30/07/2008 - 22:00

Culture corner: Sam Cook, Yirra Yaakin

30/07/2008 - 22:00


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Sam Cook

CEO of YIRRA YAAKIN (5 years)

WABN: Describe a day at work.

SC: "Pull up in laneway, greet staff with a smile, chain myself to my desk, check emails, respond to emails, travel around the world cyberstyle, get a latte, start fires, put out fires, apply, acquit, dream, dream, dream, innovate, create, push boundaries, break stereotypes, acquit, apply, laugh, wry smile, log-out, unchain, go home."

WABN: What is the best piece of advice you can give someone to motivate a team?

SC: "Celebrate successes, improve weaknesses and value all staff equally. Encourage horizontal management over hierarchy but show leadership when required. Be firm but fair in directives, evaluate and track progress so people can see movement. Most importantly, find the poetry or comedy in the moment and lighten up the workplace. You should aspire for your staff to love to come to work and feel part of the 'family', not have them view it as a 'one powerball...'scenario."

WABN: What has been the most challenging event in your career?

SC: "It was a series of three events that ran separately but concurrently within the first five minutes of my appointment, which I lovingly title 'attack of the 3Ds'. I overcame it with the support of a great team and fantastic board, learning to be prepared, measure, respond and deal with any issue swiftly, grow a thick skin fast and leave the angst at the office so that it doesn't consume and devalue your personal life."

WABN: What is the main quality are you looking for within your team members?

SC: "The ability to triumph over adversity, flourish in a groundbreaking environment and realise their full potential with a laugh or two along the way."

WABN: What's best measurement of your performance, and can you name a highlight in your career?

SC: "My first measure is to find the 'yes' in a sea of 'no'. The second measure is to bring as many people forward with me along the way. Career highlights are many but include the historical Stonehenge UK performance of the Bardi Dancers from the north-west of WA, the unification of the Noongar nation through Ngallak Koort Boodja - our heartland - and the recent response to a play presented by Yirra Yaakin in New Zealand - I Don't Wanna Play House by Tammy Anderson. At the conclusion of the performance, the Maori members of the audience gifted us Waiata [song], performed a Haka and lined up to kiss and hug both Tammy and I as a show of appreciation. When you can move an audience in this way through live theatre, and move the artistic team to tears by the gesture, you know you are on top of something powerful."

WABN: How do you deal with egos in your workplace?

SC: "With great tact, diplomacy, measure and if need be, activating the risk management plan."

WABN: Is there an organisation model that you strive to achieve?

SC: "We have the exciting challenge of creating an innovative and ground-breaking indigenous business model. Without a doubt we are influenced by a composite of elements from around the world and from our diversity as indigenous cultures, but our model is unique and one that we are tracking and measuring along the way. Watch this space."

WABN: What frustrates you the most about your sector and what would you do to change it?

SC: "That the significant arts investment is directed to the 'museum artforms' to continue to pump out irrelevant adaptations of Western and European works that have little to no value to a robust Australian identity. The simple solution is to redirect the funding to a ground-up approach so that arts can be a fully integrated part of our social fabric and not seen as a redundant appendage to society. I'd challenge those powers at be to make the tough decision, safe in the knowledge that they're not the first to have done so. Equally, I'd hedge a bet that the grey suits of town would rush to catch the dinosaurs before they fall, so that they can continue to be seen in the foyer at the opening night of another performance of [yawn] 'Hooked on Classics'."

WABN: What are the specific hurdles that you meet on a daily basis in your sector?

SC: "That indigenous performing culture is not on the periphery of discussions when it comes to Aboriginal art and that we are viewed as a static, embalmed culture. I deal with this by telling folks to switch off Discovery Channel and open your minds to the possibility of a living, wonderful culture that has remained connected since time immemorial."

WABN: Who is someone that you dream to work with?

SC: "Tracey Moffatt. New York-based sistagirl who was before her time in her vision as an Aboriginal artist."

WABN: Have you read a good book on management/leadership that you can recommend?

SC: "Nope, I consult my living cultural library - the elders and Aboriginal community. Far more inspirational than what you can ever glean from a book."

WABN: What is your favourite hobby?

SC: "It's a tie - cyber activism and baking."

WABN: Which personality inspired you the most throughout your career?

SC: "Thomas the Tank Engine for his wise words, 'I think I can, I think I can' and his ability to chug up mountains on the smell of an oily rag."

WABN: Who has influenced you personally?

SC: "My inner sanctum - they all know who they are."

WABN: Who has influenced you professionally?

SC: "It would have to be David Milroy, Paul MacPhail and Dean Collard for having enough belief in me to hand over the reigns of Yirra Yaakin, alongside a book of procedures that was blank save for the words 'good luck'."

WABN: What were you doing before your current position?

SC: "Marketing manager of Yirra Yaakin, but I come from a background in Aboriginal publishing."

WABN: What is your educational background?

SC: "Educated in the Perth suburb of Belmont till year eight then returned back north to Broome. Studied at Broome District High School in years nine and 10, then migrated down the road to Nulungu Catholic College, Broome, where I continued to study TEE through the Distance Education Centre. Education by correspondence was tough going but it was a great grounding in self-motivation. From there, I returned to Perth, completing a BA of Arts at Curtin University."


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