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Spotlight on Gary McGrath

Gary McGrath is the General Manager of Business and Corporate Banking WA at Commonwealth Bank. He has also worked as a manager at Westpac, and as the Vice President of Strategy and Business Development at American Express. He has worked in Perth, Singapore, India, Indonesia and Hong Kong, and is on the Board of the Ability Centre and Hockey Western Australia. Gary is a graduate of the 2011 Signature Leadership Program.

As someone who has occupied multiple senior leadership positions in different parts of the world, Gary McGrath understands the importance of leading and bringing people along with him. And given there are almost as many leadership styles as there are leaders, we asked Gary to define his.

“Certainly inclusive. I try to work with the team and lead from the front. That means spending time with customers, valuing a diverse range of people’s thoughts and listening more than I speak.”

Listening is key to Gary’s role. As the General Manager of Business and Corporate Banking WA for Commonwealth Bank, and someone who deals with high risk decisions, trust is a vital asset in bringing people along.

When investigating the viability of a project for a client, there is more done than just crunching the numbers. The subjective and interpretive side is equally important. This is where the trust comes in.

“Understanding the client’s business means spending times with our clients and exactly understanding their processes. We need to get a deeper understanding beyond just numbers on a page. We need a deep understanding of where they’re trying to take the business, and why they need our support.”

Gary believes a key way for clients to future-proof their business is through innovation.

“You’ve got to embrace that change is constant. You need to change, you need to change how you operate, and sometimes you need to tweak and change your business as well.”

“Once you embrace change as a constant, you can ask, ‘Okay, what innovation can we actually bring into our business?’”

The tricky part, though, is that the right kind of innovation can look different for every kind of business. Depending on whether a business is large, small, new or established, a different approach may be required.

“Change doesn’t necessarily mean a fundamental change of business. It doesn’t mean a fundamental change of swapping from one industry to another industry. It can be just about how you work and how you deploy your resources in your company.”

“You can call it innovation, but the changes can be minor, just around the process changes or people changes. But I do think there needs to be an agenda to change.”

Gary even highlights the risk of not embracing change.

“Some companies cite the same way they’ve operated successfully over the last 25, 35 years. They ask, ‘why change?’ Well, it’s the incremental opportunity that perhaps is there and they haven’t taken.”

But how does one negotiate the tricky task of not just embracing change, but the right change?

“You need to listen to your clients and your staff. They will show you the rationale.”

We asked Gary if he credits his leadership style to any one mentor in his life.

“One specific gentleman I’ll name is Ken Chenault, he was the CEO for American Express for 18 years.”

“The main lesson from him was one of humility. He carried himself very well as a figurehead, and was very humble. He made sure he spent time in his businesses, he was down to earth, he would talk with anybody from a call centre operator to somebody in the finance team to the senior executives.”

“He also had a determined focus. He kept his management team focussed on a monoline, which was the credit card business. And he wasn’t distracted over that period of time and created a very successful company.”

We asked Gary how to remain focussed while being open to embracing change.

“It’s true, growth for the sake of growth is not always good. You have to come back to your core strategy and value proposition. If you’re innovating within that, fantastic. But there are other things that you would walk by and go, ‘That’s not our business. Somebody else should do that.’”

Gary is on the Board of the Ability Centre, a not-for-profit disability service provider that has been supporting Western Australian families for more than 60 years. He is also on the Board of Hockey Western Australia, the peak body for the sport. While Gary believes it is important to give back to the community, he knows where his skills fit best.

“I couldn’t train a hockey team, but as a chartered accountant, I can help from a finance point.”

“One of the best things about Australia is the number of volunteers. They’re so mixed and there’s such a volume of them.”

“Whether it’s volunteers in sport and clubs or charity organisations or carers in Australia, there’s a lot of people who are not being paid for some outstanding work they’re doing.”

Gary graduated from the Signature Leadership Program in 2011.

“The Signature Leadership Program really grounded my understanding of social community issues, not just in Perth but across Western Australia.”

“It fast-tracked me to understand more about the condition of Western Australia, the opportunities and the challenges.”

For Gary, the personal and professional network one develops in the Program was also a highlight.

“There’s not many times that you’re going to be gifted 40 friends, who are business people who you’ll learn from over a year and then keep in contact with them.”

“I think it’s a fabulous opportunity and highly recommend Leadership WA to both my current teams and also anybody else who really just wants to deepen their understanding of Western Australia and also deepen their network in Western Australia.”

Applications are now open for Leadership WA’s Signature and Rising Leadership Programs.

 

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Spotlight on David Lantzke

David Lantzke is the CEO of Ardross Group, one of Western Australia’s leading property developers. He is also the Deputy Chair of the Wheatbelt Development Commission, the Honorary Secretary of the Jurien Bay Chamber of Commerce, and the Chair of Access Housing Australia. David is a graduate of the Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program.

Even though David Lantzke has been CEO of one of Western Australia’s leading property developers for over 20 years, he hasn’t stopped learning. From Harvard University’s Advanced Management Program to Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, David is always looking to grow himself.

And it seems to have worked. When we asked him what his leadership style was, he answered: “I’m in charge of everything, until things go right.”

David has been CEO of the Ardross Group since 1995. As CEO, David convinced the Board to upend decades of corporate strategy by fundamentally changing how Ardross did business. For years, Ardross had effectively acted as a wholesaler, planning major projects that would then be on-sold to the consumer by a third party. Now, Ardross sells direct to the consumer. David decided to promote this model because he recognised relying on the wholesale one wasn’t sustainable.

“Land is a finite resource and the timeframes to get land approved for subdivision and development was just getting longer and longer.”

When David joined the Group, he had no idea he’d be there over the long term.

“When I joined Ardross, I didn’t really know the intricacies of property development. It was a rapid learning curve.”

“Housing’s one of the most important things that you can provide for people.  It fulfils a basic need.  I felt good about our work and that there was a benefit to society.”

The leanness of David’s team also gives him an extra degree of flexibility and an ability to be agile. But while agility has its benefits, being small also has its challenges.

“It can be very difficult to take advantage of anything that involves scale when you’re small. As a smaller private company, you don’t have the same access to capital that you do when you’re larger.”

This can particularly be a challenge in Western Australia, where the fortunes of small organisations are closely tied to the State economy. As a result, David and his team worked to reduce debt during the boom of the early 2000s.

“Our ability to ride these times out has enhanced considerably since we significantly de-leveraged, because through the boom of the noughties we reduced our gearing. And that means that we’re not beholden to a lender, paying interest at the wrong part of the property cycle.”

Indeed, the booming and busting Perth economy has caught out hundreds of businesses in Western Australia over the years.

“WA is littered with case studies that show some developers have done quite well on a particular project, but then they’ve replaced that project at the top of the cycle or paid too much for it. Then there’s a downturn and they struggle to service the debt.”

“As a leader of an organisation, you have to steer your ship through that. In the late ’80s we started some new projects, but then we had ‘the recession we had to have’ in the early ’90s. Interest rates went to 18%. It was very difficult. We had a lot of debt at that time, but we managed through.”

While David’s CEO role is primarily concentrated on the private residential property market, he is also the Chair of Access Housing Australia, one of Western Australia’s largest Community Housing providers, with nearly 2,000 homes across the Perth, Peel and South West regions under management. But despite the different organisational aim, community housing is still subject to the same challenges as a private developer.

Access Housing Australia’s business model relies on being able to sell a certain number of dwellings in a new project to make the community housing aspect of the project viable. But in a depressed market, it can be a challenge to sell the dwellings that fund the community housing aspect.

“In a rising market, it works great. In a falling market, it’s a double whammy because the stock is more difficult to sell, and rental return on community housing also falls.”

“Some community housing tenants find that the private market is more attractive, so they go there. That is a good thing because it means their economic position is improved. But it puts more pressure on our rental revenue, which in turn challenges the viability of the entire community housing project.”

“It’s great that people’s circumstances can change and they don’t need community housing. But unfortunately, I believe the number of people that need assisted housing is always going to be greater than our ability as a community to deliver it.”

In addressing the challenges throughout his career, a key factor has been David’s commitment to learning and education. In addition to Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, David has completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School and the AICD Company Director’s Course.

But it’s the Signature Leadership Program that helped develop David’s emotional intelligence.

“The Signature Leadership Program made me a lot more thoughtful about impacts on others and made me ask some pertinent questions about myself.”

The Program also helped David feel comfortable in international learning opportunities, such as his Program at Harvard.

“My Leadership WA experience really helped me prepare for the Harvard experience and be confident enough to network, because the Program contained 160 people from 48 countries. There were amazing CEOs from massive companies.”

“Leadership WA took my career development to another level and also developed my passion to undertake outside not-for-profit pro bono work.”

Applications are now open for Leadership WA’s Signature and Rising Leadership Programs.

 

LeadAbility Regional Program

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    We are delighted you are interested in applying for Leadership WA’s Regional LeadAbility Course in 2019. The LeadAbility Course is supported by the Department of Communities - Disability Services.

    This application form is for our regional course in Karratha in June and July. Please note this location is subject to a sufficient number of applications.

    Please note the following:

    • All applications are confidential.
    • Applications will be assessed by the selection panel and short-listed applicants will be contacted for an interview.
    • All applicants will be advised of the outcome of their application once the selection process has been completed.

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    To request a printed version, call +61 (08) 6381 6700 or email LeadAbility@leadershipwa.org.au and the form will be posted to you. This printed form can either be scanned and emailed back to us at the above email address, or posted to PO Box 7793 Cloisters Square WA 6850.