In March Holly Ransom became the youngest director of an AFL club when she was appointed to the board of Port Adelaide Football Club. She is also CEO of Emergent, a leadership and strategic advisory company, a co-chair of the United Nations Global Coalition of Young Women Entrepreneurs and chaired the G20 Youth Summit in 2014.
A well-known commentator on intergenerational economic and social challenges, Holly spoke to The Boardroom Report about what young people bring to boards, how government and corporates can work together to solve problems and why sometimes we need to push ourselves to our breaking points.
Boardroom Report (BR): You consult to companies on how to get the best out of intergenerational teams. What advice do you have for organisations looking to attract and get the best out of young talent?
Holly Ransom (HR): One of the biggest things that I notice with top young talent is they want to be connected into an organisation that has a significant purpose — something bigger than delivering shareholder returns. To engage with this generation of young people you have to make them feel like they're engaged in something meaningful. On top of that they want to feel like they're more than a cog in a wheel. They need to be able to see the significance of their contribution to the broader mission of the organisation.
BR: Do you think it's necessary to have more young people on boards? What can they bring to a board?
HR: We're living through a great demographic shift where 50 percent of the world's population are now under 30. By 2025 three quarters of the workforce will be millennials. As a group they think differently, they have different career goals and have different tastes as consumers. So one of the big things they bring to the board is that understanding. They bring different perspectives to the board debate to create a more robust discussion.
BR: As the youngest person on many of the boards you're on, have you ever struggled with confidence to question managers and other directors who are older than you?
HR: It's definitely a challenge. There's always that difficulty of not feeling at place in the room and wondering if you can really ask that question. But you have to remind yourself there's a reason you're there. As a director, you've been brought in to contribute because the people around the table see the value in the experience and the insight you can bring.
BR: You are strong advocate of the government, not-for-profit and corporate sectors working more closely together. Are there examples you've seen or have worked on?
HR: An example would be the work we did through the G20 on youth unemployment. On an issue like that, the Government can't go it alone. You have to bring business to the table because ultimately it's businesses that create jobs, not governments. And you have to have involvement from not-for-profit organisations to put social protection mechanisms in place.
Generally I think we're just scratching the surface on how we think creatively about collaboration between the sectors. I look at something like US site challenge.gov, which allows the public citizenry and private organisations to submit solutions to challenges that we face as a society, and get really excited about the new ways of thinking that will open up.
BR: As a director, how do you go about making strategic decisions, say, with Port Adelaide's China strategy to spread the game there?
HR: The challenge for any board is looking at the organisation's mission and vision and thinking how do we make strategic decisions that position us to get there.
At Port Adelaide we think about how we support the club, how we take the club to new fans, where those fans come from, who they are and what they look like.
I think Port Adelaide is on to something quite incredible with what we're doing in China. We look at the statistics and it's mind-boggling. We had 4.2 million people watching our last game of AFL football there, the highest rating game we've ever seen.
By 2025 three quarters of the workforce will be millennials. As a group they think differently. They bring different perspectives to the board debate to create a more robust discussion.
BR: You recently completed an Ironman triathlon (3.86km swim, 180.25km cycle, marathon run). What did you learn in training and competing for the event that you have taken across to the rest of your life?
HR: The ripple effects of Ironman have been extraordinary.
One lesson, and it's counterintuitive, is the importance of training to hit breaking points. In an Ironman you don't know when or how often they're going to come but you can bet your bottom dollar they will. That was an interesting reflection on how we do strategic planning and operational rollouts in a corporate context. Quite often organisations aren't stress testing ideas and not preparing for those breaking points.
BR: You've talked about your struggle with depression a few years ago. You still managed to make an immense contribution to the community and issues that you care about during that period. How do you work through a low period to keep doing that?
HR: I was given a great piece of advice that you have to be ruthless on your energy management when you're in a state like that. Things that are an absolute priority and need to get done, make sure they still get done. But clear the rest away. You have to consciously think about what it is that energises you, both people and activities.
You also have to make sure you're getting the right help. You can't expect yourself to find your way out of that pit on your own. I had a great doctor and a great psychologist, both of whom were a key part of helping me through that and I'm incredibly grateful to both of them.
BR: You and the organisations you work with have excellent engagement with stakeholders and customers on social media. How should an organisation go about building its social media profile?
HR: You have to have a genuine reason to be on social media. A lot of brands just feel like they have to be seen there. They're on there but they're using it as a one-way mouthpiece.
They're talking at people. They're not facilitating a two-way conversation. It's really important to understand at first why you’re there. Is this a vehicle for answering questions? Is this an information outlet for people to reach us? And then you need to be able to back that up with how you engage.
You have to be genuine too. If your voice is inauthentic, people can sniff that from a mile away. People want to connect with real people, with brands that have a genuine voice and don't sound like some kind of robot.
Holly Ransom, CEO of Emergent will be speaking about the ways you and your business can excel in the face of increasing complexity and rapid-fire change at the 2017 Australian Governance Summit.
Want to find out more about the Australian Governance Summit? View the program here.
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