*At the time of this interview Jamie was the Chief Procurement Officer of the Australia Post.
After spending seven years at A.T. Kearney, you left as a Principal for a Managing Director role at a Fortune 300 insurance broker. Why did you decide to leave when you did, and why for that role in particular? Did you ever consider the Partner path?
It was a combination of factors. From the time I joined ATK in the mid-1990s, I was definitely moving along the career route to Partner, and really enjoyed both the culture of ATK and the challenge of consulting as a career. By late 2001, however, it was clear that the EDS parent relationship with ATK was not working and there was no actual “Partner path” to aspire to, as ATK was no longer operating as a true partnership under EDS. The net result was that talent was leaving the firm and the culture was starting to erode. Had the eventual buyout of ATK by its Partners happened sooner, it may have impacted my decision to leave. I keep in frequent contact with some of my old colleagues and it is great to see the firm thriving again back in a traditional partnership structure. In any case, whether you are on the Partner path or not, you never know when opportunities will surface and, as they come along, you assess each by its own merits. When an opportunity arose to start a strategic planning function within a blue chip insurance broker, I was attracted to the idea of a startup organization within a larger company platform. Combined with the situation at ATK, it also provided a more flexible path for growth compared with other opportunities I was considering, and I decided it was the best move for me at the time.
Leaving ATK as a Principal, what advice do you have for consultants looking to leave at a similar level?
Consulting is a great profession that gives you the opportunity to work in teams with very smart people to solve complex problems across a variety of companies and industries. Leaving lifestyle issues aside which I think are well documented, the only real downside is that, as a consultant, you only really recommend solutions, you don’t get to own the actual decision and next steps. The key attraction of moving out of consulting into industry for me was the opportunity to take on line management responsibility and to take ownership of decisions. But everyone will have their own different reasons for considering a career change. My advice to anyone looking to leave consulting is to understand what the change is you are really looking for – this will help you truly assess whether any specific opportunity is the right one for you. Sometimes the best decisions are the moves you don’t make.
You went into the internal corporate strategy group in your first post-consulting role, and had some large, high-level projects including a Chief of Staff role for a multi-billion dollar merger. Can you expand on that transition? How did your experience on the inside compare to external consulting?
Strategy roles in industry offer many of the same challenges and dynamics as consulting, which made the transition fairly seamless in my experience. The difference is in the opportunity for growth provided by the internal roles, where the strategic planning function can offer a platform to transition into line management. Another difference is in how you manage and interact with stakeholders, which are much more permanent when you are sitting inside an organization. In consulting, your internal reporting relationships tend to change with every assignment, as well as the sets of stakeholders you have to navigate, as every new client, or new project with an existing client, presents a different set of relationships to manage. Moving into an industry role does not typically present that type of flexibility.
For consultants going into internal corporate strategy roles, any tips on how they can hit the ground running / make the most impact?
For me it was really no different than hitting the ground running on a consulting engagement. You need to build relationships with the key stakeholders, understand what represents value to them, and then deliver against that. At the end of the day, it’s not complicated: you succeed or fail based on how you deliver against the expectations of the stakeholders you serve.
Spending most of your career in advisory firms, you then moved to become Chief Procurement Officer for Australia Post. How did you choose to take on that role, and was the transition like? What have you found to be the major differences / challenges?
I must confess, most of my friends laughed when I told them I was moving continents to go work at “the post office”, but the reality is Australia Post is a true cultural icon in Australia, going through what is currently the largest and most complex transformation in Australia. So the opportunity, aside from offering me the chance to reconnect with my family and friends after many years living in the United States, was really quite a unique one for a restructuring professional. Launched in April 2010, Future Ready is a five-year business renewal program transforming Australia Post into a more customer-focused and sustainable organization, which embraces the digital world. Our Future Ready strategy is focused on restoring a self-sustaining letters business, growing our parcels business and building a multi-channel services offering in digital retail. As the CPO, I work across the enterprise to drive the best possible commercial outcomes, and as a member of the Finance & Business Services leadership team I’m also involved in delivering a broad range of activities to ensure the enterprise programs and projects are executed in the most efficient and cost-effective way. As in most business transformations, the goal posts are constantly shifting, and time is the enemy, so the environment is both challenging and stimulating.
You’ve made a practice of restructuring and creating teams within organizations to impact the bottom line. Having just built a procurement team for your current organization, how do you compare it to your previous experiences? What do you think are the essential elements to drive change in an organization?
Every experience is different, but the key elements of driving successful change remain the same. At Australia Post we are focused on ensuring we have the right culture to execute our strategy. You need to surround yourself with talented people who behave in the right ways, have a clear strategy and plan of action, and are supported by good systems and processes, to achieve positive outcomes. You have to be able to measure progress along the way, with a focus on rewarding success and managing consequences.
What would you say is the most important skill that has gotten you where you are today? What did you take specifically from consulting that makes you successful in your job now?
I think it comes down to being able to understand and navigate through different stakeholder priorities and agendas, knowing when to compromise and when to stand your ground, and being able to find the right middle ground to deliver what often, in retrospect, turn out to be “common sense” solutions. In addition, you need to accept that you won’t always have perfect information to make decisions: a good plan executed now is nearly always better than a perfect plan executed later.
You’ve worked in three different continents throughout your career. How has that affected your professional outlook, and what importance do you give international experience when evaluating an executive?
I haven’t ruled out working in four! I think international experience certainly gives you greater exposure to different perspectives, but at the end of the day, these are often intangible. In my experience, being geographically flexible has opened many more opportunities for professional development and personal growth.