Progression post recession…

escalatorjpgWith great caution, we are seeing reports of “Australia avoiding a recession” with claims the worst has passed.  And whilst I sincerely hope that is the case and no-one suffers further or unnecessary financial hardship, I do wonder if we as a nation have spent enough time considering just how we will compete and sustain our economy over the long term.  Have we invested enough in understanding the global economic crisis?  The reasons for the global crash and the questions it raises about our understanding and demands on the companies’ (or investments’) integrity, values and responsibilities that we invest in?

One beauty of financial uncertainty is that it forces us to think about what is important to us.  It certainly forces us to review where our priorities and responsibilities lay.  In business it brings clarity to what is the true means of competitive differentiation and how best to go-to-market.  If your company’s survival is at stake, it forces you to define clearly where your markets are (or could be) and how sustainable they are.  It allows you to explore different possibilities and opportunities.  And it should be a time where you encourage and promote innovation and change within your organization and empower your team to help find the path to future growth and financial strength.

In the March quarter national accounts, it still showed domestic spending falling by one percent, the sharpest fall since December quarter 2000.  We avoided a technical definition of a recession by a GDP expansion mostly due to imports contracting and exports remaining positive. “Overall, GDP growth was positive because imports contracted by an extraordinary seven per cent allowing net exports to contribute 2.2 percentage points to GDP growth and ensuring a positive result” stated Westpac’s chief economist Bill Evans.

Let’s not exhale the sigh of relief that the worst has passed us.  Use this time to consider what you need to do to emerge stronger.  How can you innovate and compete strongly in the global markets?  What is your true means for sustainable competitive differentiation and how do you focus on those?

Back to integrity, values and responsibilities, what does this mean for your company and what (if any) are the lessons here?  What should you avoid next time and what do you need to ensure you do next time?  What measures need to be in place to help ensure you don’t forget those lessons?

And finally, as we consider the lessons in these times, how in finding your means for financial strength and security will you balance your desire for greater profits against your responsibilities to your employees and to the greater community moving forward?

What will your story of progression post recession (or near recession) be?

As Albert Einstein said “in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”.

Nurturing and inspiring tomorrow’s heroes

superhero1Most of our kids harbor a burning desire to be number one at something.  They can easily conjure an image of themselves scoring the winning goal, coming first in a race, hitting the winning shot….but how many of them at first call on an image of the invention they are going to create that could change the world?  Or a design of a building that breaks all previous thoughts or examples of possibilities?  How confident beyond the age of two or three (when they really do believe they are a superhero), do they think they have a chance to be society’s hero?  And if you asked them if they wanted to, would they think it is possible for them to be able to do so? 

With three children of my own, and with experience of schooling across 3 stages (preschool, primary school, high school) and across four schools and three schooling types (State, Catholic and Private), I have discovered a distinct gap in our education system in helping nurture and inspire our children to become the inventors, entrepreneurs, and creators of tomorrow.  As many of us know with our children, the connection between what they are learning today in school and how it helps them in their future is rarely understood by them.  And to be honest, unless you raise the level of abstraction in how the skills they are really learning can be applied in life – it is difficult for us to provide an answer to that connection in a way that will satisfy them.  More than that, it seems that whilst our children might get lucky with an inspirational teacher, the exploration of engineering something new, the time given to create and celebrate a new invention, learning how previous inventions have changed our lives and the extraordinary achievement it represented in its time, does seem to be lacking, particularly in the early years of schooling. 

By the time our children hit high school, unless they have a particular self-interest, most do not relate their natural strengths or interest in Mathematics, English, or Art to the possibilities within engineering and invention.   We begin to prescribe requirements for university entry scores in relation to possibilities for pre-defined career paths, but are we really engaging our future minds on the problems, opportunities and possibilities that present every day for them to be inspired to solve and the path to get there?

Thomas Edison claimed that Genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  It seems to me that our education system is putting too much emphasis on, and we are providing too much by way of our own example, of the perspiration element.   We seem to be ignoring the importance and are not providing enough emphasis and example-setting on the inspiration aspect.  By emphasis I am talking within the design of our education system and in the time and responsibility we have as parents in encouraging, nurturing, and inspiring our children’s creativity and exploration of the “what if you could…” scenarios.

As we have increased our protective care, prescribing the after-school activities in a way that gives our children the best possible opportunities (or so we rationalize),  is it possible that we may have not correctly weighed up the cost of preventing or constraining the ability for our children to run free and learn through natural exploration and invention?  As we look to ensure enrichment, gifted and learning, and assisted programs to be supported at schools, have we put the same energy into seeing how creativity and invention is being supported and celebrated at school?

World PopulationIf we think about the future for our children, where do they sit within the world’s estimated population?

We know IQ is distributed evenly through the population.  So how do we help our children make a positive footprint on the world, both for their generation and for their children’s generation?

Australia has an estimated population of 21million, an approximate 0.3% of the total world’s population.  Rather than accepting it is OK to plod along, and accept what is, we have a responsibility and requirement to create a country of global visionaries.  Those who see their playground as bigger than the constraints of our shorelines and the comfort we feel in our history of enjoying “the lucky country” and the “she’ll be right” philosophy. 

It is absolutely critical that we teach our children now the importance and relevance of their uniqueness.  Their unique mix of talent, skills, smarts and experiences.  Of the same opportunity that they have as an individual to anyone, anywhere else in the world.  They have an equal chance to make a difference; and that difference can come from their own creativity and invention.  The problems they can be thinking about to solve may not just be the ones that they face, but rather the problems that we as a global nation of people face.  Or may be something that can be enjoyed by others, enhancing and improving many lives, not just their own.

As a country, as business people, as parents – we have a responsibility to nurture and inspire our children to become tomorrow’s heroes.

I know I don’t have all the answers but I do want to keep asking the right questions.  And help my children to keep pushing and exploring what could be.  I would like for us all to find a way to break inertia, break stereotypical types, break the habits that too much “dead use of technology” like television and electronic games etc provide, and muster the energy to encourage our education system and society in general to promote and support invention and creativity in our children.  For us to celebrate our inventors, engineers and entrepreneurs so they become the leading examples in our society. 

Here are my thoughts of what we can do to nurture and inspire tomorrow’s heroes:

We must accept our responsibility to inspire and nurture our own children.  We must help our children explore what could be and not allow them (or us) to get bogged down on the “how to get there”.  We must make the process of exploration and creativity positive; we must invite it, suspend judgment, and allow for self evaluation.  We must help our children see the beauty and the impact that inventions have bought us – everything from the printing press, microscope, bike, paperclip, microchip, spaceship all the way to the iphone and everything in-between!   They are just a few examples – I am sure you can think of many more exciting examples to inspire others.

And it may be that with this focus, our children will dream bigger dreams, will be given the confidence to explore what could be and take will become tomorrow’s hero.

Racism, Telstra & the truth

ABC News (AFP: William West)
ABC News (AFP: William West)

I read with interest the recent reporting and views expressed in response to Former Telstra CEO, Sol Trujillo’s claim that Australia is a backward nation of racists.  This follows very quickly with the news of his sacking of over 8,000 employees and his “pocketing” of $31m.   In response we shout “how dare he?!”

But what is the real truth here?

Sol Trujillo is reporting his experience and was remunerated as per his contract.  The Telstra Board set the recruitment brief, the selection criteria, the contract of remuneration and the metrics that the remuneration was tied to.  Sol Trujillo did not “pocket” anything that was not determined by others. 

In relation to racism, unfortunately I have personally read, heard and seen too much evidence in support of Sol Trujillo’s views.  It is often subtle and not concrete, but it still persists.  And certainly some of the journalist reporting and quoting of our politicians regarding Sol over the past four years has clearly played on his Mexican heritage.

If we are honest with ourselves, can we really say we have not seen in businesses across Australia, in your local associations, in general banter when socializing, no evidence of racism?  And for that matter evidence of prejudice and ignorance about anything outside of the “vanilla” safe mould of the white, male, heterosexual businessman?  Are we really happy to allow the countless justification in blogs and articles that you have to see these racial jibes as “real Aussie humour” to prove that you are really “one of us”? Or just dismiss Sol’s views as “sour grapes”.

Clearly not everyone is racist, sexist or prejudiced and I include myself in that category.  But as a nation we have far to go before we can prove our fairness and embracement of equality.

Now I am a Telstra shareholder (fortunately it represents only a small percentage of our overall investments) and I see the need for education of the general public and the “mum & dad” investors that bought into Telstra when it floated under claims of great hopes, about Telstra’s corporate values, overall direction, competitive landscape and responsibilities to each stakeholder group.

If we are unhappy about Sol Trujillo’s remuneration, we should not be directing it to Sol, but rather questioning the Telstra Board.  What is the board’s position on executive remuneration?  What constitutes fair remuneration and performance earning hurdles? How is this balanced between the employees, customers and shareholder stakes in delivering on and rewarding their investment? We should also be requesting transparency of the current CEO and executive as to their plans for Telstra’s future.

The truth is often simple.  The process of rationalizing the truth is where it gets complex.

So I ask in all the media beat-up, as individuals we should search for the truth. And to direct your energies to the right issues.  








The Teamwork Bridge: Helping remote employees feel connected

As the world increasingly becomes globalized and technology makes it easy for us to work remotely, you may increasingly find yourself in a situation where you need to manage a virtual team.

Having worked for an Australian listed company where 97% of its revenues were offshore, the workforce as a consequence was split to nearly two-thirds in remote offices resulting in many direct reports crossing multiple regions. Even within head office, in order to attract and retain the best talent, we needed to provide flexibility around balancing work hours with personal life. This meant a percentage of local employees also chose to work from home offices in various percentages of their working week.

So how do you manage your remote employees, particularly those that are working in multiple global regions and ensure that the vision for your company is well understood, that the objectives and timeframes are clear, that the culture is being lived, that they are motivated, energized, feeling part of a team?

This article is designed to share the best tips and practices learned over 5 years of leading a global organization, and addresses how you can achieve a unified work force where employees feel connected and as one team – no matter where they are located.


1. Set strong foundations – hire world-class employees

This is a critical business success factor. You need to feel confident you have the right person to represent and lead your company, can evangelize the culture, live the values and be able to make decisions every day that is in harmony with, and will deliver on, your overall business objectives.

There is no doubt, the stronger the person you have, the greater the success you will see as they are able to make judgment on how best to localize the strategies to achieve the broader objectives within their specific market or region.

The more capable and competent the person, the more possibility you have for cross border promotion and the building of a greater organization. So don’t ever compromise on recruitment, with the stakes being higher for those representing you in overseas regions and outside of regular view and contact. You need to have full confidence you have someone you can trust in the job. Great business success depends upon top talent.

2. Importance of Induction

Again another critical business success foundation factor. Often in the speed to implement new plans, not enough time is spent on providing a comprehensive induction program for your new employees. It is important that an induction program extends beyond the immediate first weeks or handover of duties. Consideration and time must be given to discussion of values and of culture, plus discussion of previous successes and failures and why they went right or wrong (this is to encourage learning and comfort in discussing the good and challenging times of the business or the role).

Other induction strategies like shadowing in meetings to help share the company language, best stories and best practices can help provide confidence. Initially you or others may lead, however as soon as you feel confident, it is important to switch roles and shadow and coach with your employee leading until you are confident they are fine to stand alone. The main requirement to have confidence in managing this person remotely is for you to ensure you establish a solid relationship and equip your employee with enough information, enough experience, enough confidence very early on in the appointment to be able to confidently represent the company.

See the induction period as a minimum of 6 months and provide close contact and encouragement to ask questions. If this is an appointment in a different region, an example schedule may be:

  • Solid briefing them through the recruitment process already providing a strong foundation and qualifying tasks around understanding of the products, markets, competitors etc
  • A fortnight induction with you at HQ – allow them to see and hear first-hand how the company operates, allow them to meet their other stakeholders, key customers etc
  • Assign a work buddy that you trust can also help evangelize the values and culture
  • Once they are “live” ensure close contact with you & encourage them to really share first insights and ideas (this is a great way to discover objective new insights)
  • Ensure they are equipped with everything they need – resources, budgets, etc
  • Visit them regularly in the first 6 months but offer practical & philosophical help – e.g. visit their customers, partners, media, present jointly to their team or answer Q&As
  • Request after 3 months a revised high-level plan. This will ensure you get a good understanding of how deep their understanding is and any areas that you may still need to help them with. Look to have them present to others early in the engagement to help formalize the shared learnings. Encourage questions around feedback.
  • Get the team together within that period to ensure relationships are built at the team level even if they are all working remotely away from each other.

It is important not to micromanage the person – this is just a period of foundation setting around the “what” and the “who”, and unless the “how” is important then allow that to be determined by your employee. As soon as you think they are ready you need to give them enough space to do what you first employed them to do!!

Although this point addresses induction, the need to stay engaged as part of developing the individual overall is required.

3. Importance of frequent & open Communication

Be frequent, regular, consistent and coherent in your communications. Help your remote employees feel part of what is going on in your organization through regular:

  • Phone calls
  • Chats (instant messaging, Skype and others)
  • Video hook ups
  • Wikis, forums, blogs and other web dashboard “single views” for all employees
  • Engage others in your team to inform/provide briefs to your remote employees – just as long as someone is sharing what is going on!
  • Share drafts of communications, plans, pending decisions and presentations for input
  • Localize communications if there are language barriers
  • Make regular face to face time – even if they are overseas, coordinate at least a quarterly face to face meeting (you to them or they to you)
  • Regular face to team meetings
  • Email helps provide background and can be used to help overcome the tyranny of different working time zones, but don’t rely on this as the only means of communication

If you have followed step one and you have smart people, they generally will be very good to pick up on what is or is not happening within your business. However it is important you do not leave them guessing and trying to fill in gaps that can lead to wrong conclusions. Instead include them in sharing the ups and downs, the challenges you or the organization are facing etc, in order for them to have the opportunity to input and help. Apart from the relationship building upon honesty and transparency, a benefit is that they can help either solve or at least understand what else is happening in the business which may be possibly impacting them or others they are dealing with.

4. Regular team meetings

Feels like it is stating the obvious right? But with remote employees you need to make sure that they not only have their time with you, but that they have time feeling part of the team, both to build their understanding of each others’ styles, challenges, and dependencies, but also to help provide a forum to share key learning, insights, projects, achievements that they are working on. It is a good way for the team to identify where and how to help each other successfully meet the business objectives. It is also essential to build and retain the values, character and culture of your organization. When you are in the position of managing your people over multiple time zones, you need to agree to the appropriate frequency and ensure these virtual meetings always occur.

If you are managing a global team, remember to change time zones for calls to suit the different employees (be fair and schedule this accordingly). There will always be someone who will be up in the middle of the night – just make sure it is not always the same person! And include yourself in the schedule of middle of the night calls. Make sure you give plenty of time and priority in team meetings to those not immediately in front of you and who do not have the benefit of the pre or post discussions that can follow a meeting.

5.  Identify the sub group working parties – and create cross-functional teams and ownership across borders

This is a practical tip to ensure you don’t focus too much on the doing yourself or within your headquarters team only. Spread and share your projects and create cross-function teams and ownership of certain objectives within a sub-set of virtual teams across borders. The creation of these virtual teams helps you utilize all your available talent but also ensures a strong culture of collaboration, teamwork and global awareness and understanding of the entire business.

6. Foster collaboration

Every point within this article is about fostering collaboration, but it is also a topic worthy of its own highlighted focus and attention. Ask yourself these questions: What example do you provide in collaborating with your team? How can you create an environment of collaboration and do this through remote employees? How do you encourage problem solving? Provide cross-regional resources? Virtual teams? Use this point more as a prompt to continually ask yourself how you can foster collaboration within your team. For remote employees this is critical to ensure high motivation, engagement, loyalty, commitment and for your culture to live and breathe in the way you would hope it could.

7. Discipline in practices

This is just good business practice and as a manager and leader of remote employees it is important you keep discipline in how you apply this to different time zones, regions and needs. From personal experience, it can be quite taxing: to be available first up in a morning for say the US, to be available for APAC in the day and then the EMEA during the evening. If you want to keep a work/life balance then you will need to have discipline around planning the how and when to do all the things you need to do.

It is important that you build in time for:

  • Acknowledgement of employees work, give feedback in the timeframes that you commit to, give them some structure so they have good expectations to rely and operate within.
  • Provide available times or implement a system where they can let you know when they need to touch base outside of scheduled times. This should help you instead of being “on-call” 24/7 to everyone
  • Share and acknowledge successes, their milestones and achievements of your direct reports and those of their team
  • Provide regular performance and development feedback, make time for personal and professional development discussions and formal acknowledgement of performance reviews

8. Provide a clear career path – circulate employees across offices.

If you want to hire world class/world’s best talent you need to be able to demonstrate a great career path. Working for a global or virtual organization provides many great benefits and interest to employees and you hopefully you have already made sure you have hired those with enough ambition to deliver great results as the path to the next step. Ensure you have an individual development and career plan in place and look at what would be involved in delivering this from an investment and career path perspective.

It is important to ensure the movement of your people is two-way. Don’t just handpick the best talent from external offices and bring them to head office. Plan for senior organization leaders or future leaders to spend time out of headquarters within the various regions. This helps cement culture and brings a deeper level of understanding of your business in all regions and areas of your business that can bring not only immediate benefits, but also long term ones.

9. Harnessing available technology

There is much technology available to help you work remotely and stay connected with each other. Using cloud-based technologies like Gmail & Google docs for real time collaboration no matter where you are located can help. As does SaaS programs such as SalesForce for your customer relationship and data management purposes, and Intaact for Financial systems, ensuring everyone has access to the same information and infrastructure in real time no matter where they operate. Other technologies such as VOIP e.g. Skype can help keep costs low but frequency of contact and virtual face to face visibility high. Whilst Skype is good for one on one meetings, if you can’t afford internal video conferencing facilities for group meetings, you can hire out venues that provide it for you.

As to your IT server requirements, there are plenty of hosting services that allow you to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, with highly scalable, reliable, fast and inexpensive hosting from providers such as Amazon S3.

There is a plethora of virtual on-demand solutions that can help you manage your business no matter where your employees are located. This enables you to focus on your core business, leaving the business of managing the IT to those who specialize in it as well as providing you with flexibility and scalability that is difficult to compete with if you choose to keep your entire infrastructure in-house.

Building a strong and collaborative team

As a business leader you must have set firmly an overall organization development strategy that includes the objective of building a strong and collaborative team.

These tips are all about creating a team bridge – a way to help your remote employees feel connected. Connected and engaged employees are more likely to be motivated and will deliver much more than if they are left alone.

As Jack Welch best summarizes it “The team with the best players wins”.

Lessons in Leadership

I have lost count of the number of books I have read on leadership since I began my first management role at 18 years of age.  Even if I didn’t exaggerate (which I can be prone to do when recounting numbers) it would have to be more than 30+ books read on leadership alone!

Being the eldest of four children and as school captain, you learn before you leave school at the very minimum how to communicate clearly and how to organize others. Yet once in the workforce and being quickly promoted into management, I did look to see if I could find a book that would  help me “how to lead people of the opposite sex who are so much older than you”(clearly I was much younger then), and “how to lead people who are likely to be so much smarter than you”(clearly I was much…er….simpler then) and then later looked for books as to “how to lead people through significant change even though they are really comfy where they are today”…(well I still read on this subject)!  

However, as I am sure many of you may have found from reading these types of books, most of the great leadership books provide great reinforcement of the things you either know intrinsically or are already practicing or that you see in other great leaders.  

Hopefully the reason you are in a leadership position is because you have already earned it through demonstrating your success, earned through the support and power of your team behind you.

I have found the greatest value in reading books about leadership, is the time that is spent reflecting on how well I really live the things that are being suggested. I read on with the hope to find those few “aha” moments that bring great clarity to how I might be feeling about my own style of leadership or that of others.  Reading can help reset your view of priorities by helping you step out of the day-to-day and getting back to doing the most important thing of all as a leader, and that is to develop the team around you to be their best, so you can collectively deliver on the goals.

Often in reading these leadership books, I have found the more complex the theory (and clever the title), the less practical it feels when it comes to professional development through daily practice.  And often it is just a clever re-spin on the same basic principles of leadership.

So given that often the best lessons are those you reflect on as part of your own analysis of your behaviour, and the fact that I have been asked numerous times to write on this subject, I have chosen to write first and foremost on what I see as the most basic Lessons in Leadership. 

It is pretty easy to follow – and yes it is intended to be as simple to practice and deliver the results, as it sounds:

Listen,  Look,  Learn,  Live,  Love  so  you  can  Lead !



  • Listen to your team members – you will get more clues as to what is required from your own people then from anywhere else – new ideas, new technologies or developments, things that are competing for attention that may be distracting from priorities, needs, etc.  By engaging your team you are helping individuals feel valued and that they can influence the business.
  • Listen around you – talk on a regular basis to others, ask questions, look for common threads and themes in what is being said both internally and externally
  • Listen to your customers and partners (actively listen) – they will help you develop new ideas, technologies, developments, opportunities as well as provide greater clarification of their pain and priorities as well.  Even if you choose not to deliver what they are specifically asking for, see this as an opportunity for education, or a way to understand the problem so you can solve that not necessarily the symptom. And don’t forget to include listening to who you want your customer to be – what is it that they want?
  • Listen to your instinct (and learn to trust it)
  • Listen to yourself think so you can synthesize all of the above – focus not on exactly what is being said, but more what is all this information is telling you.  Listening is not enough if you don’t take the time to think it through! 


  • Look for smart, talented people and build a great team – assume the job is finding people where it is all about what can you learn from them.  One measure on your people is if you can give them the goals or “the what” and let them focus on “the how” to deliver them, and they do!  If you can’t do that, then you may not have the right people in the job.
  • Look to understand and see the strengths of your team.  Help others to see the strengths of all the team players.  And ensure you play to these strengths on a day to day basis and in important game plays.
  • Look at your team members’ body language (look to see how they are feeling) and care enough to address anything you see – happiness, satisfaction, frustration, fear, stress etc. 
  • Look at competitors, your market, and other markets, anything that has achieved “breakthrough” or has broken through your defences and taken you by surprise. Spend time trying to analyse why it achieved breakthrough.
  • Look to geopolitical and global trends.  We often need a reminder to lift our head from the transactional and get into the macro to really find what is happening in the world and how that may impact positively or negatively your business.  Spend time thinking about how you can harness the global trends and differences in markets that you can see.  Build the discipline to look beyond the playground you are in on a regular basis. 


  • Be on a constant learning path, never ever fall into the trap you have all the information you need to know already, be prepared always to learn something new
  • Learn from others – what they do and what they do not do – not just what they say or choose to share
  • Learn from others – what can they teach you – not just from what you observe as per previous point, but what can be shared through active engagement.  If you want to learn something, then ASK!
  • Learn through reading, talking, listening, observing – as much from external as internal (have others learn and share about key areas they love – how can you encourage others to self-educate, learn and share?   If a topic is exposed to them in something that they already enjoy or an area they already show love and passion in – then allow them to go for it and encourage them to share or teach others including you!).
  • Actively research, look for and stay open to new ideas and thoughts, trends in other industries and across the globe.  Put aside what you are doing today to think about what you would do if you had a blank slate and could start from scratch.
  • Learn from mistakes (yours and others)
  • Learn from successes
  • Share your learning!


  • Live your vision – talk, share, act, demonstrate, live, breathe what the company is working towards.
  • The message you “live” should include defining the game you are in, explain how you the company needs to play the game, what you are working to achieve, how will it help make things better (for the world, the company, for customers, for employees, for shareholders).  Why it matters!  Any why it matters to you and why it should matter to them!
  • Live for now (don’t avoid anything)!
  • Live your values – never, ever, compromise your values. Talk about them and regularly assess (and have others assess) how well you are really living them
  • Live your life (keep it in balance – no one else will do this for you)
  • Live your passion – what it is that gives you energy, how is this aligned or is what you do every day
  • Share your loves, your lessons, your aspirations (not just share yours – encourage and provide the forums for the sharing of others) 


  • Love the people you work with, help them be the best they can be
  • Love what you do today
  • Love what you can do tomorrow – energize yourself and others by revisiting your vision, aspirations and goals
  • Love your life!
  • And if at any time you don’t love what you are doing then change the aspects you don’t like and do more of the things you do like! 

If you can adopt these simple leadership rules, you will achieve amazing things, and you will be able to Lead.  Not just manage.  Not have others follow just because of a title.  Not because you demand it.  But because people will choose to follow you.  People will follow because they will see they can be better people, because they can see a path for success, because they can see how they can impact on the world, because they have confidence they will be recognized and loved for who they are and what they offer.

If you can Listen, Look, Learn, Live, and Love, then you will automatically be Leading.  You will find yourself subconsciously:

  • Leading by example
  • Leading by sharing, growing and engaging
  • Leading through strong communication
  • Leading through empowerment and acknowledging others
  • Leading because you will have a great record of team achievement!

There is no permission or need to have a defined management role to be able to practice these simple leadership rules.  And leadership is simple; you just have to want to do it. 

As Mahatma Gandhi said in one of my favourite quotes:

“Be the change you want to see in the world”




Acknowledging the past greats and encouraging the next generation of inventors

Another great article by Kevin Morris.  For those not familiar with Kevin, he is editor of FPGA Journal (amongst a range of other technical publications) and he writes of the US 2009 Inventors Hall of Fame.  Read his latest article at

Inspires thought on what the world would be without those that push us forward.

We do have a responsibility to acknowledge greatness. The heros that selflessly push us into new territory, creating something new that did not exist before. Interesting that we then spend so much time in the incremental improvements after such significant milestone breakthroughs.

I do concur with Carver Mead. We need to do more to encourage the next generation of inventors, and to help ignite R&D investment and creativity. We need to fill the heads of children with the wonder of what can be, to see their study today as the means to impact positively on the world tomorrow.

Reminds me of a favorite quote of mine: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” by George Bernard Shaw.

As a footnote to teaching the next generation, we also need to teach bloody mindedness and resilience as a requirement in delivering breakthrough!

Innovation is the only means for sustainable differentiation

Further from my earlier view, it seems to me that there is much debate and self-rationalization about where innovation is and where it will remain, with some expectation that it won’t change in the near future.  This view is just out-right dangerous.  The world is in rapid change, and we are seeing major changes when it comes to investment in R&D.

Please read my post to BusinessWeek:

Emma Lo Russo

Interesting this debate has a certain degree of fixation on “western innovation.” That somehow it is “more innovative” than other regions’ innovation, especially innovation emanating from “the east.”

Yet the recent data (much of it factually from the US) tells a different story: Innovation is shifting. By any measure, China, India, and other countries are investing more in R&D, are exporting more high-technology goods, and are selling more to internal markets. Most significantly, they seem more enthusiastic about accelerating these effects, and moving into new areas.

Here are some examples from my desktop. According to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, in its report called The Atlantic Century: Benchmarking EU and US Innovation and Competitiveness, China has changed its innovation ranking score by 19.5 over the past 10 years (the highest margin) and tops the ITIF’s table for change, while the US has changed its score by 2.7, and is at bottom.

Elsewhere, the WTO reports that China’s electronic exports grew 173 times in the 17 years to 2007. The US grew four times. The proportion of total exports from hi-tech goods also grew in China. The US, albeit with a much larger proportion, halved.

OECD countries awarded 6.7 million degrees in 2004. China awarded 2.1 million–one-third of all the OECD countries combined. And again, according to the OECD, China was only 15th on the world patents list in 2005, but grew patents by 35% that year. The US grew by 3%

So the argument is not that innovation is region-specific, but instead that acknowledgement is required that the world and innovation leadership is changing. Where design is created, what designs are being done, who it is done by, how it is done, even where designs are being manufactured, is all under a massive period of change.

It’s re-skilling over and over again, combined with innovation, that should set the agenda for future success, rather than dwelling on past and potentially fading glories.

This is what is happening in countries such as China. China is no longer about so-called cheap labor. Nations such as China, in many cases under national policies, are investing in innovation and re-skilling en masse. In electronics design, the industry in which Altium operates, the appetite for technical training and new development software runs unabated. Altium, as one example, is growing sales in China three times faster than other regions. And the desire is stronger about looking to the future rather then in rationalizing past decisions or investment. Whilst it is easy to argue that there is nothing to rationalize if payment of the tools they were using was not there in the first place, we should look to see how liberating that can be when it comes to evaluating what is required to lead and the willingness to leapfrog yesterday’s design paradigms. When I visit and meet with customers, universities, and partners in China, the desire to be ahead of the rest of the world, along with considerable self-belief, and commitment to investing in world-leading tools and practices are obvious.

Our future, as individuals, as companies and as nations, is in our own hands. Governments should focus on investments for companies that focus on technology innovation and in re-skilling people and organizations over and over again. Individuals should clamor for these new skills, preferably building on those they have already.

Let’s not hide from the challenge and the opportunity to do things differently. We will continue to seek great new products that are connected and smart. Someone, somewhere, will make the products we want to use or own, and at a price that we are prepared to pay, and for the quality we expect for that price. These are all “ands,” rather than choices to trade off, and in truth become the price of entry if you want to compete.

As to who will lead in various sectors, it will be down to us as individuals, and us as individual companies. The US has had a history of leading the world in innovation and electronic products, to assume it’s always going to be that way without changing its view of the world, what will be required, where competitors will be, and where the markets will be, will be required. Focusing on what makes us special requires real discipline of approach around true differentiation, being first to market, being cheapest, having historical leadership–none of these will do and thinking so will be a big mistake.

Innovation is the only means for sustainable differentiation.

Turning organization values into organization valuables

Values need to be more then words we aspire to…we must live them and hold ourselves (and others) to account…

Much has been written about the downfall of the financial markets and many of the leading institutions who are paying the price for over extending on high-risk portfolios. 

Even those who have survived relatively unscathed, and those who remain propped up by government support, must ask themselves how they plan to deal with the next 12-18 months. 

It seems to me that there are two fundamental learning lessons from these recent times that we need to revisit as part of rebuilding the greater organization culture:

1)  Revisiting what we mean by organization values

This requires an urgent and hard look at what this means in relation to core values such as honesty, transparency, respect, responsibility, duty of care, balancing risk and return, and what are the non-negotiable points and measures. 

Organization values need to be more than empty words on paper. 

Values must be lived.  They need to move from ticking the box of “we have organization values” and instead move to be seen and be protected as “organization valuables”. 

You know your values are living when:

  • they are discussed regularly in meetings not as a separate topic, but within every topic
  • senior management are being measured and called out if they are not acting in harmony with the values (employees and managers are encouraged to ask and call this out), and 
  •  when every decision is understood and explained in relation to how it represents the business values. 

A good measure would be if every employee understands the decisions being made in relation to where it sits within the balance of investor returns against customer, community and employee responsibilities.

Values need to be shared and explored in every stage of recruitment, decision making, promotions, and in explaining any changes the organization is making.

The other lesson needs to be around industry regulation:

2)  Industry regulation needs to be overhauled

We need to change our model from having those who regulate the industry who previously have mostly been made up of those within the industry, to those representing the greater business, customer, government and investor community.  We need to move from a secular-type model to a representative-democracy of the greater stakeholders.

It is too easy to corrupt decision making when the regulators are also those who are likely to be influenced by the decisions, either positively or negatively. 

Whilst representatives from all groups are required to provide a good forum of interested parties, it needs to be strongly balanced out by those who represent the greater beneficiaries and of those likely to suffer the on-consequences of any decision.

With increasing pressures on short term results, the pull will be significant to overlook both these aspects in the immediate.  If values can be made omnipresent, not only will it be representative of strong organizational character but become a valuable platform of strong characters (employees) to leverage from.

The challenge for all organization leaders will be how to balance long term progress against short term and to never be tempted to accept or deliver anything if it comes at the expense of organization values or the greater stakeholders.

Emma Lo Russo

Published: April 13, 2009








“Our innovation is not superior to theirs”

The following  article was published in China Business News daily (CBN Daily).



Here is the story in English:

“Our innovation is not superior to theirs”

A fixation seems to be appearing in the worldwide debate about jobs, survival, leadership, technical excellence, and perhaps most markedly, innovation.

 It’s a fixation that, somehow, “western innovation” is “more innovative” than other regional innovation, especially innovation emanating from “the east”.

 In this era of global trade, global travel and global connectivity, this somehow seems foolish at best.

 Time and again, data is presented from that perspective. What’s ironic, though, is that even if we view those data from a western seat, and even if the data are presented through western filters (even inadvertently), and even if those data are read by western eyes, the data still say the same thing: innovation is shifting.

 By any measure, China, India, and other countries are investing more in R&D, are exporting more high-technology goods and are selling more to internal markets. Most significantly, they seem more enthusiastic about either accelerating these effects, or moving into new areas.

One example is a new report from America’s Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, called The Atlantic Century: Benchmarking EU and US Innovation and Competitiveness. Even as the report states that the US is not the innovation leader it thought it was, it goes on to say, “Many nations that get much of the attention as competitors in the innovation economy… including fast-developing Brazil, Russia, India and China… actually score at the bottom of the rankings… The main attraction of these nations remains their low costs, not their innovative infrastructures, and this situation will remain likely for many years, at least until they raise productivity in a wide range of sectors.”

 Yet China has changed its ranking score by 19.5 over the past 10 years, and is top of the ITIF’s table for change, while the US has changed its score by 2.7, and is bottom.

 Elsewhere, the WTO reports that China’s electronic exports grew 173 times in the 17 years to 2007. The US grew four times. The proportion of total exports from hi-tech goods also grew in China. The US, albeit with a much larger proportion, halved.

So something is changing.

In Australia, the closure of its factories by Pacific Brands triggered the predictable, sorrowful outcry about Australian jobs, with just a hint of how shocking it is that these jobs are going ‘somewhere overseas’, meaning China. Yet many of these workers had been at Pacific Brands for 30 or 40 years, doing essentially the same jobs, certainly with essentially the same skills.

It’s re-skilling over and over again, combined with innovation, whether it’s in electronics design or clothing, that should set the agenda for managing the current economic downturn, and preparing to the future.

This is what is happening in countries such as China.

It is no longer about so-called cheap labour. These nations, in many cases under national policies, are re-skilling en masse. In electronics design, the industry in which Altium operates, the appetite for technical training and new development software runs unabated. Altium, as one example, is growing sales in China three times faster than overall. When we visit and meet with customers, universities and partners, the desire to be ahead of the rest of the world, along with considerable self-belief, are obvious.

Our future, as individuals, as companies and as nations, is in our own hands. Governments should focus on investments for companies that re-skill over and over again, that reinvent themselves over and over again. Individuals should clamour for these new skills, preferably building on those they have already.

But let’s not blame others. We will continue to buy underwear, cars, fridges and mobile phones. We might do so in fewer numbers in the next 12-18 months. But someone, somewhere, will make products we want to use or own, at a price that we are prepared to pay, for the quality we expect for that price. As to who this is, is down to us.

Published: Friday April 10, 2009

About the publication:

The China Business News Daily is considered the most influential daily business newspaper published nationwide. CBN Daily is 100% focused on the key issues and current affairs that have significant impact on the macro economy and the business world. The newspaper provides information and insights for business leaders and affluent professionals across China.

IP in China: less about intellectual property, more about infinite possibilities

Emma shares her views that the protection of intellectual property (IP) should no longer be seen as a primary issue in China. Chinese businesses, supported by the government, are seeking out and are willing to pay for the best in the market to create economic leadership for the long-term.  It is time for Australia and the rest of the world to really see the infinite possibilities that China represents – and it’s time to see the value in competing with piracy, rather than wasting time policing piracy.

Read the full press release:

March 30, 2009