AUSTRALIA’S GOT TALENT
IF YOU DON’T GO, YOU SIMPLY DON’T KNOW. SO LOSING SOME OF OUR BEST AND BRIGHTEST IS INEVITABLE. BUT WE CAN DO A MUCH BETTER JOB OF LEVERAGING THEIR EXPERTISE.
In the half of my 40-year working life spent outside Australia I have carefully observed my compatriots at work in the world and found them to be collaborative, fair, resourceful, fun-loving and friendly. These are the characteristics that enable us to contribute above the average.
Look at some of our high achievers: Douglas Daft, retired chief executive of the Coca- Cola Company; Jac Nasser, former boss of Ford; Geoffrey Bible, former chief executive of Philip Morris; David Hill, head of Fox Sports; David Lyle, who runs National Geographic Channels; Adrian Turner, chief executive of Mocana; and, of course, Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation, publisher of The Australian), Peter and Steven Lowy (Westfield) and Anthony Pratt (Visy) – all run, or ran, global enterprises with more interests outside Australia than within it.
We have had to be smart, find quicker ways to get things done, sometimes relying more on good judgement than quantitative analysis. This has led to a rather unique resourcefulness. And that Australian sense of fairness is also a powerful strength. It builds trust and strong relationships, and enables us to get things done – quickly.
To have an advanced society and business climate in a country our size and as remote as it is, and with a mere 22 million people, we must be clever and resourceful.
There is a saying at IBM: “If you don’t go, you simply don’t know.” It’s not that there aren’t smart, well-educated, very competent, professional and well-travelled Australians. Quite the contrary, we have a social, educational and economic environment that develops, values and utilises talent in diverse fields and disciplines.
But if you really want to know how billions of other people’s social and political systems work, how their institutions and companies operate, and how they conduct business, then study and a few transient visits will not get the job done.
You have to immerse yourself in different environments over a sustained period of time and learn to distinguish between the “facades” and how people really think, act and conduct business. You must invest in learning about social and business models, many of which have distinct advantages over those we are used to and have come to believe are world-class. Truly global companies pursue this with passion and discipline. They set up structures to make this happen, and they aggressively take advantage of it. Australia must do likewise.
There are about one million Australians overseas, learning new techniques and experiencing different cultures. This simply cannot be “taught” back home. We must leverage this knowledge and experience to enhance Australian innovation, productivity, global competitiveness and sophistication. Many countries already pursue this with a disciplined and well-structured program.
Some Australians will return home. Our strategy should be to keep track of them and provide support for their
YOU MUST INVEST IN LEARNING
ABOUT SOCIAL AND BUSINESS MODELS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE
DISTINCT ADVANTAGES OVER THOSE WE ARE USED TO.
re-entry into positions where their special skills can be utilised. Others may stay overseas. Australia should keep them on the radar, identify their areas of expertise and facilitate programs that link them with initiatives of national significance.
And, of course, more Australians will leave home, taking their creativity and ideas to wherever they think the environment best fosters innovation and lets them commercialise their talent. We must help them transfer their knowledge to other Australians, so that the same activity can be done here.
Doug Elix (below) retired as IBM’s global senior vice-president in 2008 after 39 years with the company. He now divides his time
between New York and Sydney.