The annual Indue Leadership Forum took place in Sydney last week, providing delegates with insights on how to survive, prosper and innovate in a continually changing world constantly reshaped by technological advancements and a new generation that thinks differently.
The forum started on an upbeat note. Westpac Institutional Bank Group Treasurer, Curt Zuber, noted that thanks to the level-headedness of the Reserve Bank of Australia, the economic system was now safer following the GFC. “But it means that the peaks are lower and the troughs are higher.”
He saw nothing on the horizon to suggest Australia risked a major economic downturn. “We put the risk of recession over the next three years at probably less than 20 per cent,” he said.
KPMG’s Melbourne-based partner, Bernard Salt, was even more positive about Australia’s future.
He described how China’s massive urbanisation had fuelled the Australia’s ‘first wave’ of prosperity. Cities like Shanghai and Beijing had each added 10 million people to their populations in 15 years, creating a need for more apartments, roads and infrastructure. This, in turn, stimulated China’s appetite for Australia’s resources and commodities.
“But we are moving beyond this in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy,” said Salt, noting that Australia’s next wave of prosperity would be driven by China’s bourgeoning middle class, who would want educational, tourism, lifestyle, health and other services.
David Vander, General Manager of Microsoft Services, Asia Pacific, discussed a range of new technologies that those in financial services should be aware of. These included consumer interfaces, analytics, digital marketing, Blockchain, application programming interfaces or APIs, Bots (which interact with voice), the cloud and the Internet of Things.
He painted a mindboggling picture illustrating how combinations of these could reshape financial services and why fintech bubbles would use them to unpick the value chain of financial services around the world.
On the leadership side, Best & Less’ former CEO, Holly Kramer, listed some lessons she learnt after she was enlisted to turn the ailing retailer around.
She said that building the right team, fostering a good culture, understanding what the customer was saying, devising a simple business plan that everyone understood, and taking people along on the journey through repeated communications, were some of the things that helped.
Kramer explained the importance of listening. “To be a leader, you have to have self-confidence and sometimes that means you think you are the one that’s right or that has all the answers, or that you need to have all the answers. One of the best things that happened to me in this job was there was no way I could have all the answers because I did not have experience in the industry. I was forced to become a good listener because it didn’t come naturally to me.”
Another lesson was the need to accept failure. “Leaders make mistakes. I made so many. But in a way, it was making those mistakes that helped us learn on the way,” said Kramer.
Dr. Amantha Imber, the founder of innovation consultancy Inventium, agreed that accepting failure was important.
“Signal to the organisation that you are okay with risk-taking,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to innovate effectively without taking some risks. Shine a spotlight on failure. Don’t sweep it under the carpet.”
Imber believed that a good start to innovating was to look at your customer’s frustrations. “Anything that’s pissed them off is a massive opportunity.”
She advised removing any assumptions before you begin and warned against decision fatigue. “The more decisions you make over the day, the worse the quality of your decisions become,” said Vander. “The most important decisions should be made before lunch.”
Nick Bowditch, Small Business Evangelist at Twitter, discussed how failure, along with doubt and fear, held leaders back. “Don’t be afraid to fail,” he said. “Failure gives you resilience and resilience is really cool.”
Bowditch, who left a miserable job in a call centre to start an online travel blog which had a turnover of $1 million within 18 months, provided other insights that had helped him overcome depression and other setbacks in life, and which he believed would help other leaders. Among them were: Don’t try to be perfect; just try to be valuable. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Gratitude is important, but write it down because that creates a neural pathway. And keep a ‘nice file’ of things that people have said about you and read it when you feel down.
He believed leaders in 2016 should be thinking about purpose versus profit.
“If I want millennials to be interested in my brand, I have to be squeaky clean about my purpose. I must have some social purpose,” he said. “This is particularly important to small businesses that sell the same things to the same people for the same price. If consumers have a choice between Brand A and Brand B, and Brand A has a really good, socially responsible corporate program, and Brand B doesn’t care, who are they going to go with?”
This was also something raised by millennial entrepreneur Al Jeffery. He said millennials (those born between 1984 and 2004) were prepared to spend more on a product if it was socially responsible. “They want to know what impact you have on the world.”
Also crucial to this significant group, which makes up 20.5% of the Australian population, was collaboration and co-working. “Millennials are about sharing, caring and working together as a community,” he said.
This type of thinking was again evidenced by Justine Flynn, who shared how she and husband Daniel founded Thankyou from his parent’s house. It is now a social enterprise that produces a range of water, food and body care products and which ploughs all its profits back to help eradicate global poverty.
Thankyou’s Chapter One book crowdfunding campaign, for example, reached its target of $1.2 million by selling a pay-what-you-want book about Thankyou’s initial journey.
Flynn also provided some lessons she learnt along the way, including that your ‘why’ is always your greatest anchor, that leaders need to learn as they go, and that they should celebrate the wins when they can, rather than just dwelling on problematic areas.