occasionally I receive board papers with ‘Dear Sirs’, or emails that start ‘Gentlemen’, or ‘Gentlemen and Tracey’, which I find very off-putting. I am ‘chair’ of an organisation, which I am ok with as it’s gender neutral.

“I don’t particularly like chairperson or chairwoman.” 

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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