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Claire Tynan

07 September 2011

Position: Consultant start-ups and business innovation, former CEO Mahindra Automotive Australia

My 3 passions: Family. I come from a very large family. Sport. I love it. I don’t like to sit still. Work. Should you really put it down as one of your three passions? It’s a bit sad…

Eight years younger than the closest of her four siblings, Claire Tynan says her parents swear she was a baby bonus not a mistake. She also counts herself as an independent spirit – a person who never asks for help and wouldn’t want anyone to pay her way. Throughout university, she worked full time in various roles, and at the end of her commerce degree, she funded her backpacking trip around Europe for eight months: “It was $18,000. I know because I saved every cent of it.”

Since then she’s bought and renovated with her husband a “semi” on the lower north shore of Sydney.

“We calculated on the fact that if you got something within five kilometers of the city, you’d eventually be in a position like Manhattan where there just wouldn’t be any more places available making them highly desirable.”

A self-confessed list maker, planner, saver of money, lover of change, sport and business start-ups, Claire also admits delegation – doing it – is a major personal business challenge.

“The problem for me is that in start-up mode or when you’re growing a business, which are the phases I love the best, there’s often no staff,” explains Claire. “You end up doing it all yourself and it becomes such an engrained habit it’s hard to know when to delegate let alone how. That’s no good for me, and no good for staff. What I need to do is to ask for help more and sooner, because perpetuating the ‘Claire’s fine’ myth leads me to take on more and more, becoming less and less good at everything because I’m overstretched.”

Baby shambles
Easier said than done. However, as many a psychologist will tell you, self-awareness should eventually lead to better self-management. In Claire’s case, the catalyst to her taking a step back to reflect on her past “work, work, work” strategy has been motherhood.

“Having a bub is a whole new world,” admits Claire. “For one thing, I find I have to choose my wording carefully around arranging meetings for the project work I’m involved in at the moment. If I say my home duties are going to define when I am available to meet, people are far less tolerant than if I say I have three meetings this morning and one at 3pm so we need to meet at 1.30. People happily accept that I’m busy… just as long as it’s not child-related busy, which doesn’t count. It makes family unimportant – which is the farthest thing from the truth.”

Pregnancy itself was almost as eye-opening: “We were renovating the house and one of the builders said to me, without blinking an eye, that being in the state I was in I really shouldn’t be making any decisions. It was so weird. I thought, wait a minute: I’m a perfectly capable CEO [of Mahindra Automotive Australia], what are you talking about?
“I really think somewhat unconscious barriers go up against women when they’re pregnant and then, as a mother, issues around childcare kick in.”

Claire Tynan’s family is on the BRW list of top privately owned companies in the country. She has a CV that, on first glance, reads like a patchwork quilt of marketing and business experience in industries as diverse as management consultancy, cars, IT, fashion, and video rental stores. She agrees the industry leap-frogging raises eyebrows with recruiters but explains there’s method in her madness: “I pursue passions and wouldn’t swap my career. I find I’m able to bring skills from what may seem completely unrelated areas through to the new industry I’m working in, adapting the process or thought as necessary, and thus introducing a fresh, innovative approach.

“It’s what makes companies stronger, the introduction of new ideas. Doing the same things the same way all the time can be a problem.”

Enjoying change and taking the opportunities it presents are important business attributes but they should not be done at the expense of analysis and research, believes Claire.

Thoughts on Gen Y
“I’m not an accountant, though am adept at financial figures – yet my natural tendency is to do business from the marketing side of things; and while I think shaking up the traditions has important possibilities, I like to cover all the bases.

“I believe in the old adage: if you fail to plan you plan to fail. That’s what’s interesting about working with Gen Y, they’re quick planners, fabulous thought innovators and then they get on with it, whereas I come from a more strategic angle.
“Take the online group-buying site for cars I’m consulting on at the moment with a few Gen Y entrepreneurs who’ve come up with the idea. None of them have any automotive expertise – yet saw a problem in the market and have sought to bridge that consumer gap. It’s just instant decisions and change. I enjoy that as an entrepreneur, although it can be a very different thing as an employer. I find Gen Y’s not big on taking direction and doesn’t cope with the initial phase of starting in a business where it’s about learning the ropes and setting boundaries.”

Claire is also on the working committee of the Women in Business chapter with the Australian Indian Business Council -brought about through her contacts as the CEO of the Indian utility car brand, Mahindra & Mahindra; a position she held from 2006 until her recently. Due to a change in company focus and its relocation to Brisbane Claire is now working on a consultative basis. Selling a new Ute brand in the Australian market had its obvious challenges, but Claire’s success in the venture further established her national and international business credentials and has forged strong links with Indian business.

The AIBC’s women’s business chapter has been set up to drive bilateral trade relationships between Australia and India, with a prime focus on trade and investment between businesses run by women.

“India is a complex, fascinating place. In the business world you are dealing with highly educated, motivated people. But, it’s so different to what we know in Australia. There are so many people and levels driving different motivators, processes and outcomes. It takes time to understand that,” explains Claire, into whose invaluable experience the AIBC is tapping.