Author: Stuart Ridley, Journalist
Marketing expert Andrew Baxter once pitched campaigns to Jarther Taylor, CEO of Datarati. Now Baxter is drawing on his own board career to mentor Taylor in his new role.
I can always rely on Andrew for a good perspective. We met 15 years ago when I was at IBM and he was heading up Ogilvy, and he’s always been genuine, present and interested. At school, there were the jocks and the nerds — I was certainly more with the nerds — although Andrew managed to be in both worlds, playing AFL, but also in the school orchestra. He combines marketing, sports and the arts — and has found a way to be super-inclusive.
We’ve talked about the benefits of surrounding yourself with people who think differently, who bring different life experiences, and why you don’t just hire people like you. The paybacks of diversity and inclusion are huge: they can make an organisation more competitive, more profitable and attract more talent.
In my career I’ve had a lot of the advantages of being born a Caucasian male, from a financially stable family. I’m aware more doors have been open to me than some of my peers. Sometimes, though, my sexuality has held me back — probably through a combination of external and internal judgements. My father expressed quite homophobic views, so he was one of the last people I came out to. I wasn’t out at school because in those days it would have been social death. It was easier at art school, when it seemed you almost got extra cred for being gay. But when I started in advertising, I pretended to be straight so I could fit in. They’re not proud moments of my life — the younger me would be surprised I’d be recognised as one of the Outstanding 50 LGBTI Leaders of 2018.
Putting that into MBA-speak: it took me a while to embrace authentic leadership. Now I mentor other LGBTI people through a growing network and I’ve recently become involved in The Pinnacle Foundation, which combines mentoring programs with scholarships to help LGBTI students reach their potential. As someone who didn’t have a great time at school, I hope I can now help make people’s journeys shorter, easier and better.
Andrew’s advice to bring all of yourself to each day, whether that’s at work or in your community, is relevant in these mentoring experiences. He’s helped me focus on being down-to-earth with feedback, too. Andrew says stressing about things is a waste of energy. Things don’t always go your way, so developing resilience is essential — especially as the CEO.
When I became the CEO of a small company, I had to adjust to the buck stopping with me, which Andrew knows so deeply. He shared some ideas for courses and frameworks around managing the change, including expanding my knowledge so I can now have better discussions with people such as our finance director and data analysts. I don’t have to do statistics, but I need to know what the numbers are saying.
Marketing has evolved to be more focused on giving people choice. It’s not just about flogging product. We’re doing a lot more to understand people’s needs and interests so we can find ways to deliver better experiences.
Every business is going to be disrupted in some manner and the only way to survive is to be genuinely customer-focused. Learning about customer needs can involve a lot of data, but there are risks. We’ve seen a lot of issues come to light with how customer data has been misused in the financial sector. Really, it’s the customers’ data, not owned by any one organisation.
So while I’m excited about artificial intelligence (AI), I don’t think automation is simply an opportunity to cut more people from marketing. We might actually need more people; smart people who can bring insights into what is useful and important for customers, rather than just what’s important to the business. Getting it right requires affinity, attention to detail and a huge level of empathy.
Andrew Baxter FAICD
When I met Jarther, I was CEO of Ogilvy and he was a senior marketer at IBM, one of our biggest clients. We got along well and stayed in touch when he went to Telstra. It became more of a mentoring relationship, where we bounced ideas off each other.
Jarther is very bright, with a classic marketer’s mind — curious and always looking for the next thing. Whether it’s a product, service or developing a career, he’s ambitious, in a good way.
His current role as CEO of Datarati is his biggest challenge so far. Sometimes, growing a smaller independent business comes with more challenges than multinationals because you need the whole-of-company perspective, from IT to overheads and different types of supplier and client relationships. In multinationals, someone else takes care of many of those things for you.
In 2002, I took a small share in a friend’s father’s business. I learned more about running the whole business in that 15-person organisation than I did at some of the big communications agencies. When it’s your money, you quickly learn what you should be doing with it.
When I was at Ogilvy and Publicis, I had 10-plus businesses reporting to me. You get to understand the nuances of different-sized businesses as they’re going through growth. I draw on those to help Jarther understand some of the challenges and I’ve recommended he does the Company Directors Course.
At the end of the day, the buck does stop with the CEO and the best leaders run a business like it’s their own. It’s important to be yourself. There’s no point changing your style once you become a leader, because it’s the very reason you got there.
As marketers, we’re both curious people. It’s a problem-solving career and a team game — you’re building on ideas and always trying to come to an optimal solution. That ability to understand and influence people’s behaviour is a powerful thing within business; it’s something good communicators and marketers have always done.
Jarther and I regularly talk about our interests in the arts and education, which can help his board career. I’m on the board of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and until recently chaired a great charity called The Song Room, which puts music, arts and drama programs back into public schools that no longer have creative programs.
Sadly, some of the fundamentals that engage people have been forgotten as we get excited about new technologies. This is the time for good marketers to shine; to provide value within management and boards.
Good marketers understand innovation and customers, and businesses have never existed without customers. Some boards have focused on shareholder needs rather than customer needs — and got themselves in trouble. [You need] another voice at the table; that’s the point of cognitive diversity — different points of view. Only six per cent of boards in Australia (2.6 per cent in the US) have a marketer on them.
For many years, boards have successfully focused on managing their tangible, physical assets; less so with intangible assets such as brand, culture and goodwill. We’ve seen that through the [banking] Royal Commission, with market valuation dropping in some of the major banks and insurance companies that weren’t looking after their customers. The value of goodwill on a company’s balance sheet is significant.
Andrew Baxter on constructing a board career
1. Start with a committee directly related to your interests: Sometimes there will be opportunities for external experts to participate in subcommittees and then step onto the main board. Even when I was playing sport, I found myself on committees and boards of cricket and football clubs because I was interested in helping just as much off the field as on it.
2. Consider not-for-profit boards aligned to your experience: In the NFP space you’ve usually got some experienced board members around the table and some new ones. My first main board role was The Song Room. I was introduced by a business partner who was retiring. He said, “You’re interested in arts and education. You should take my spot on the marketing committee. It’s such a great cause.” Six months later, I was on the board and a year later, I was the chair.
3. Stay focused on your expertise and interests: One board can lead to another if people understand how you can best contribute. It keeps you focused on where you can add value and gives you a far nicer way of telling people, “I like what you’re doing, but it’s not quite in my areas of expertise or interest, or where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution.”
4. Invest in your education: I did the five-day Company Directors Course and that was fantastic — both the learning and the people I met. It gives you the grounding in the responsibilities of a director. Later on, I did the chair’s course with Graham Bradley AM FAICD. I was already the chair of two boards and about to become the chair of a third, and it was great to hear from someone as experienced as him. There’s also a great course on how to write a board CV, which is very different to how you put together a traditional executive CV.
5. Attend AICD events to keep up to date: I went to an AICD Fellows’ dinner early this year and David Gonski AC FAICDLife spoke about putting the “A”, (arts), in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) — STEAM, not STEM. There’s a lot said about STEM, but guess what, we need to balance that by learning drama, music and art. It was great to have someone of his calibre talking about what he thinks are the future skills and capabilities a director will need.
6. Your role is to support the leadership team: When I did the chairman’s course at AICD, I remember how eloquently they explained your role on the board. First you need to help the CEO and leadership team with the strategy, looking ahead three to five years. Then you govern the strategy and everything that comes with that, including legal and financial risks. Finally, you need to ask the right questions to make sure those first two things happen as well as they can, making sure you’re managing both risk and growth.