An executive search consultant writes:


The following tale is apropos of the Brogden
appointment to Manchester Unity (yesterday, item 3).

Earlier
this century I was retained to conduct a search for the Chief Executive’s position at a reasonably
high-profile, independent federal government body. My client, in the sense that
they were the group paying for my services, was the Agency’s Board. While
independent, the Board ultimately reported to the relevant Federal Minister.

The
search took some time, and was supported by a national advertising campaign.
Several interesting episodes occurred during this assignment, the first relating
to Minister’s chief of staff. This person made contact with me and suggested a
candidate for the CEO role. The candidate, let’s call him ‘W’, was a former
State Minister, and a long-term state parliamentarian. He is a decent and
uncomplicated person who was interested in pursuing this role. However, due to
being poorly managed for several years previously, the Agency now required
effective organisational and commercial business skills to get it back on track
(and out of the news). The Agency did not require political and parliamentary
experience. So W was politely rejected, which was accepted gracefully.

Shortly
after this, I received another call from the Minister’s chief of staff. I was
informed that if I valued my career as an executive recruiter, I should
seriously reconsider W. Although it remained unmentioned, I knew that W was
connected to the Minister: they came from the same state and political party,
were of an age, and shared many, let’s say, “cultural” affinities. I was
informed by the Chief of Staff that
as the Minister was ultimately responsible for the Agency, he was entitled to
see his personal preference included in the short list for this role. Finally,
I informed the Minister’s staffer that my client was the Agency’s Board, not the
Minister. Unless the Board changed the specification for the role I could not
include W in the short list because W failed to fulfil the basic criteria for
the position.

I then
informed the Chairman of the Board of the conversation, and he thankfully
supported me. He added that if the Minister wanted W in the role, then the
Minister could ask him personally to ensure W’s appearance on the
short list.

About
two months later, a highly qualified candidate was finally presented to the
Minister. This person was chosen following a thorough assessment process
involving an initial long list of seven, who were all interviewed by the Hiring
Committee, and reduced to a short list of three qualified candidates who were
interviewed by the whole Board.

Rigorous reference checks also followed. The successful
candidate was a highly successful senior commercial industry executive who had
held CFO and CEO appointments, but who had wanted to leave the commercial world
behind and make a genuinely-felt contribution back to his country. The
candidate was also prepared to sacrifice a 70% decrease in salary package to
achieve this personal aim. Sadly, the candidate was rejected outright by the
Minister, and after having being treated rather rudely. That’s another story.
It was also rumoured that a Minister-ordered ASIO/AFP investigation had found that this
candidate had held ALP membership in the 1970s.

The search was re-started. The Minister’s chief of staff made his predictable
bullying phone call insisting on W’s inclusion in the short list, which I again
refused to act upon unless ordered to do so by the Agency or in writing, on
Ministerial letterhead. I heard no more from him. Five months later a very
well-qualified candidate was presented and accepted by the Minister. This
candidate has since performed very well. The chief of staff was unceremoniously
punted by the Minister shortly after, and was last seen hawking his CV around.
Interestingly, he furnished his staff role with the Minister showing exaggerated
false start and finish dates.

As a
novice at this political-pressure game, I was quite staggered by the flagrancy
of the behaviour which was patently designed to ensure that a
highly-favoured but unqualified mate of a federal Minister be appointed to
a $250,000 + per annum role. But for the bravery of Agency’s Chairman, W may
have been appointed, and the Agency, which is responsible for the well-being of
a large and vulnerable group of Australians, could have been compromised in its
ability to perform its statutory duties.

Like W
mentioned above, I am certain John Brogden is a decent human being. But he is
not an experienced general manager, and he does not appear to have any relevant
commercial experience. He is also vulnerable under pressure, and he has erred
seriously on the public stage, making his appointment as Chief Executive of a highly complex organisational
structure such as Manchester Unity seriously flawed. Furthermore, Brogden ought
to consider his future should he fail to lead this organisation effectively.
His overall judgment would be exposed should he fail at Manchester Unity. Finally,
and this is speculative, the other reason the Board may have appointed Brogden
is that he may be susceptible to their influence, which isn’t necessarily a bad
thing, but may uncover their desire to have a networker and PR guy as head of
the business instead of a true general management
professional.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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