Written on the 17 April 2009
Grant Murdoch is a chairman, a director and a teacher. While his position as the Endeavour Foundation chairman has enabled him to develop adept leadership skills, it’s also become a vehicle to put into practice a passion for advocacy.
The Ernst & Young partner and divisional director of its transaction advisory service, says it’s time to bunker down and ride out the financial storm. As for leadership and balancing roles, Murdoch says it’s important to take a step back and establish which role is more important to delegate time that way. Murdoch also teaches at the University of Queensland Business School where he is an adjunct professor and he is a member of the commercial committee of the Mater Medical Research Institute.
By Cezanne Laidlaw
How do you balance your responsibilities between Ernst and Young and the Endeavour Foundation?
I would like to say good time management is enough, but often there is just not enough time to allocate as much as I would like to both activities. When this happens, I suppose my passion for advocacy of the disability services sector wins out. In particular, people with an intellectual disability need a strong advocate – they cannot effectively represent themselves due to their disability and they need organisations like Endeavour to champion their cause. Every time I need to find a balance, I think of that.
What do you aspire to achieve in your position at the Endeavour foundation?
Primarily, I want Endeavour to be a service provider of the highest order and ensure there is no similar organisation in the world that provides better, more innovative or more efficient services to people with a disability. But I also want Endeavour to be a thought leader, an innovator in the sector and to take a leading role in driving change and improvement across the sector. I want us to leverage our unique position as the largest non-government provider of disability services in Australia to provide a national voice for people with a disability.
In your position as Endeavour Foundation chairman, what is your biggest responsibility? Tell us about some of your duties.
Obviously, there are the chair’s over-arching duties of stewardship, corporate governance and strategic direction to ensure Endeavour continues to meet the needs and expectations of all our stakeholders in a progressive, professional, ethical and financially responsible manner. Of critical importance is ensuring we maintain an effective a balance between being both a service provider and an advocate for people with a disability. To ensure this, we have to make sure we have feedback mechanisms in place. But on top of that, I want to make sure Endeavour is truly engaged with the community at large, as well as with clients and their families and friends. I want Endeavour to be a key part of a modern society.
What impact is the downturn having on the way charitable organisations operate, in comparison large scale organisations such as Ernst & Young?
Unlike its almost immediate impact on the corporate sector, most notably financial services, the global economic situation has not really bitten the not-for-profit sector yet. But it will, and hard. And not just emergency care providers. Disability service providers like Endeavour will experience a greater demand for their services as financial pressure on families makes them less able to meet the needs of family members with a disability. At the moment, these hidden unmet needs are significant. At the same time, donations from the community will slow down forcing us to devote greater resources to the already competitive fund-raising arena and placing further strain on our limited resources. The only possible upside is a potentially larger pool of volunteer resources as graduates and professionals look for ways to enhance their employability in an increasingly competitive job market.
What changes have you seen at Ernst & Young most recently in terms of mergers etc?
The past few years of strong economic growth in Australia fostered almost record activity in mergers and acquisitions as companies, particularly in financial services, retail and resources, sought greater scale and reach. Some were friendly, some not, some were successful, some not, some were of global consequence, some purely local. However, the global financial situation has slammed on the brakes with companies of all sizes preparing to hunker down and ride out the storm. They are content on merely maintaining market share and a sustainable level of profitability and are most likely without the necessary capital-raising ability to make a competitive bid, let alone undertake an effective merger.
How important is corporate social responsibility in organisations and in your experience have you seen that this is one of the first aspects to be cut down in tough times?
I believe the focus on corporate social responsibility will continue to grow as businesses see the commercial and community benefits it can realise. And despite what some may think, it is far from viewed cynically as a modern commercial reality – companies see it as a vital component in being a part of a community, of earning the right to do business there. I guess it’s similar to the growing number of corporate sector executives either moving into or becoming heavily involved not-for-profit organisations.
I think the tough times ahead may see an increase in corporate giving, both due to increased social need and as part of companies’ strategies to differentiate themselves from competitors in the markets in which they operate.
What leadership qualities are essential in your role?
I think the most important quality is the ability to hear with an open mind all points of view, to celebrate the many differences around the boardroom table that a well constituted board comprising people with complementary experiences and business paradigms will inevitably produce. It is also extremely important to select the right CEO, one who fits both the organisation’s needs and can work closely with the board, whether he is part of it or not. In fact, I think the strict, old-fashioned delineation between the board and executive is becoming increasingly largely academic, and it is important the chairman facilitates the close involvement of the CEO and senior management in strategic as well as operational execution.
Is there a business mantra you adhere to?
I like to say that when you sit on your figurative rocking chair and contemplate your life, you want to look back with no regrets.
I don’t mean that there won’t be things that, given the gift of hindsight you might do differently, but the decisions people most often regret are ones not based on integrity and doing the right thing. So, ethical integrity is my compass when navigating through not only my professional but all facets of my life.
How important is it to achieve work life balance and how have you been able to ensure you spend adequate time on each aspect of your life?
That’s a question I’ve been hearing a lot in recent years, and I think it can best be answered by the proverb attributed to Confucius: Choose a job you like, and you’ll never work a day in your life. I mean, you choose what you want to do in life.
If you make sure you only become involved in things you are passionate about, then work-life balance will take care of itself.