Candid conversations with directors on the interests and insights that have shaped their careers. 

    Most-valued career lesson?

    When I joined Woodside as general counsel almost 20 years ago, I was invited to board meetings and had the privilege of watching Charles Goode AC, Jillian Broadbent AC, Michael Chaney AO FAICD and others deliberate and debate. Listening and learning what was important to them, where they probed, how they made major decisions, informed my approach as an executive and ultimately a non- executive director. From a relatively young age, I watched the best in action.

    In terms of a more specific lesson, it’s been that trust is more important than anything else. When something goes wrong in your career and it’s something you’re responsible or accountable for, honesty, openness and integrity in communicating what happened is more important than any adverse ramifications. More often than not, after conveying bad news and falling on my sword, I’d have board members come up and say to me, “Well done for accepting accountability”. It’s fairly basic, but it certainly informed my career.

    Game-changing partnership or collaboration throughout your career?

    Law firm partnerships are not a stratified structure. They’re large, complex businesses, but they’re an aggregation of small partnerships and you don’t thrive and prosper unless you’re able to work dynamically and collaboratively across the partnership boundaries. It was hardwired into me that you need to work with your peers and the people around you to motivate your team. So, when I went to Woodside, which was a more stratified organisation, I was comfortable collaborating across boundaries with my peers and getting my team to work together.

    Favourite work habit to lift productivity?

    I’m disciplined about setting aside clear blocks of time for reading board papers and avoiding other communication distractions during that time. The material is so voluminous, there’s so much to get through and you really need to concentrate. I’ve also become good at email management by rapidly sifting through a huge volume to determine what requires a response and what doesn’t.

    Prediction about the future of leadership?

    When I think back on how Australian business environments have evolved from 35 years ago, the sheer breadth of issues and considerations boards and leaders are expected to be across has expanded dramatically. As a result, leaders need to have clarity of purpose, because they can get pulled in so many directions. They also need to take into account the needs and expectations of stakeholders, changing community expectations and compliance obligations. Those who can master that are the leaders of the future.

    Favourite way to de-stress?

    When I moved to Perth, I took up windsurfing and, more recently, windfoiling. It’s an adrenaline sport and there’s no time to think about anything else when you’re on that board doing 30 knots. The Fremantle Doctor blows a consistent breeze in the afternoon from October to March, so it’s a windsurfing Mecca anyway. I try to get out a couple of times a week — more in summer, less in winter.

    Favourite TV show?

    I began watching the BBC original (1990) series of House of Cards when I lived in London and loved it. I also really enjoyed the first few seasons of the American version. Homeland, a gripping espionage drama, is another show I’ve really enjoyed.

    Best-loved travel spot?

    My wife, Ange, and I took our two daughters on a skiing holiday to Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy a few times when they were younger. It’s located in the Dolomites and is absolutely stunning.

    Robert Cole MAICD is chair of Iluka Resources Ltd and Perth Airport, and non-executive director of Cleanaway. He is a former executive director of Woodside Petroleum Ltd and chair of Landgate, Synergy, GLX Holdings Ltd, Perenti and Southern Ports Authority.

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