People are the key
No matter how academically proficient you may be, without good people skills you will not maximise your potential
(pages 44 – 46 of the printed journal)
Having completed my secondary education at a public high school I was fortunate enough to win a Commonwealth Scholarship and gain entry to the Commerce faculty at this University in 1966. It was a great three years in every way: the learning, the passing, the failing, and most of all the freedom. All the while I had a burning ambition to succeed. Many enduring friendships were formed in those days. Over this period I worked part time at what was to become my future employer.
My graduation in 1968 with a BCom was the start of a wonderful three-decade journey with the one employer. I joined a medium-sized footwear company which was acquired by Dunlop in 1970. My promotion and progress was rapid and exciting. In 1974, aged 26, I became general manager of Grosby Footwear; in 1977 I was appointed CEO of the Dunlop Footwear Group and in 1980 became CEO of the Dunlop Clothing Footwear and Textile Group (now known as Pacific Brands) and a board member of Dunlop Ltd. Shortly thereafter Dunlop went through several name changes: in 1980 it became known as Dunlop Olympic; in 1986, Pacific Dunlop. In 1985 I was appointed General Manager and in 1987 CEO, a position I held until my retirement in 1996.
I learnt a great deal over this exciting journey. Pacific Dunlop was one of the last conglomerates in Australia; our revenue peaked at around $7 billion a year and we had 55,000 employees. It was made up of seven main groups including what you know today as Pacific Brands. Bonds, Holeproof, Berlei, Grosby and others were leading brands in Australia and New Zealand. Repco, a distributor of automotive parts and an industrial electrical-products distribution business, Lawrence & Hanson, were both the largest of their type in the southern hemisphere.
Over this period Ansell became the largest producer of latex products in the world covering consumer products such as household and industrial hand-protective gloves, with factories in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and the US, and distribution facilities in most major countries in the world. The tyre group, known as South Pacific Tyres was the largest producer of tyres in Australia and New Zealand. GNB was the largest manufacturer of automotive and industrial batteries in the world. In the early 1990s we ventured into food and owned such household names as Edgell Birds-Eye, Peter's ice-cream, Yoplait yoghurt, Latina and Leggo's pasta and sauces. Finally there was a medical group that owned the famous Cochlear bionic ear.
This was an exciting group and from the early 1980s until the mid 1990s was seen as a preferred place to work by many ambitious young executives looking for rewarding careers.
There were many aspects of my work that are as relevant today as they were then to the success of any business. The first of these was the vision to globalise the group. My career coincided with a world that was rapidly moving to free trade through the removal or reduction of tariffs, quotas and other less visible trade-protection barriers.
From the early 1970s and throughout the Cultural Revolution most parts of Pacific Dunlop moved labour-intensive manufacturing to China. From my regular visits, I developed many long-term friendships or what the Chinese refer to as quan xi. By the early 1990s over half of our workforce and 40 per cent of our sales were outside Australia. China was the cornerstone of our strategy over this period.
I was appointed by the Mayor of Shanghai to IBLAC, the International Business Leaders Advisory Council, and I became Chairman of this Council in 1990 and continue to attend meetings each year as one of the longest-serving councillors. The globalisation of Pacific Dunlop enabled me to establish a vast international network of relationships and friendships.
People, people, people
When buying a house, location, location, location is the key. In business and generally in life, it is all about people, people, people. No matter how academically proficient you may be, without good people skills you will not maximise your potential.
I encouraged and nurtured many young graduates to work with us. They enjoyed working in a thriving and dynamic environment and I relished the challenge of harnessing the collective spirit and know-how of the group. Each morning I awoke excited and exhilarated about the challenges of the day ahead in an internationally-competitive environment that would test our ingenuity and competitive spirit. We made it fun.
I am very proud that all the senior executives with whom I worked in those days have gone on to become very successful in their own right. This gives me a great deal of satisfaction and pleasure. Their loyalty and friendship endure today.
No-one goes to work to fail no matter what their position in life might be – they are there to succeed. To motivate, communicate and manipulate, is both a challenge and an absolute necessity. However, leadership requires humility. I believe that the quality of the people around me made me a better leader. This is illustrated by the fact that I chose to reward some outstanding executives with higher salaries than I received, based on their outstanding performance. I used to say to my most trusted confidante that his job was to make me look good.
During my teenage years, my time at university and during my working life, I was always fortunate to have many wonderful mentors. Earlier, some of these were family friends; latterly they were business colleagues. These mentors were all there to challenge, guide and share experiences with. Most notable amongst them was John Gough who preceded me in most of my roles at Pacific Dunlop. He always espoused outstanding wisdom and a great respect for those with whom he worked.
The challenging world that you are moving into will require intellectual agility. These challenges include:
– Similar to the opportunities that China provided long before others, you will need to identify the new frontiers, whether in India, Vietnam and other parts of Indo-China, or perhaps even some of the new states of Eastern Europe;
– Global financial turmoil. The contagion effect is felt not only by the Western world but is a global experience. Every gyration is instantaneous;
– World population growth and the demographic changes of an ageing population in most of the western world and China. We have a world populated by over six billion people with increasing numbers living in poverty. This poverty occurs in both developing countries and the developed world. We therefore have the twin challenges of lifting those in the developing countries to higher standards of living while at the same time coping with the social discontent that the 'have-nots' feel in developed countries; and
– The creative destruction of industry as we know it, with new technologies removing large parts of our workforce. Mobile phones have replaced fixed-line phones; voice-over internet is replacing mobile phones; the internet is replacing letters; the postal service is becoming a carrier of parcels rather than mail because of internet shopping; finally, internet shopping is replacing traditional retailing. All this is resulting in a reduction in both the workforce and the values of many commercial properties.
We are all very fortunate to have been exposed to the teachings provided by this University. Many of you are embarking on exciting journeys that will encompass new challenges and friendships. Your challenge will be to realise the potential in others and motivate them to become winners.
During this journey you must decide how you are going to give back to your community. In the case of my family our major effort has been to develop a young achiever's program. This is conducted by Big Brothers and Big Sisters and provides young, dynamic, highly motivated and ambitious young people with the opportunity to have a mentor, access to workshops and a small financial bursary. My motivation to develop this program came out of the experiences I described to you earlier this evening.
Finally I wish you well, be passionate in your endeavours and have lots of fun along the way.
An edited version of his Occasional Address given at Wilson Hall, the University of Melbourne, on 14 December 2011.