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.

The Australian - The Deal - - Ceos Abroad - BY DOUG ELIX

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.

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