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Rosemary Howard AGSM Executive Programs

07 March 2011

We are all leaders. We are leaders of ourselves first and foremost...\"

Australia frustrates Rosemary Howard, head of the Australian Graduate School of Management's Executive Programs.

I am fascinated to know why it frustrates her?

\"Whenever I speak to people who are young, or not from Australia, I recommend they read social critic Donald Horne's The Lucky Country,\" says Rosemary.

Immediately, I date myself by saying I gave the book a go once, and then make a mental note to run home and check it's about what I think it's about.

It is... the opening lines of the book's final chapter go something like this: \"Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.\"

Horne's thesis, according to Rosemary, is that we are so lucky we are unlucky. (I think Horne's much harsher than that. In fact, Horne also noted, Australia \"showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society.\")

Rosemary draws the parallel between Horne's thesis and our leaders. She believes when you look at some of the metrics around Australian leadership we aren't as good as we think we are. We may very well have managed our way through the GFC but \"we had a hell of a lot of luck\".

The luck of the land

\"Australia performs well in bad times but is not so glowing in good. I think we need to shift up a gear into being more consciously competent around leadership,\" says Rosemary, who goes on to explain that there is a great deal of evidence showing we don't invest as much in training and development, including executive management and leadership development, as other countries. And that even when we do invest, we don't measure and manage it as well as we should to ensure we get the outcomes we need and want.

Rosemary knows of companies delivering business and education programs where the outcomes are measured as an after thought at a later date.

\"It's not going to work that way. You have to know what you want to achieve, know what your measures of success are and then design a program.\"

She's also passionate about the interface and increasing the diversity of the interface between people and organisations.

Life at the interface

\"If you look at the level of collaboration between universities and businesses, Australia is at the bottom of the OECD in terms of that collaboration. This suggests to me that we are a school-of-hard-knocks place and that we learn by doing, and sometimes we think that's all that's necessary... but it's not.

\"If you want to be really good and lift the rigour you've got to have that academic/business collaboration where you do research and take the findings on board and into the real world. As for the levels of PhDs and masters degrees – in anything – in this country, it's about half that of the US or Europe. It's another measure of the fact we are not investing enough in education.

\"The other concerning factor is on the output side. Our productivity has declined in the past five years. In fact, only around 42 per cent of companies measure their productivity and if you think about what that means: it means how are you going to manage productivity effectively if you don't know where you stand to begin with? I am passionate about changing these things – about reshaping the interface.\"

Rosemary has been in education off and on for 30 years. She was a school science teacher, moving from there to government and large corporation work in various managerial roles but always on the interface of: business and government; education and business; technology and business and government. She has now returned to the education and business interface in her AGSM role, where her vision is to continue developing the Executive Programs (soon to be renamed Education) into a \"professional services firm\" focussed on building the knowledge and capabilities of senior people in organisations.

Mixing it up

One of the more recent moves for the AGSM has been the founding of the Mary Reibey scholarships sponsored in conjunction with Westpac.

\"The concept for having scholarships for women is a bit different for us,\" admits Rosemary.

AGSM has thought long and hard about the efficacy of open programs and within that theoretical discussion has considered the possibility of separate programs for women, coming to the conclusion that mixing it up provides the best learning methodology.

\"You want people in different sectors, different ages (in the right cohort, of course), from government, not-for-profit and business, all coming together so we learn how to build bridges and work to higher agendas,\" Rosemary explains.

\"But, just recently, we spoke with the Women's Markets team at Westpac because, with all this good effort, debate and discussion around progressing women in business, we are not getting the potential of over half the population there fast enough.

\"Our aim is to develop a senior level program for women looking at how they build and manage their own careers at leadership level, because the evidence is that many women go from job to job rather than having that more strategic view around their careers.\"

It comes down to having children, believes Rosemary: \"Once you have kids there are so many compromises most people have to make that for women it becomes more job to job than truly career focussed.\"

Rosemary's own path to career was anything but linear in the beginning. (Something she believes she shares in common with many women but for which she is also openly glad: \"It's given me a breadth of experience that others may not have.\")

When I ask her if there have been any turnaround moments – she prefers to term them corners – Rosemary launches into the following handbrake turn of a life moment.

Yearning for the rational

\"About 25 years ago, when my kids were little I had this great job in the area of technology and science, developing policy to get government and technology and business working together.

\"But I had small children and I felt guilty not being with them. I decided I had to quit the job, return to teach part time (which I did) and be a better mother.

\"It was all planned and it should have worked but I no longer loved teaching as I had in the beginning of my working life. I missed the government job and even though, theoretically and practically, I had more time for the kids, I realised that it was about quality and not quantity. What good was I, an unhappy mother with the time but not the joy,\" says Rosemary.

Mulling over this one Saturday, Rosemary caught sight of her old job advertised in the paper and turned to \"advisor number 1\", her husband, who said to her: \"Why don't you apply for it.\"

Rosemary felt she couldn't.

\"I was and always have been passionate about changing organisations and getting things moving, and some of the more conservative bureaucrats I thought might not want me back... any way I did apply and got it. I had to crawl back to the head mistress at the school I was teaching at and deeply apologise for leaving. I told her I was not going to be a great teacher if I didn't love it any more.\"

Reflecting on that, Rosemary believes that when she didn't have kids she loved teaching but with kids it was no longer enjoyable.

\"I couldn't have my whole world working with irrational beings 24/7. I needed a rational thing to do,\" confesses Rosemary.

Reaching nirvana

Coming to an understanding of what her needs were and where her passions lay has made the journey clearer.

\"My whole career has been about people, about people achieving their potential. I think, particularly after the GFC, there were organisations and people under the pump and when you are there you don't always come up to think straight. So at AGSM, we saw people working very hard in quite difficult environments but not working smart. The question for us was, were they therefore getting the right outcomes for themselves, their people, their organisations? Taking people out of those difficult 'toxic' environments and getting them back onto the bigger picture helps. That is the magic of what we help organisations do.

\"I am here to turn AGSM into a business that's client focussed and scientific in terms of the learning interventions we do. We are part of the virtual HR learning and development business. That is what we do.\"

Just as I am about to leave we get back to the question of regrets. Not that Rosemary regrets anything she has done, it's what she hasn't done that annoys her. Passing up an opportunity to attend a conference in Argentina pops out, and I ask if she has then ever been to anywhere in South America to compensate. With deep frustration she says: \"No, still not yet.\"

Key Achievements

Going to New Zealand to merge two telecommunication companies as CEO, turning it into a bigger, viable telco and getting great outcomes.

Being the first head of Telstra Wholesale. The telco had never served its competitors as clients and the job entailed pulling together random bits of the company and turning it into a multi-billion dollar business.

Working in a University context but on the fringe to link academia and business and see how out of that we can lift the rigour about what we do in Australia, particularly in regard to executive and management.

Personal Passions

Sailing with my husband.

Technology – it is magical the difference it has made.

Health and nature – our bodies and the earth are the only ones we have and we have a duty to be minders of them for the period we are here.

\"AGSM is changing the Executive Programs name to Executive Education because we don't just do programs anymore. We actually do learning interventions.\"

\"Learning is quite scientific. You actually have to have 3 components to embed learning – actually 4, for adults – they have to want to learn. They have to want to make a shift in their own capabilities and then we can provide them with the fodder for that.\"

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