Deirdre Lander, Non-Executive Director OBE Organic has more than 25 years of Australian and Asian experience as a management consultant, corporate executive and academic helping organisations implement their business strategy and improve their performance through effective people management.
Recently returned to Australia, Deirdre moved to Hong Kong in 2004 for an organisational change role in an Asian headquartered multi-national corporation, an experience which forged a deep understanding of how to successfully foster and navigate international cross cultural business relationships.
What perspectives have you gained as a Non-Executive Director as a result of your experience working and living internationally?
Living and working internationally enriches perspectives about business etiquette, relationships, and change. However, living internationally in Asia for over 15 years has exposed me to business transformation at unimaginable scale, diversity and speed. Perspectives gained offshore about digital disruption, ‘agile’ working, robotisation, big data, and artificial intelligence ‘at scale’ contribute greatly to Board and executive conversations in Australia.
Whilst working for a global consulting firm in Hong Kong, I was exposed to the widest range of organisations in the world – from start-ups of 10 people to gigantic multinationals with 450,000 people in 100+ countries. My assignments allowed me to see ‘under the bonnet’ of so many organisations, understand options for strategic direction, how strategy is executed and how organisations create success. Diverse assignments such as analysing the relationship between customer service and employee profiles across different countries, or building culture and competency frameworks for a newly formed development bank, has helped me develop a global mindset.
Share with us how much value Non-Executive Directors can bring to a business, particularly when they are recruited from outside of your industry.
When I joined the board of Australian beef exporter, OBE Organic in 2014, I was the first female, first non-farmer to join the original three founding farmer Board members. Founded in the 1990s by a group of far-sighted outback Australian families, OBE Organic was the world’s first grass fed organic beef exporting company.
While I knew very little about cattle production and chilled beef exports at the time, I brought to the OBE Organic Board a global perspective of market opportunities and experience influencing business performance right through the value chain. I have since led their strategic planning processes and introduced management tools such as a strategy planning framework, balanced scorecard for measuring company success and employee performance, development and reward processes.
Recruiting from outside your industry is an important form of diversity that ‘broadens the gene pool’ of available contributors to Board performance. It is a major antidote to ‘group think’ in which we see a homogeneous group’s desire for harmony or conformity and minimising conflict, potentially resulting in poor quality decision-making and agreement at all costs.
Australia is making considerable strides in the appointment of women to Boards, but other forms of diversity such as varied industry sector experience as well as nationality, religion and age are also key to creating an effective Board culture. There is a very strong case for recruiting NEDs from outside your industry.
How does your formal training in behavioural science influence your performance as a corporate executive, consultant, University Lecturer, and Non-Executive Director?
Curiosity. I am fascinated by people – their behaviour, attitudes, emotions, intellect and development. I also enjoy advising and encouraging personal and professional growth.
I started my professional career as an educational psychologist, advising parents and teachers on behavioural and learning problems. Management consulting followed, with a focus on people, culture and change management. Equal opportunity, affirmative action and pay equity, were just emerging as corporate concerns and they also required consulting interventions.
Professional qualifications in behavioural science have been essential for most of my assignments:
- Transforming the HR practices of an Australian mutual following a poor audit report. It involved managing a very significant change program of redundancies with no industrial action and creating an internal ‘agency’ to redeploy those displaced from their jobs.
- Transferring international best practice to local teams of a Hong Kong headquartered textile and apparel manufacturer with 47,000 employees and operations throughout the world.
How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected the beef industry in Australia and abroad?
Generally, the Coronavirus pandemic has raised consumers’ anxieties about health and therefore about healthy eating. Sourcing quality animal protein such as beef is a consumer priority, which is a positive impact of the virus. On the other hand, lockdown restrictions have resulted in unpredictable consumer access to restaurants, and also to retail outlets. These volatile consumer spending patterns create considerable logistics challenges for perishable food producers, such as meat manufacturers. This is replicated in different ways across different domestic and export markets.
Leaving consumer demand issues aside, the scale of disruption to international freight transport – by ship and by air is unprecedented and has played havoc with normally efficient supply chains. In addition, as governments around the world grapple with the financial fall-out of unemployment and sickness on their economies, political actions such as protecting local industry and enforcing trade restrictions add to the challenges the beef industry faces.
Advice for future female leaders?
Topping my list is understanding business financials – whatever your functional background. It is difficult to be credible at the Executive Committee or Board table if you can’t read the financials and understand the cost and profit drivers of the organisation. It’s the language of business. If finance is not your background, take one of the many short courses available specifically to help you. Being financially literate is a non-negotiable in senior executive and Board arenas.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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