Leadership Western Australia shines the spotlight on one of our alumni or partners.

Based in Perth, Leadership Western Australia runs experiential Leadership Development programs and courses. This Spotlight series which is first published in the Business News, shares the amazing social impact which our Leadership Western Australia Alumni have in the community.  Many of our leaders and alumni are community leaders, leaders in a Government agency or department Head; CEO of an organisation; Directors of Not-for-profit organisations in Perth and regional Western Australia.

Leaders who are creating meaningful change in communities are often not recognised and are quietly getting on with making that difference. We like to highlight the excellent work and achievements by these people, working towards making Western Australia a better place to live in the future. Leadership Western Australia develops resilient, courageous leaders to be able to solve challenges and problems in the future.

We value diversity and ensure each cohort includes diversity of thinking.

Spotlight on Tanya Rybarczyk


Tanya Rybarczyk is the General Manager, CSBP Fertilisers, part of the Wesfarmers Group. Tanya has over 25 years’ experience across a range of industries including retail, chemicals, transport, mining and resources and has a strong background in finance, mergers and acquisitions, private equity, accounting and investor relations. Tanya graduated from the Signature Leadership Program in 2009.

The first thing we asked Tanya was to define her leadership style.

“It’s always hard to answer that question, because it’s from someone else’s perspective, but I always try to be an authentic leader. What I mean by that is being honest with yourself and with others about who you are, what you stand for, your strengths but also your gaps.

“It’s very important to me to be true to who I am when I’m dealing with people, and being authentic was a key learning for me during my time in the Signature Leadership Program. Who’s got time to be anyone other than themselves?”

“I’m also very collaborative. I like to promote sharing and challenging ideas and to bring together a diversity of views to make better decisions.”

“I see my role as supporting the people around me. If they’ve got good ideas which are consistent with our vision, strategies, and values, then I support them to develop those ideas.”

But Tanya had to adapt to her leadership style as she climbed the corporate ladder.

“I’m analytical by nature, so in the early days I was all about the numbers, the process, the detail. I’ve had to learn to step back and be much more strategic.

“I still feel the need to have a level of understanding of the detail, so I dive into something until I’m comfortable with the details, and then I come back up and think about it strategically.”

“But you just can’t afford to be in the detail all the time, so I make sure I’ve got really good people around me and then empower them to take accountability of their area of responsibility.”

This high-level strategic thinking has come in handy for Tanya over her career.

“I’ve had six roles at Wesfarmers over 18 years, and each one of them has been a real change of pace. None of those roles were a logical progression from the job I was doing but rather leveraged my attributes and skills. For example, my previous role was as Chief Financial Officer of Wesfarmers Chemicals, Energy & Fertiliser (WesCEF) but I’m now leading a fertiliser business yet I don’t have an agricultural background.”

“Gaining the trust of people and the credibility without that obvious industry experience has always been a challenge.”

Coming into the role at CSBP, the first thing Tanya did was get to know people in the business, from team members to customers to suppliers.

“I wanted to understand their ideas, where they saw our challenges and opportunities, and really try to learn as much about the business as possible. I was very upfront and honest about the fact that I didn’t come with all of this knowledge. Everyone responded positively to that honesty.”

“Those discussions formed the foundation of a refresh of our business strategic direction.  I worked with my leadership team to develop an exciting new vision for the business along with key strategic objectives to drive us forward, underpinned by an updated set of values.  This has been a really important step for everyone in the business to align their efforts to help achieve our objectives.”

One of Tanya’s proudest moments at Wesfarmers was the job-sharing arrangement of her role as Chief Financial Officer at WesCEF.

“During my eight-year term as CFO, I went on maternity leave twice. My boss at the time, Tom O’Leary, encouraged me to return to work in the same role but in a job share capacity, which was amazing.  When my current boss, Ian Hansen, took the helm he was also very supportive.”

“I was one of three women who rotated through the role as job-share partners over a four year period and between us we had six children.  I think we proved that not only was it possible to do, but it was actually incredibly successful and fulfilling from both a professional and personal perspective.”

The job-sharing acted as a proof of concept for the business. Far from being a compromise, Tanya’s bosses felt the role was improved.

“They were effectively getting two brains for the price of one. Any kind of challenge or situation was met with two people’s views, which led to better decision making.  It was diversity in action.”

Having completed Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program ten years ago, Tanya still remembers it being a really positive experience.

“I really loved its unique structure and the participants developed genuinely strong relationships. Every other course I’ve been on has an alumni network, but it just doesn’t compare to the Leadership WA Alumni.”

“We lean on each other all the time if we’re looking to that next move or want some advice about career development, work or personal challenges, or any of those kind of things. It’s a really trusted environment. It’s been incredibly valuable since I did the program.”

The Program also gave Tanya experience into sectors she had never worked in.

“I had always worked in the for-profit corporate sector, so the Signature Program exposed me to government agencies, not-for-profits, and social causes. It broadened my understanding of Western Australia and our challenges.”

As an Alumna, Tanya also volunteered with a not-for-profit through Leadership WA’s Skillsbank initiative. She joined the advisory council for the Big Brothers Big Sisters Australia, which is part of the world’s largest volunteer-supported mentoring network, matching young people aged between seven to 17 with positive adult role models.

“I wouldn’t have otherwise seen those opportunities or targeted those opportunities, and it’s been great.”

After volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters, Tanya went on to be involved with Community West. But far from being just an exercise in giving back to the community, Tanya’s involvement with not-for-profits has helped her in her corporate role.

“I’ve learnt a lot about strategy development. Not-for-profits like Big Brothers Big Sisters are grass roots organisations that really have to evolve their strategies. Being involved in that process has been something I’ve brought in particular to this role at CSBP Fertilisers.”

As a final question, we asked Tanya to tell us three things she would change about how Western Australia is led.

“WA is an isolated place in the world, which is a positive, but I think it’s one of our challenges as well.  We run the risk of being too parochial, too inward looking and not exposed enough to what’s going on globally. Look at New Zealand. New Zealand is a small isolated country, but it’s so innovative. It punches above its weight.”

“We also need to diversify our economy and, although we are blessed with incredible mining and agricultural assets, we cannot afford to  be so reliant on them because they are both cyclical and seasonal industries.”

“My third point is about making the most of what we’ve got and adding value wherever possible.”

Tanya points to developments in agricultural technology at CSBP which will enable improved decision making for growers.

“Technology is something that can be exported as a service or as a tool along with product.”

“If we can’t diversify across industries, then diversify within the industry. We should leverage more of the value chain for the WA economy.”

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

Spotlight on Craig Holland

Craig Holland is the Director of Maker + Co, a Bunbury-based Coworking, Innovation and Creativity spaced focused on supporting the Innovation Ecosystem in Regional Western Australia. Craig was also the Director Business Development at West End Projects Australia; and has been the Director of Corporate Services at the Pilbara Institute. He has held various board positions throughout his career including Chair of EPIC in the Pilbara and Treasurer of Creative Corner in the South West.  Craig is a graduate of the 2012 Signature Leadership Program.

The first thing we asked Craig was to define his leadership style. But given Craig has worked in both the State Government and his own small business, he has had to change his style of leadership over time.

“In the public sector I oversaw a large team of managers and support staff, so my ability to lead that team of people was essential. It really did take up a lot of my thinking.”

“In small business and the private sector I haven’t had that massive team around me. It’s really been myself and my wife driving our small business. This changes your leadership style from being an exemplar and motivator to collaborator and connector.”

This change in thinking was a conscious choice on Craig’s part to help grow his business.

“We are growing a small team of people over the next few years, so that more traditional leadership style will start to re-emerge when the team is established.”

“As the leader of a small business, the main areas I concentrate on are having an open door and communication channel for our business so that people will feel comfortable coming in, asking us questions, looking at opportunity.”

“It’s also about effectively communicating your business to other people and looking for those connections.”

As a small business owner and leader based in Bunbury – and as someone who has spent the majority of their life in the regions of Western Australia – Craig is well-placed to share his thoughts on what makes for a great regional leader.

“In the regions, your first priority is to generalise because you are much more likely to do more things with less resources. In the city locations you are required to do more specific things with more targeted resources.”

“Both sides of that equation can learn from one another and help one another in that process.”

One of the key problems facing regional areas and leaders has been the issue of economic longevity.

“Karratha is a good case study in this. There was the build-up and boom, and then the retraction, which hurt people for sure. We have friends who have been and are still impacted by that.  However, their efforts since at least 2010 to diversify their local economy has allowed a softer landing and a stronger base upon which they are bouncing back.”

“The crux of the answer to the question, is economic diversification. What is it in each location that attracts, retains, and provides that community and soul to the location?”

One of the key things regional Australia can focus on to bring economic diversification, Craig believes, is the culture of Australia’s First Nations peoples.

“It can be a source of enrichment, a source of learning, and a source of opportunity where that culture can be celebrated and turned into cultural tourism opportunities.”

“Each community needs to think about the other opportunities out there. What’s going to bring a soul into that location and encourage people to stay there long-term, even after the booms have reduced or finished?”

Does the Government have a role in encouraging this diversification?

“Personally, I believe yes. They need to take that helicopter view of regional areas and assess how decisions impact on and provide opportunities in regional areas. This includes infrastructure development, supply chains, economic diversification and new industries that have the potential for sustainable longevity.”

Craig participated in the 2012 Signature Leadership Program at Leadership WA.

“The Signature Program was just amazing for me. I just met amazing people who I’m still in contact with.”

“What Leadership WA did wonderfully well was open my eyes to some of the leaders in WA at a very high level and look at all aspects of the community including for-profit, not-for-profits, small business, large business, and government.”

“When my family moved from the Pilbara to South West, one of the first things that I did was contact Leadership WA and said, ‘Look, we’re moving, and can we be connected in to a few things that are going on?’ That’s a massive strength of Leadership WA.”

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

Spotlight on Jodi Cant

Jodi Cant is the Director General of the Department of Finance. Previously, she was the Chief Executive of Landgate, WA’s land information authority. Her work in creating and driving Landgate’s innovation program has received national and international recognition. In 2016 Landgate became the only State Government agency to ever be named in the Australian Financial Review’s Top 40 Most Innovative Companies list; by 2018 Landgate was named Australia’s most innovative government agency – local, state or federal – and the country’s 19th most innovative company overall. In 2017 Princeton University published a case study on Landgate as one of the world’s leading land registries, inviting Jodi to present at a forum in Washington DC to share the Landgate story.  Jodi graduated from Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program in 2007.

We asked Jodi to describe her leadership style.

“That’s for others to judge, but I would like to think people would say I’m firm but fair, open to ideas and opportunities, and that I’m consistent and courageous.  I would say I’m an authentic leader: what you get is the real me.  I’ll put my hand up for any challenge.”

Jodi’s current role sees her at the heart of the State Government’s push to drive reform across the public sector through the Department of Finance, a central government agency that helps set the tone and agenda for the broader sector.

Jodi’s leadership journey is not your standard public sector ‘mail room clerk to corner office’ story; in fact, Jodi doesn’t have an office, and isn’t a big fan of them.

“At Finance we’ve embraced activity-based working.  We’re about getting the job done – being flexible, efficient, open.  Activity-based working suits that, and suits my style – so I was thrilled to come into such an open, collaborative environment when I started in this role last August.”

Jodi’s first ‘office’ was behind the reception desk of the Barking Gecko Theatre Company, Perth’s renowned theatre for young people.

“The theatre’s a fantastic place to hone your leadership skills – operating on a limited budget, cooperating with a team, driving a compelling narrative and gaining immediate audience feedback. It’s a brilliant grounding for any leader.”

From the reception desk, Jodi put up her hand to take on the Marketing Manager role for the company.

“I didn’t have any formal qualification – I’m an economist – bit I figured ‘How hard can it be?’” she said.  “Besides, it sounded like fun.”

From Barking Gecko, Jodi crossed over to the public sector, taking on the challenge of managing communications and marketing for the Department of Housing and Works, before accepting a role at Landgate to run its communications team.

Putting her hand up and taking the lead has been a constant for Jodi throughout her career.  It’s what led her to develop Landgate’s innovation program – the first for a government agency in Australia.

“It felt like the right thing to do at the time.  It turned out I had the right mix of creativity, communication and commerce to make a success of it.”

“The organisation was very hierarchical at the time and many staff weren’t used to having to make changes let alone being encouraged to think differently and change on a regular basis as part of an innovation program.  But what we did have was a courageous and authentic leader – Grahame Searle.

“I had, and still do have, a lot of tenacity. I walked into Grahame’s office and talked for some length about my ideas and the benefits of an innovation program. Once I had finished, Grahame’s only comment was: ‘I’ve got your back.’ That was all I needed,” Jodi said.

The first element of her research confirmed that the introduction of an open forum that all staff members could use to float ideas was of paramount importance. Here, too, Jodi encountered resistance.

“Our IT department said the online forum wasn’t possible,” Jodi said.  “I suspected that wasn’t the case, so kept asking until I found someone who told me Landgate already owned free software that was perfect for the forum.  I guess persistence is another personality trait.”

But the challenges kept coming.  Landgate’s Corporate Executive team at the time insisted that before any staff member posted an idea on the forum, it should be first approved by their manager.

“I thought it was rubbish.  Staff were allowed to speak publicly with external stakeholders, so why couldn’t we trust our own people to bring up ideas internally? It was completely contrary to the concept of open, cooperative, conversation. There was no point in doing the forum unless it was available to everyone and it was completely unmoderated; so I defended it passionately and I ultimately got it up and running.”  In all the years since, very few posts have been removed.

A key feature of Landgate’s innovation program is that turnover is a good thing. The manager of the innovation program is only appointed for two years, with other team members rotated in and out of the team over 18 month terms.

“The Innovation Manager role at Landgate is one of the best roles in the public sector, but innovation requires fresh ideas and new passion.  You shouldn’t get comfortable.”

The influence of the innovation program has changed Landgate’s operations. In addition to its core business Landgate now also provides consulting services, develops and sells data products, and even starts or invests in companies.

“We partnered with a US startup using technology developed for the Mars rover to commercialise imaging software in Australia,” Jodi said. “We’ve also invested in a cloud-based land-title system. We couldn’t find one, but we found others who also needed one, so we built one.”

“We’ve seen a number of our good people move out of our innovation program and into running similar programs in other businesses,” said Jodi. “It’s fair to say that Landgate’s program played a significant role in spawning an innovation culture across the broader sector.”

These forms of innovation have helped Landgate become financially self-sustainable, which is vitally important during a property downturn.

“The innovation program is all about producing good business outcomes – which it has done,” Jodi said.  “Sure, it’s fun – but it’s hard work and the spotlight is on you to deliver for the business”.

Jodi credits the Signature Leadership Program for helping her shape her thinking around innovation and doing things differently.

“I enrolled into the Signature Leadership Program as I expected it would enhance my management skills and broaden my network,” Jodi said. “I made really good friends who I continue to stay in touch with.  What was unexpected was the Program’s focus on innovation – how organisations can and should look at internal processes regularly and differently to better meet the needs of their customers.  Following a particularly vibrant presentation from Professor Lyn Beazley I was hooked.”

“It’s been incredibly satisfying to see Landgate’s innovation program evolve and grow from strength to strength.  Now with Finance, we get to shape a similar program, but in a different way – it’s our own, unique program with our own, unique set of challenges.  Finance delivers a broad range of services to the community and provides advice across the sector, so I see enormous opportunity to improve how we do this – and I’m sure many people in our business will have ideas of their own.

As a final question, we asked Jodi what she would change about leadership in Western Australia if she had a magic wand. Her response was characteristically brave and authentic:

“I believe we have good leadership.  Geographically, Western Australia is on the leading edge of Australia – facing the developing economies of Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and with a direct link to Europe.  We’re in a unique position to lead.  We need to embrace our ‘leading edge’ status and make the most of our differences from the eastern states.

“Our diversity has always led us to put up our hand and accept the challenge.”

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


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.


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.


Spotlight on Lisa Cunningham

Lisa Cunningham is the CEO of the Wirrpanda Foundation, which aims to improve the quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The Foundation places priority on employing local Aboriginal role models who are empowered to build capacity in their own communities. Prior to being CEO of the Wirrpanda Foundation, Lisa was State Manager for AFL Sportsready. Lisa is a Leadership WA Signature Program Alumni from 2009.

The Wirrpanda Foundation started in 2007 with 3 staff and one local program and has grown to 60 staff (87% Aboriginal) and a nation-wide focus (including a presence in the Pilbara, Goldfields, South West, Great Southern and the Wheatbelt). While some not-for-profits have struggled to maintain momentum, let alone grow, the Wirrpanda Foundation has soared. Lisa uncovers what she believes was her secret.

We believe, do the work and then success will follow. That’s how we established ourselves. We have grown organically, which is fundamental in this space.”

A key part of the Foundation’s strategy is to focus their efforts not only where they are needed in the community today but looking in to future needs.

“Closing the Gap targets have been used to shape the development of programs. An early established program was centred around employment, specifically with Bunnings. The program gave the opportunity for to source a job that could be a life changing opportunity, often creating a ripple effect through the community.”

But the success of the Foundation isn’t just down to targeted programs; a key component is the Foundation’s ability to be agile. At the time of this interview, the Foundation’s aim was to “improve the quality of live for indigenous people through education, employment, justice and sport”.

When mentioned to Lisa, she confirmed the agility of the Foundation with recent additions to the Foundation’s aim.

“We are enhancing the strategic direction of the Foundation by focusing on two specific areas: employment and education.”

Lisa believes by strengthening the specific focus of the Foundation, there is a greater ability to have a meaningful impact in the community.

“I think our challenge is to understand and concentrate on what our strengths are and enhance our offering, rather than attempting to be everything to everyone.”

In growing the Foundation, Lisa has concentrated not only on the Foundation’s purpose and aspirations, but the broader community. Not-for-profits are plentiful in the community and it is understood that there are areas for cohesion and areas for specialisation.

“Our overall mission is to improve the lives of First Australians. That’s the big picture, but then further down, we really are looking at getting kids to attend school, and maintain engagement through to our employment programs. For assistance outside of our scope such as; mental health or housing needs, we have partnered with organisations for their support and help.”

“We have recognised that there are specialists in providing housing assistance, that will be able to provide premium assistance outside of our capacity. We want to partner with organisations that have varied expertise to assist in achieving our overall goals. It is a matter of determining where the organisation’s strengths are and knowing that you are valuable and respected in that area, and can enhance the organisation’s offering by building relationships and partnerships with additional diverse organisations.”

The Foundation’s approach to agility didn’t come by accident. They engaged a consultant to take them through their Belbin profiles – a methodology that considers the strengths of different people in a team, acknowledging the importance of a diversity of skills and personality types.

As the needs of the community changes, we transform and change as well. We have established a team that is diverse and unique. We all worked together to construct the new vision and mission.”

Lisa has also focused on reviewing and modifying the structure of the organisation.

“We have progressed from the traditional hierarchical model, rather, creating circles with the participants centred in the middle. The participants are our main focus with the remainder of the circle formed by the resources required to provide the participant the best support and assistance.”

That leaves Lisa to focus on her role as a leader within the organisation.

“The biggest part of my role is empowering, enabling and training our team. We have had team members move on to incredible opportunities from the Foundation, it is important that we inspire and develop role models in the community that are working to the same goal.”

This focussed vision, innovative structure and culture of empowerment lets the staff do what they do best – improve the life quality of indigenous people. But many issues faced by the community require a holistic approach to problem solving. Many of the people who are helped by the Foundation find themselves in spiralling situations due to problems which can initially seem minor, but without support, can branch out into more complex problems which are harder to solve. For example, many people who rely on the Foundation do not have a driver’s license due to outstanding fines.

“We get to know all of our participants and understand their current situation, including whether they hold a valid driver’s licence. Often in today’s workforce holding a driver’s licence can greatly assist with finding employment.”

Lisa believes that most vital pathway to improving the lives of indigenous people is early education.

“Education is critical not only for personal development but also to ensure that there are chances for employment. We have seen examples of positions being replaced by technology, for example, the automation on mine sites. There is a need for science and technology in schools to educate students and provide them an understanding of potential career opportunities in the future.”

A vital component of what makes the Foundation a success is trust in the indigenous community.

“Trust and respect is very important to the Foundation, we value the continuing engagement from the community and the Indigenous people. Without trust the Foundation would find it challenging to succeed.”

“In the early days, we used a fly in fly out model, but with collaborative feedback from participants and staff we realised that we would not be successful with this model. We did not want to be seen telling people how to do things and later flying out. We now only employ local team member in our regional programs. This model guarantees local knowledge and understanding with respect from and connection to the community.”

“We understand that a Foundation could have endless resources, but if people don’t trust us or want to engage then it is felt we couldn’t truly make a difference.”

Lisa is a graduate of the Leadership WA Signature Program, which she completed in 2009. Lisa still feels connected to her Alumni, almost ten years later.

“It has been ten years next year, and I could pick up the phone to any of them and ask them something and they would assist me.”

Lisa credits the Program with helping her better understand the complex social fabric of Western Australia. She says there were things she learnt on the Program that are were vital to understanding Western Australia, that they should be taught in schools.

“We went to see the incredible rock art in the Burrup Peninsula, which many people do not know exists. We deal with teachers that are anxious to talk about Indigenous culture, in case they make a mistake. As a result, many may not talk about it at all.”

“Wouldn’t it be great if an elder from the region came into the primary or high schools to speak with kids and share their incredible stories?”

After 11 years of growth, we asked Lisa whether she foresaw the Foundation growing even further over the next ten years.

“I think we will grow. I envisage significant growth and the expansion of offerings through partnerships and collaborations.”

“The future of the Foundation is emergent, we’re on the same page and striving for the same thing. It will be important that growth does not become unsustainable as the quality of impact within the community is the most important thing.”

As a final question, we asked Lisa what the biggest challenge would be for the Wirrpanda Foundation going forward.

“Our biggest challenge is measuring our impact. I think that’s a challenge of all not-for-profits.”

“That’s what we’re working towards. If you keep engaged with somebody through their education, continuing right through to their employment, then you can measure an impact.”

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

Spotlight on Jess Machin

Jessica Machin has worked in the arts sector across Australia in a wide variety of senior leadership positions including as a CEO, Artistic Director, General Manager as well as an Actor, Producer and Lecturer. She is currently the Executive Director of West Australian Ballet, and is the former CEO of Country Arts WA. Jessica completed Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program in 2010.

If there is one thing Jess Machin believes in, it’s the value of the arts to all communities across Australia. Through her varied work in the arts sector, it’s been Jessica’s role to enrich the community with the arts. Indeed, Jessica believes the arts to be as vital to communities as hard infrastructure.

“The arts powers the community in a different way,” Jess said.

“The Country Arts WA model was about supporting the arts engine room in communities across the state.”

When reflecting on the Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, Jess said that is helped to grow her professional networks outside the arts industry.

“The program really appealed to me because of the network of peers. I had a very strong arts network, but I didn’t have a very diverse network in WA. I love the diversity across industries and sectors represented in the program.”

“I also loved Leadership WA’s other value of giving back and wanting to make WA a better place through the Skillsbank program.”

“On the first day of the Program I met someone who’s now a Superintendent in the police force, and we both looked at each other and said, ‘we’ll never be friends.’ It didn’t take us long to become close pals.”

“It was amazing being exposed different leaders and having an opportunity to discuss their insights without judgement. It was a really seminal moment. I still draw on what I learnt there.”

The Signature Leadership Program didn’t take long to pay off for Jess. When Jess started at Country Arts WA, the then State Government injected a much-needed $80 million into WA arts through the Ignite funding program. Since that initial investment, Jess has continued to advocate the Government on behalf of regional arts.

When Jess began to put together her pitch to the State Government for increased regional arts funding in 2010, her fellow Signature Leadership Program graduates were the first people she went to and many of them formed part of a leadership group.  I had Leadership WA Alumni from everywhere, from Corrections to Health. Many of them worked with me on a big Regional Arts Conference ‘Open Your Eyes’, held in Geraldton in 2011.”

“The result of this conference was the creation of a Regional Arts Manifesto 2029, which in turn informed the Vote Arts Campaign in the lead up to the 2013 state election where we gained bi-partisan support and worked very closely with the Chamber of Culture and the Arts. We got a pre-election commitment to put an injection of money into regional arts. In total it took five years, but it resulted in an additional $24 million investment into regional arts through the Royalty for Regions funding program.”

While regional arts play a vital role in helping a community tell its story, it also presents a significant economic opportunity.

“There are world-class artists and events happening across Regional WA that are great attractors for tourists. For example, the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival started on the back of a truck with a 600-person audience. Now it’s a major festival that attracts over 20,000 people. It’s a great economic amplifier.”

With such a disparate population, though, it was important for Jess to ensure Country Arts WA was truly representing its members, a challenge for any Perth-based organisation. In order to make sure that Country Arts WA wasn’t Perth-focused in its thinking, its board was composed of regional members from across the State.

“A regionally-representative board gives relevance. We would regularly organise a regional arts conference and festival that would bring everyone together.”

“From time to time there were some communities that felt they weren’t being heard, and you needed to listen and then find out ways you could help.”

Now as the Executive Director of West Australian Ballet, Jessica faces a different set of challenges – namely moving from a service-based membership organisation in Country Arts WA, to developing and executing artistic productions, and an extensive community and education engagement program.

“Producing work comes with its own risks, because people have to buy tickets. There’s always a risk associated with that. We have to raise a lot more money.”

“But it has been an absolute joy to work directly with artists again. I started my career as an actor, and dance has always been a big love of mine.”

While not a dancer by trade herself (Jess trained as an actor at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), and has worked in theatres across Australia), she has a history with the form. Whilst at WAAPA she was taught by Australian ballet great Lucette Aldous AC.

This knowledge of ballet, along with extensive experience working with Artistic Directors, has informed her professional relationship with Aurélien Scannella, the Belgian-born Artistic Director of West Australian Ballet.

“There is a co-leadership model at West Australian Ballet, where I’m responsible for the business side, and Aurélien for the artistic. We work together as co-leaders of the organisation.”

Jess brings a wealth of knowledge in fostering the arts in Regional WA and in communities.

“One of my core focuses is access and our engagement in the community. Our mission is to enrich people’s lives through dance, so we’ve been building our regional program.”

“We’ve initiated regional touring in 2017, and we’ll be doing another regional tour in March 2019 to Kalgoorlie, Karratha, Port Hedland and Mandurah.”

“It’s really important that people living in a regional community have access to the same quality of experience as anyone in the City.”

But Jessica isn’t just bringing ballet to Regional WA.

“Internationally, we’ve developed an Indo-Pacific strategy, and we’ve just performed at the Shanghai Dance Festival, and in 2020 we’re aiming to do a major China tour. We’ve been working in Indonesia since 2016 and, similar to our regional model, we’ll be partnering with local organisations in building capacity and international cultural exchange.”

“It’s an interesting time because the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are doing a review of their Soft Power strategy, and arts and culture can play a key role there. We recently performed at the Heath Ledger Theatre with the Beijing Dance Academy as part of China’s National Day supported by UWA’s Confucius Institute.”

As one of Australia’s three major ballet companies, and the oldest professional ballet company in Australia, Jess believes the organisation has a responsibility to the community and to the arts sector that goes beyond just accessible performances.

“As a Major Performing Arts Company in Australia, we have a responsibility to be a leader in our field and impact the rest of the state in a positive way.”

As well as contributing to a sustainable arts industry in WA by collaborating with small to medium companies, the Western Australian Ballet studios are a community asset that can be used by local groups, from Public Dancing Classes to organisations devoted to treating disease.

“Community groups like Dance for Parkinson’s Australia use our studios weekly. Dance has been shown to arrest the development of Parkinson’s Disease and give relief of the symptoms. Every Friday for two hours people who have the disease come and they dance.”

“We also have a program for schools and communities that don’t have access to the arts due to isolation, and we’ve just trialled some programs and workshops for kids with disabilities, which were really successful.”

One of the key features of ballet is its European roots. But Jess doesn’t see the program as being restricted by tradition. As well as the classical ballets like The Nutcracker, Western Australian Ballet has performed neoclassical ballets including The Great Gatsby, Dracula, and Radio and Juliet (a contemporary version of Romeo and Juliet, set to the music of Radiohead).

“Ultimately, we’re storytellers. We’re telling some very old traditional stories, but sometimes they’re retold in innovative contemporary ways.”

“Under Aurélien’s artistic directorship, we’ve been asking ‘how do you turn ballet into modern art?’, and ‘how do we build new audiences?’. With Radio and Juliet, we had men coming who had never been to the ballet before because they loved the music.”

“They had an image of ballet of just being tutus and men in tights; which it is on some level, but it actually is very exciting, very athletic, live art and actually can make some comment on a contemporary society.”

When Jess completed the Signature Leadership Program, one of her big takeaways was how the Program went beyond the standard wisdom.

“A big realisation was you can buy the Ten Tips to being a Good Leader at the airport, but leadership doesn’t work like that; everyone will give you a different version.”

“For me, it was really affirming that most leaders have had a very organic journey while being authentic to themselves.”

A key aspect of the Signature Leadership Program is self-reflection. For Jess, this is still an important part of her job as a leader.

“I take 15 minutes every three days to do some reflections on my leadership process.”

“It could be reading something, or just taking the time to reflect on a recent challenge and asking ‘how could I have done that better’?”

As a final question, we asked Jess what she would change about leadership in WA if she had a magic wand.

“I would like to see representation from the arts community in the key policy decisions that affect the state.”

“A dream would be to see a major arts investment integrated into areas such as tourism, education, local government, innovation and in the regions, as well as arts for art’s sake.”

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

Spotlight on Guy Chalkley

Guy Chalkley is CEO of Western Power. He has worked across a diverse range of sectors in various continents including Asia, Africa, Europe, North and South America, and Australia. In 2013 he completed Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA) and is a member of CEOs for Gender Equity.

With its vast open spaces, low population density, harsh weather, delivering first-class utilities across Western Australia has always been a challenge. Increasingly, these challenges are being solved through innovation. But according to Guy Chalkley, CEO, Western Power, West Australians have always found a way.

“If you travel through WA, it’s amazing to see where some of the wooden poles are, and consider how somebody actually managed to get them there in the first place. It’s pretty amazing to see somebody repair one that’s been taken down by a storm. I think it is part of the psyche of people from WA; it’s just something that they’ve driven through.”

But the old “tough it out” approach is changing with technological innovations across the State. These changes, in turn, are changing the ways regional towns operate. One example is Kalbarri; located 140km from Geraldton, the nearest power hub, Kalbarri often experiences outages due to extreme weather taking down the powerlines. To give Kalbarri’s energy supply greater reliability, Western Power, in collaboration with EMC and Lend Lease, are building a renewable energy-powered microgrid that kicks in if the Geraldton feeder line is interrupted.

“Kalbarri will show you can use the power of renewables and batteries to effectively create a grid that can eventually become self-sufficient. There is a future where they potentially don’t need the feeder line.”

“It’s not just a case of buying time to repair the line. It can be just as reliable without the line. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars replacing poles and wires, we’re thinking differently for our customers. That’s where we really want to focus on for the future.”

Western Power connects homes and businesses to energy through its network infrastructure, with 52% of overhead assets serving less than 3% of customers. There is an opportunity to provide customers with different energy solutions as technology evolves.

Many innovators and investors see WA’s size and sparse population as an ideal place to test new energy solutions.

“People are coming into WA to pilot their product and partner with us to put a workable, alternative solution on the ground. WA is in a unique niche position now, in that we can offer those innovators the sandpit and act as a test case for where they can actually place their products.”

“We’ve got extremely good sun, we’ve got pretty good wave, and we’ve got fairly good wind. So, from a renewables point of view, we’re a bit of a hotbed in terms of where people want to come to.”

With innovative energy projects across the State, including Carnarvon and Newman, it’s easy to see why innovation will transform WA’s energy distribution. Guy says that WA’s future energy needs will be met by a range of options and all will be led by innovation – whether the answer is microgrids, nanogrids, standalone power systems, or other solutions.

“Customer generally lead innovation, and innovation often gets in front of legislation, government policy and regulation, but then you’ve got such a shadow that can actually prove it works.”

“Uber would be a classic example. Uber happened, and people can fight and fight it and fight it, but at the end of the day they gave the customer an affordable option that was just as safe and reliable.”

For Guy, large scale battery technology could be the final thing needed to make renewables work from an infrastructure POV.

“The challenge with renewables is they are intermittent. They may be cheaper, but cheaper is no good if you need three times as many. Cheaper is no good if you haven’t got the reliability and the security surrounding it. But now we’re finding that battery storage will be the link that we’ve been waiting for.”

The network accommodates any type of generation from solar, wind and other renewables to more traditional sources. The grid will always be the connection that allows electricity to flow between generators, users and in the future – sharing between customers.

By championing self-sufficiency, innovative energy solutions also have the power to change how regional WA lives and operates. A current project at Perenjori, 350 kilometres north of Perth, offers a few hours of battery energy storage in case the town is cut off from the main energy supply.

“The real goal is, just because you’re in a more remote community, doesn’t mean you have to have a worse supply than someone in the metro area. That’s got to be the goal, that a remote or rural customer can have something just as good.”

It’s not just local innovations that WA can embrace. With 50% of the world’s lithium – an essential mineral for batteries – coming out of Greenbushes, WA is perfectly placed to position itself as a global innovation leader.

“There is always vagaries about how long the sun shines, the wind blows and when. The gamechanger was always going to be storage.”

And while the rise of lithium batteries has made home energy storage more affordable, the real gamechangers, according to Guy, are utility-scale batteries.

“The investment’s there and the batteries are getting bigger. They are getting put into the network. People are using them to take the intermittency out of renewables and making it storable.”

“We’ve got to harness that opportunity.”

Despite Guy’s handle on the complexities of energy distribution needs of Western Australia, his background is in British finance. But Guy doesn’t believe that puts him at a disadvantage. If anything, the diversity of experience helps.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career that I’ve worked in a lot of different industries, including two different utility industries – water and electricity.”

“It’s no different wherever you work. People are people. It’s the people who lead your businesses, and if you can get the most out of your people and teams, you’ll get a good outcome.”

The experience of working in Europe was particularly helpful for Guy to help Western Power to avoid mistakes that didn’t need to be made.

“The electricity industry in WA is in its fourth regulatory period. The UK was way into double figures. I could point to examples that wouldn’t work because they had been done overseas.”

But just because Guy had the experience, didn’t mean becoming a CEO in Western Australia didn’t require a leap of faith.

“As a leader in a new organisation, you’ve got to take a leap of faith that somebody below you is going to know more than you. You have to trust that they’re empowered, and you’ve got to then develop your own skills so you can offer different things at the table.”

“It’s a big leap of faith, and you’ll be scared the first time you do it because you want to be in the detail and you want to do it all because you can, but now you’re in a different role. It’s no different from a sportsperson becoming a captain or a private becoming a sergeant.”

Guy is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program. He graduated in 2013.

“I’d just arrived in Perth from the UK where I’d had a big network. I’ve met people out of Leadership WA and got a really good group of people that have moved on since being in Leadership WA.”

“I think the other one for me is I’m not academic. I’m not a somebody who can be lectured, I didn’t go to university, I didn’t want to go to university. The way the program is structured in an experience-based way works for me. I learn from experience. I learn from listening, I learn from using my eyes, and from talking to people.”

As a final question, we asked what Guy would change about leadership in WA if he could wave a magic wand.

“I’m a realist and a pragmatist, so I’m not good on magic wands, because I can’t see what I can’t see. But I think what’s really important is that we’re positive, that we believe, that we’ve got drive, and that we respect other people.”

“Someone asked me recently ‘if you had all of Elon Musk’s money, what would you do with it?’ The answer is you don’t need money. What you actually need is determination, drive, belief, enthusiasm, and positivity.”

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

Spotlight on Ashley Reid

Ashley Reid is the CEO of Cancer Council WA, which celebrates its 60th year of operation in 2018. Prior to his appointment at Cancer Council WA, Ashley was CEO of Ngala for five years. With over 20 years’ experience in the community and public sectors, Ashley has demonstrated a strong commitment to social justice and advocacy. Ashley is a graduate of Leadership WA’s 2007 Signature Leadership Program.

Over its 60 years of operation, Cancer Council WA has helped an immeasurable amount of people through its support services, investment in research, and advocacy for public health. But that good work and success isn’t just powered by good intentions. For CEO Ashley Reid, a clear mission is the first step to achieving a goal.

“I’ve seen organisations that get into the situation of chasing funding or chasing corporate support, rather than focussing on what they are there for. We have a very defined mission. Our purpose in our constitution is to reduce the incidence and impact of cancer on the WA community.”

“Of course, within that you can put almost anything. So we prioritise to bring our strengths and capabilities to making sure we achieve that purpose. The way we do that is the hard part.”

In the current economic environment, fundraising to achieve these goals is difficult. That’s why Ashley and Cancer Council WA use a message of hope to cut through.

“There have been huge gains made in the cancer field. The five-year survival rates for cancers when we were founded were around 30 to 40%. They’re now around 70%. For some of the more common cancers, the five-year survival rate is over 90%.”

“The gains have come through a huge investment in research, improved screening, improved diagnosis, improved treatment. So as much as we concentrate on our history and we want to honour our history, don’t live there. We’re a forward-looking organisation.”

Part of that forward thinking has included the organisation evolving to respond to broader changes in society.

“We used to be the holders of information. In a world of Google, no one owns information. It’s ambient. But it’s unfiltered.”

“We want to bring the best and most up to date information to people, whether it’s about treatment, how to prevent cancer, or the risk factors.”

“Cancer is one of those topics where as soon as you think you might have a risk or you’ve had a diagnosis, the first thing you do is go on Google, and the information you can receive is completely unfiltered. So we are needing to re-position ourselves as not being the holder of information, but being the credible filter.”

Cancer Council WA are also the largest non-government investor of cancer research in the state, and have invested more than $47 million of donor money to research since the establishment of their research program.

“We are the custodians of donor funds and our donors and supporters expect us to do good things with them. The reason why we’re trusted is because we’re very transparent and open about how we utilise donor funds. Our absolute key commodity is trust.”

None of these gains happen quickly, though. Advocating for behavioural change is one thing, but seeing results in the community can take decades and buy-in from the Government.

“We are up against significant barriers towards good public health. We have an unsustainable health system. We all pay for it. We’re in a modern first world country with high expectations of the health system, and resources are finite. So, when working with Government, we focus on the evidence. We say, ‘you can save billions of dollars by having a healthier population.’”

One area in which Cancer Council WA and other public health advocates have succeeded by taking a long-term, evidence-based approach is prevention of skin cancers. Melanoma rates for 18- to 39-year-olds have halved in a decade. But Ashley acknowledges the added difficulty of tackling public health concerns that have the weight of industry behind them, such as the tobacco industry.

“Tobacco control didn’t take one political cycle. It took 30 to 40 years, building the evidence, going up against industry, changing government policy, bringing community and social expectations along with us.”

“The tobacco evidence took a long time to build. But once it was known, you couldn’t argue it. Government then found it easier to enact policies that changed behaviour, because the evidence was non-arguable.”

“Lung cancer is still the greatest cause of cancer death in Australia, but we are down to the lowest adult smoking rates we’ve had ever. Even as recently as the year 2000, the adult smoking rates was 25%. It’s now 12% to 13%. We’ve made incredible gains over a long period of time.”

Ashley also sees challenges in the alcohol industry, with consumption of alcohol not only being culturally embraced, but contributing to thousands of cases of preventable cancer every year.

“We’re not saying no one should ever drink, but there are health guidelines around reducing high level alcohol intake and therefore lowering cancer risk. Should Cancer Council WA say something? Yes, because that’s what the evidence says.”

“We’re in discussions around advocacy in the junk food space, restrictions on advertising to kids, and a sugary drinks tax. These kind of things come up as a significant push against industry, but it’s also about us using the evidence to have a healthier community.”

A key component of ensuring long-term behavioural changes across society is effectively communicating the evidence. This, Ashley believes, is a vital activity of Cancer Council WA.

“Donors invest in us, we invest in the researchers, the researchers build evidence and our staff communicate that evidence in a way that ordinary people can understand.”

“We turn complex research into palatable, easily understood information that can help change behaviour.”

“We know up to a third of all cancers can be prevented by using sun protection, reducing alcohol intake, eating well, exercising, keeping your body weight down and not smoking. That’s a very powerful message, and not complex.”

Ashley has now been at Cancer Council WA for over a year and is still pinching himself about it.

“I still meet people who are so grateful for Cancer Council WA. I love this job. We get incredible trust from the community to do really amazing work with world class experts.”

“The fact that we are predominantly donor funded also gives us a lot of choice. Unlike organisations that might be more government funded, we get to do things unencumbered by others. It means we can be brave.”

One of the key strengths that Ashley brought on board was his experience in community involvement. Ashley believes that by working closer with the community, there can be better public health outcomes. One stark example of this is the different rates of smoking in different communities.

“If you look at the smoking rates in Cottesloe are about 7%, but in some remote Aboriginal communities, they’re 60%.”

“We need to be focused on some of our more disadvantaged and vulnerable community members to make sure those education messages get through.”

Ashley is an Alumnus of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program, graduating in 2007.

“When I did the program I was at a point in my career where I needed to expose myself to good people, good thinkers, different sectors and parts of the industry.”

It’s probably the best program I’ve ever done.”

“It’s an opportunity to really both question your own views of things, and be challenged with new ideas and new thoughts. The people on it were awesome, smart people at points in their careers where they were aspiring to lead teams and run organisations. There was a great energy. I built some really strong relationships with my cohort. We caught up recently for our tenth anniversary, which was just fantastic.”

“I’ve still got the notes I took. I look at them occasionally and think, wow, that was one of those turning point experiences. It was the kind of development of that self-awareness that I really enjoyed.”

For Ashley, the emphasis on the time given for self-reflection was incredibly valuable, and something he carries with him to this day.

“We’re in an environment where everyone’s flat out. We don’t give ourselves permission to think, to contemplate.”

“We treat taking time to think as a luxury, whereas it’s actually the core part of what we’re here to do. We need to discern deeply on complex things. We never have enough time or resources or information, and yet we have to make decisions that will affect both the organisation, the people we employ, and the people we serve. That is a profound responsibility.  Leadership WA taught me that giving myself time to think is not a luxury; it’s essential.”

As a final question, we asked Ashley if this approach still feeds into his management style all these years later.

“I hope so. I talk to our management team about how time to think is not a luxury. It’s an essential part of our job, because we’re all smart, all talented, but we’ve only got so many hours in the day.”

“Modern organisations are becoming more collaborative thinkers. There are moves to more self-managed teams and flatter structures with much less hierarchy. People feel much more valued in their jobs if they’re autonomous, without creating a risk for the organisation.”

“People come to Cancer Council WA because they want to change the world. They want to save lives. They want to contribute. They might have had a family experience or lost a loved one. There’s some motivation. Because many of our staff, and this applies to the whole not-for-profit sector, could go and earn more money elsewhere. Why do they come to us? They want to contribute. They want a sense of purpose. They want to see that their working lives are making a difference.”

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