Launa Inman, former CEO of Officeworks, Target and Billabong and now a non-executive director at Commonwealth Bank, Bellamy’s, and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, opens up in a new book of interviews with women leaders.
India’s appy couples; Launa Inman on why you have to ask for it
A good leader today has to have a number of attributes. One is that they need to have a manageable ego. I really believe that. The good leaders today are relatively humble and measured. They’re not the big personalities that they used to be. They have to have that common touch – and that’s related to ego as well. If you’re in a retail operation, those leaders are happy to walk the floors and see what the people are dealing with, and what customers are going through. Leaders really do have to be smart, and able to clearly articulate a vision of what they want from this organisation – and delegate, because you can’t do it all. You have to get people to follow you by constantly repeating that vision. It’s got to be two or three messages and you have to keep going over them again. I think if you have those three qualities, you can learn to be a good leader.
There’s always a bit of small talk and often it’s sport. I wouldn’t necessarily go and watch a game of golf, but I would know enough about the game that if anyone was talking about the US Open, I could contribute. I made sure that I read the back page of the newspaper, especially regarding the AFL [she is based in Melbourne], so I knew how the teams were doing. While you’re waiting for a meeting to commence, people would often talk about a rugby game or the tennis or something. I was very conscious of making sure that I knew enough that if I chipped in that they wouldn’t look at me as if I had nothing to add.
[On her appointment as CEO at Officeworks] I had all the credentials and yet there was strong talk that it would go to one of three men who had all put their hands up. I hadn’t because I thought that they would come and ask me. How naive could I have been?
I was on a plane sitting next to a lady I knew who worked in HR elsewhere. She asked if I was applying. I said, “No one has tapped me on the shoulder.” She said, “Of course they’re not going to tap you on the shoulder. It would be very inconvenient for them to move you out of your role, because you do a great job. But if you don’t tell them you want the job, they’re not going to offer it to you.” I said to her, “Well, what do I need to do?” She said, “When you land, you’re going to phone the Group CEO and tell him that you’d like to see him.” I made the call, went in the next morning and [told him] I would like to be considered. He said: “I wondered when you were going to ask me. The job is yours.” I just couldn’t believe it. To this day, I wonder whether they ever would have asked me. Had I not sat next to that lady, I could still be sitting in the merchandise division at Target. That was a turning point in my life and it started with my asking for it.
From WOMAN OF INFLUENCE, by Gillian Fox, also featuring Jane Huxley, Tracey Fellows, Janine Allis, Marina Go, Simone Ryan, Amanda Lacaze, Debra Hazelton, Alex Birrell, Helen Trinca, Jodie Fox and Ruth Medd. Published by Gillian Fox Leadership Development, 2016. www.gillianfox.com.au