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The changing face of business leadership in Australia

Posted 4 years ago in Xero news by Chris Ridd
Posted by Chris Ridd

Last week I attended a roundtable breakfast with five other CEOs from a range of prominent organisations to discuss the changing face of business leadership in Australia. The event was chaired by (Fairfax) BOSS Magazine Editor, Joanne Gray and I was joined by:

  • Matt Barrie, CEO, Freelancer;
  • Peter Birtles, Managing Director and CEO, Super Retail Group;
  • Kate Burleigh, CEO, Intel;
  • Bill Pulver, CEO, Australian Rugby Union; and
  • Ann Sherry, CEO, Carnival Australia

The discussion centred on a range of topics from a recent whitepaper written by Change2020, a management consulting firm in Sydney that specialises in leadership, business, culture development and change management.

Despite the very different nature of each of our businesses, there was a great deal of agreement over the challenges that each of us face in managing people.

With a number of CEOs having to steer their companies through the aftermath of the GFC, there was consensus that resiliency is a critical trait of any leader in having to deal with the continued economic uncertainty and constantly changing business climate.

Matt Barrie of Freelancer and I shared a positive outlook toward change and uncertainty which have been factors contributing to the strong growth in both of our technology businesses. It was fascinating to hear some of Matt’s war stories in building the Freelancer business.

Chris Ridd and Matt Barrie

Picture: Myself (left) and Matt Barrie of Freelancer 

Others such as Intel, Super Retail Group and Australian Rugby Union represented businesses that were more about responding to change and the entry of new competition into their markets, prompting some interesting discussion about life as a challenger versus a business that was defending a market position.

Business leadership and shifting demographics

One of the other big topics for discussion was the shifting demographics in the workforce and the potential conflict that exists in uniting baby boomers, Gen-X and Gen-Y staff,  the former who stereotypically grew up in a command and control management style, the latter often described as shunning authoritarian leadership styles and responding better to more inclusive workplace cultures.

We talked about the casualisation of the workforce and the need for leaders to embrace flexible work arrangements and the challenges in developing strong workplace cultures when working conditions and staff expectations were changing so rapidly. We also compared notes about female leaders in Australian business and we all agreed that diversity was an important goal to achieve.

One of the scariest statistics for me in the study by Change2020 is that of the companies surveyed, 37% of all respondents said their boss was not a great leader. That suggests that many companies have some way to go in developing their managers to cope with the changing landscape of business culture.

Keep an eye out for an article in July’s edition of BOSS Magazine when the key discussion topics over this breakfast will be written up in a feature article.


Frances james
May 7, 2014 at 8.15 pm

Hi am a shareholder of Xero and would like to know what happend on 19th March that caused the share price to fall so dramatically. Would you have some information you could email to me on this? Thank you.
Frances James

Jonathan Rogers
September 10, 2014 at 11.05 am

All the topics and issues raised in this article are ‘real’ and happening ‘now’. Businesses across all trade sectors are becoming acutely aware that to succeed in a highly competitive global market, stay one step ahead of the competition, enhance productivity and retain their key talent they must invest in their most important asset – People Managers who will become future Leaders of the business.
It’s not just about being technically skilled, it’s about having the tools and confidence to deal with and manage people at the coalface of business in a way that ensures they have a strong reason to stay within the business. There’s an old saying, People don’t leave a business – they leave their manager. Smart businesses are investing in people management development initiatives – investing in their future, you might say ‘future proofing people management capability’
CDL is in the business of future proofing people management capability, it’s our passion, that’s what we do – visit our website to find out how we help businesses all over Australia, New Zealand and Internationally retain, develop and future proof Business Leadership.

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