Committee for Ballarat chair, Janet Dore talks to Angela Faherty about the need to raise the profile of Australia’s regional centres and to do more to promote board diversity.
A regional champion
As chair of the Committee for Ballarat, Janet Dore is tasked with championing the need for continued prosperity in Ballarat and regional western Victoria. The membership-based organisation helps tackle social, economic and environmental issues using a long-term strategic approach to advocate for change on behalf of its members.
“We are a long-term planner and advocate on behalf of our members,” she says. “We look at the bigger picture and adopt a long-term approach; we look three decades ahead and use influence to advocate for the needs of the city as we see them in 30 years’ time.”
Dore, a long-time resident of Ballarat and regional Victoria, has held the position since October 2015. Arriving in Melbourne from the UK in 1973 as a “Ten Pound Pom”, Dore has spent most of her career living and working in Australia’s regional areas.
She first moved to Ballarat in 1994 as CEO of the City of Ballarat where she found the city in disarray. “When I first moved there, I thought ‘What on earth have I done?’. In 1994, the city was quite conservative; there was a lot of angst about the amalgamation of the previous seven councils. There were angry farmers in Learmonth, battlers in Sebastopol and urban resentfulness in the City of Ballarat itself. But in terms of having a regional base, I have never looked back.”
Today, she remains as passionate about the region as she did back then and is proud of the work being done by the Committee for Ballarat. The committee has around 100 members, including Mars, which is one of the region’s biggest employers. Other members include health services, the university and family-based businesses such as Selkirk Bricks and Haymes Paints.
“We’ve actually got some fantastic entrepreneurial activity in Ballarat; some highly skilled niche businesses,” she says. The best example is Gekko, a specialised manufacturing operation that services the mining industry. The company is currently completing an $80 million contract for a Canadian mining company in the Arctic Circle.
“It just blows me away,” she says. “They have recruited people from all over the world and they are a global company. It is companies like this that are going to make Ballarat thrive and prosper in the future. We need to become known for our fantastic jobs, wonderful products and real lifestyle choice. We have everything here, so we should be seen as the regional capital of Western Victoria.”
Dore says that one of the fundamental challenges with promoting regional areas is changing people’s mindsets. “We’re suffering from our historic settlement patterns that tie us to the eastern seaboard, or even other seaboards,” she says.
“We’ve never had a medium-sized city independent in operation like there is in the US. I mean, in the US there are major cities all through the continent.
“Admittedly, we have a dry continent, but improving people’s psyche about regional cities having self-sustaining activity and doing away with the need to focus on metropolitan areas such as Melbourne, relieves congestion in those areas but also opens up opportunities for work and education for other rural communities.”
We need to become known for our fantastic jobs, wonderful products and real lifestyle choice.
While promoting Ballarat and regional Victoria is one of Dore’s greatest passions, Dore says it is her seven-year stint as CEO at the Victorian government-owned Transport Accident Commission (TAC) that stands out among other roles. “It was the highlight of my full-time working career,” she says.
“The fundamental mission of the TAC was to prevent accidents, but if people did have accidents, to facilitate their recovery and compensate them. What’s not to love about that?” Dore asks.
During her tenure as CEO, Dore encouraged the board to adopt a six-year strategic approach called TAC 2015, which had three core objectives. The first was to reduce its liabilities, the second to improve customer/client satisfaction and the third to improve client outcomes.
“I am very proud to say we reduced our liabilities by almost $400 billion during the time I was CEO,” she says.
“When I left, there was record client satisfaction being achieved, client outcomes were improving and we were shifting away from a mindset of managing client recoveries to enabling client recoveries. My biggest achievement was to reduce the claim acceptance time from an average of 70 days to just five days.”
Dore attributes the turnaround to a streamlined approach and a reduction of red tape that she says often stifles young businesses.
“The red tape we were throwing at them in terms of asking 200 questions when they submitted a claim was just ridiculous. When we stripped that back, we only really needed to ask 20 questions in the most serious of injury cases,” she says.
In her non-executive career, Dore has taken a particular interest in board diversity. “I’m very pro gender diversity and cultural diversity, but we still need to address the gender issue as change isn’t happening fast enough,” she says.
As an example, Dore cites a recent situation in which she was involved in the recruitment of a CEO. The board was presented with a shortlist of men by the female recruiter; and when challenged on the fact that a potential female candidate didn’t make the cut, the recruiter said the woman had been left off the shortlist because she hadn’t been a CEO before.
“We hadn’t actually asked for an existing or former CEO,” says Dore. “And of the previous five CEOs of the organisation, four of them had never been a CEO before either, but they were all male,” she adds.
“To cut a long story short, the woman was added to the shortlist and ended up securing the top job. Unless I had intervened to make sure there was a credible female candidate on the shortlist, we wouldn’t have gotten the right person for the job. It continues to be a significant challenge.”
Whether such bias was unconscious or conscious, Dore’s story highlights the fact that bias within corporate organisations is still prevalent today. Dore says it is the duty of directors to ensure they ask for diverse shortlists when looking at potential candidates and commends the work being done by the AICD on diversity.
“I am very pleased with the way the AICD is tackling governance issues across all sectors at the moment,” she says.
“The strategy is very smart and will continue to serve us all very well. That is where the AICD plays a hugely important role – it can bring people together and encourage a new way of thinking. It’s all about change and adapting for the future, and if you don’t adapt in business, you’ll die.”
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