Magazine article New Zealand Management

Rosemary Howard: The Egalitarian Australian. (the Management Interview)

Magazine article New Zealand Management

Rosemary Howard: The Egalitarian Australian. (the Management Interview)

Article excerpt

What's missing from an interview with Rosemary Howard is the notable lack of management-speak. She has a practical road-code for getting the job done, bereft of the bells and whistles of an intrusive hierarchical structure. Underscoring her management thinking is a passion for the notion that everyone in the firm is equally important and has the right to participate in constantly improving the business.

A scientist by background, Howard was responsible for Telstra Wholesale, (one of the Australian telco's top performing divisions) before moving to Auckland from Sydney in November 2001 to head what was then TelstraSaturn. TelstraClear emerged after Telstra (58 percent) and fellow shareholder, Austar (42 percent). bought Clear Communications.

Charged with overseeing this acquisition, it was part of Howard's initial role to make bold and unpopular downsizing decisions that cut 650 staff. Her approach was mantra driven: Do it once, do it hard and do it deep--the inference being that it's always possible to bring staff levels back up, as and when required. Interestingly enough, with staff numbers again on the increase, Howard's dedicated to building the best staff retention record in the industry.

Communication is king

Howard's management thinking has evolved from numerous Telstra management roles including sales, business development, strategic planning and product management, plus her days managing the NSW Science and Technology Council. Her views on management are also influenced by the year she spent in 1991 as an Eisenhower Fellow studying US business and investment trends in Asia-Pacific.

But the five overarching management lessons Howard has gleaned so far include:

* Management is about two-way communications with people. "It is not about what I do. It's about getting synergy out of people with a common mission. It's also about developing trust through the mutual exchange of information."

* Our people are the business.

* It's not only what you do that's important, but how you do it.

* Ideas are useless unless acted upon.

* It's okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

Howard's doctrine holds that everyone who works for TelstraClear is equal. In addition to there being no offices, and therefore no doors for anyone, including herself, there's also no head office. More often than not senior management meet by video conference or conference phone call.

Every two months the leadership team runs a roadshow in each major city. All TelstraClear staff attend and have equal opportunity to stand-up and voice their concerns about the business.

The scope of questions and issues raised means Howard learns as much about the business as she imparts to others.

"We spend a lot of time communicating with our people. I also run a weekly newsletter that gives all staff an update on the company's most confidential financial information. I don't believe we can expect to get the best out of our people unless we let know them how the business is performing on a regular basis" says Howard.

Key leadership skills

That said, Howard rates the top five skills managers must have to become truly effective leaders as:

* Mutual respect for individuals.

* A willingness to open-up the business to fellow workers.

* A commitment to treating individuals equally.

* A disciplined approach to pursuing company goals.

* Vigilance over where the industry is heading.

First and foremost, managers must understand customers' culture and values and how they're changing. At TelstraClear that means taking a pioneering approach to an industry that's still less than 20 years old. That means getting her TelstraClear co-workers to embrace the future with their hearts, minds and spirits. "It's my job to get 1200 people to feel passionate about TelstraClear. …

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