Craig Whitehead - West Australian Opera.
General Manager, West Australian Opera for 18 months
WABN: Describe a day at work.
CW: “My days are varied, as my role mixes the traditional role of a business manager with the creativity of a producer.”
WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?
CW: “The only way you can motivate a team is by ensuring that each member of the team is motivated. To do this you need to get to know your staff and find out what inspires them, and then adapt your approach accordingly. Some people need a coach, others a cheerleader, while others simply need to know they have your support and then be given space. It is your job to understand the complex nature of the team and create an environment in which all staff can excel.”
WABN: What was the most challenging event in your career? How did you overcome the difficulties? What did you learn from it?
CW: “The most challenging event in my career was when I discovered that the Queensland government was going to build a 55,000-seat football stadium across the road from the theatre and theatre company I managed, La Boite. It became very clear that the noise and two-kilometre parking exclusion zone around the football stadium was going to force the closure of the theatre and, if unchecked, the theatre company.
“I overcame these difficulties by successfully negotiating with the government for the money required to build a 400-seat theatre for La Boite (the old theatre had 200 seats). This theatre, the Roundhouse Theatre, was opened in 2004 and in the first year led to the company increasing its audience by 100 per cent.
“It is now one of the most popular performance venues in Brisbane, and La Boite has never been stronger.
“I learnt a lot about how to handle my emotions in negotiations and how to lead a team in the face of adversity.”
WABN: What is the main quality you look for within your team members?
CW: “When employing someone I am looking not only at their skills and experience, but also how well they will fit into the culture of our organisation.
“This is vitally important to ensuring the long-term success of the recruiting process. If they fit the culture then they will stay with the company longer and make a positive contribution. If the fit is wrong it can be disastrous.”
WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?
CW: “I am pleased to say that ego isn’t a problem I have had to deal with all that often, as the great majority of people I have worked with have been wonderful colleagues. I believe this is because the team at West Australian Opera care deeply for what they do and treat our visiting artists with great respect. Recent feedback from one of our international artists is very revealing. He said he loves coming to work for West Australian Opera because there is no BS.”
WABN: Is there an organisation/business model that you strive to achieve/reach? What is it?
CW: “I am happy with the existing business model of the company as it is delivering significant increases in community support through government funding, ticket sales, sponsorship and donations. And more importantly, it is taking us towards our mission which is to ‘make opera a live, accessible and relevant art form for all Western Australians’”.
WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?
CW: “From a national perspective I would like the sector to be more cohesive and able to respond to issues in a more collective way. Research has shown that the arts make an enormous contribution to Australia economically, socially, educationally and as a definer of our identity both here and abroad, but the arts continue to be politically marginalised. The arts didn’t receive a mention during the federal election campaign, as there is a perception that there are no votes in the arts. I would like to see this change by the time of the next election.”
WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector? How do you deal with them?
CW: “Lack of money to achieve what we can and should achieve would be the biggest hurdle. All of our productions are selling out, generally before we open, so we know that we are not meeting the demand of our audience. We would like to extend our seasons and add an additional season, but we don’t have the money or the orchestra availability to make this change.
WABN: Have you read a good book on management/leadership that you can recommend? What was so good about it?
CW: “I liked Who stole my cheese? by Ilene Hochberg. It forced me to challenge my preconceptions and to get out of my comfort zone. It had an influence in me taking my current job and moving to Perth.”
WABN: Who has influenced you professionally?
CW: “Athol Young, my chairman at La Boite Theatre Company. He was a great mentor who constantly challenged me to look at the big picture. He taught me that no decision can be made in isolation as it always has a ripple effect, and that all decisions must be made with a thought to the future.”
WABN: What were you doing before your current position?
CW: “General manager, La Boite Theatre Company.”
WABN: What is your background?
CW: “I have a bachelor of arts in drama from the Queensland University of Technology, a graduate diploma in business – arts administration, an MBA from the University of South Australia, and I am half way through a masters in accounting from UniSA.”