The Decade That Was

As one decade concludes and another commences my reflections on the year that was find me looking through a longer term viewfinder, and thinking about what’s changed in our business lives over the past 10 years.

A Decade of Delegation

The very nature of our early business decision to establish our pharmacy operations more or less simultaneously across 3 states of Australia meant that we’ve always had to embrace the need for, and the opportunity created, that delegation delivers. (More about that here in the lessons of the past 20 years together in business). That said though, at the start of this decade Stuart and I still owned and controlled a business where we knew every one of our circa 300 employees names, and the buck stopped with us on every major decision.

Given we were still deep in the grips of navigating our way out of the post GFC world, where much of 2009 had been spent focused on survival and making the next payroll commitments, any delegation of responsibility or stepping back from the day to day commitments of running the business was not only a physical but a moral impossibility.

Ten years on, the business that started the decade as a pharmacy operation with a fledgling manufacturing division sees out the end of 2019 as a global healthcare corporation with more than 3000 employees delivering cancer care and pharmacy services to more than 2 million patients annually. We are both deeply appreciative of the significantly expanded leadership team who have enabled this growth and its associated impact.

One of my favourite pieces of leadership advice from Sir Richard Branson (who at the start of the decade I could never have envisaged I would be privileged enough to call friend by its end) is that your business growth will always be limited by your capacity to embrace delegation. The longer you cling to the requirement to be personally responsible for every decision and action, the smaller the limit you place on the size of the business you can create.

This decade we’ve truly seen the potential that can be delivered by embracing the power of delegation, and while it isn’t easy to move past that point where you know everyone’s names, if you truly want to create significant impact it’s a necessity.

A Decade of Dilution

One of the contributing factors in requiring Stuart and I to further embrace the need for delegation has been that this has also been a decade of dilution. We started the decade with full control and ownership of all of our business interests, but in a post GFC world we not only wanted but needed that to change.

Our move into the ownership and operation of the first set of cancer hospitals in 2012 saw us partner with a number of our clinicians, but things really changed when we sold a significant stake in the business to Quadrant Private Equity in 2012 to further the expansion of the group.

For the first time since we started we were no longer in full control, and it required a significant shift in our thinking and behaviour as we moved from full decision making authority and responsibility to requiring a more collaborative approach.

That balance shifted even further when Quadrant’s investment window concluded and we welcomed our new consortium of investors in 2017.

Inking the deal

Navigating that shift over the course of the decade hasn’t always been easy, and it’s definitely led us both to undertake significant self reflection exercises at points across the decade where at times we’ve questioned and challenged our ongoing relevance and contribution to the business that was our third child for so long. That said, both the dilution and the self redefinition that it has required has led to other opportunities which have shaped us in the decade that was.

A Decade of Diversification

One of the benefits that dilution has delivered has been the ability for the first time to diversify not only our business interests, but where we spend and focus our time.

We’ve invested in a number of different businesses, with differential degrees of involvement (and success….). One of my first forays outside of our own business involved working with Catriona Wallace as she took Flamingo from a PowerPoint pitch to full execution, including standing beside her as we rang the ASX bell as the second ever female CEO and Chair to list. I haven’t been involved with Flamingo for nearly 2 years now, and unfortunately it appears to have faced a number of challenges in recent times, but being at the cutting edge of customer experience AI with a team of talented people was definitely an experience that I will always value.

We also invested in another female led company, Hello Alice, founded by two amazing women I’d met through Dell’s DWEN network. It’s been wonderful to see it go from strength to strength, not only in closing it’s recent A raise but in the positive impact it’s creating for so many of the ‘new majority’ of entrepreneurs.

Another diversification opportunity has been via our investment in and my chairmanship of AUCloud, a Canberra based IAAS business focused on the safe and secure storage of sovereign data. As the world becomes increasingly aware of the importance of safeguarding critically important government digital information, it’s been very pleasing to have been able to work with another great team on a project delivering on this important mission.

Possibly my most diverse role this decade has been via becoming a director of the Brisbane Lions AFL club, which has not only led to a whole new set of colleagues, friends and opportunities, but also somewhat changed the dynamics of our household. The Reid Giles Cup was born (awarded to the winner of every Lions/Hawks game), and Sascha is often heard lamenting as Stuart, Sam and I debate the hot topic of the day on Fox Footy ‘who is this person and where has my mother gone’.

A Decade of Digitization

It’s hard to believe that when this decade started I’d possessed my first iPhone for about 3 months, and other than taking pictures and posting them to Facebook its major use was still making and taking phone calls.

It’s well documented how the iPhone has changed society in the past decade so I’m not going to spend any time or characters speaking about that here, but the increasing digitization of data has opened up a myriad of opportunities both personally and professionally.

The Epic Digital business that Stuart and I started in 2013 with Emma Croston, subsequently acquired by Icon Group and now known as Icon Digital, has transformed workflows across our pharmacy division, saving millions of pages of paper and associated printing and storage costs. It’s made our patients safer by virtually eliminating the risk of transcription errors, and facilitated the transmission of their discharge information. As we turn our attention to the role it can play in our cancer care divisions, the next decade is full of exciting opportunities.

The opportunity to be one of the original Google Glass Explorers provided a fascinating insight into the role augmented reality solutions can play in the work place, and again while that particular project concluded well before the end of the decade the learnings it provided will continue to deliver benefit.

I also started the decade without a single wearable device, which now with my physical activity and sleep fully tracked and quantified each day by my Apple Watch and Oura ring, combined with the digital outputs my Peloton bike delivers after each workout, seems hard to remember!

A Decade of Diversity

One of the other benefits of dilution has also been that it has allowed us to channel both funds and energy into a number of other causes and interests with a focus on diversity and inclusion.

My trip to Lockhart River with Bond University ended up with the formation of our Epic Good Foundation, which consolidated and coordinated the philanthropic activities that we’d been involved in to date and also provided a vehicle for their expansion.

Our partnership with Hawthorns Indigenous Program has been a signature activity of the Foundation, but we also support a range of other programs and initiatives and are excited about the expansion activities planned for 2020 and beyond.

It’s also been a huge privilege and incredibly exciting to be involved in the introduction of major new women’s sporting initiatives, with both WBBL and AFLW launched this decade. We’ve been proud to be sponsors of both the Brisbane Heat WBBL team and the Brisbane Lions AFLW teams since their inception, and have loved the opportunity to see these talented athletes take their place on the big stage.

Image credit Brisbane Heat

A Decade of Development

One of the consequences of our decade of dilution and it’s corresponding need to reinvent our roles and relevance has been an associated need for self development and redefinition. As a sentence that sounds relatively painless, but the reality is that it has at times required both of us to dig deep and challenge our self beliefs and pre-conceptions, and find a way to navigate through to the next phase.

My personal challenge hit a little earlier in the decade post the sale of APHS Packaging and the conclusion of my earn out commitments. Saying farewell to a business that I’d spent the past 7 years sinking my heart and soul into was never going to be easy, but I hadn’t imagined just how hard stepping into the vaccuum its absence created was going to be. Stuart’s support and encouragement for me to take the time to explore what the next phase could be was worth it’s weight in gold, and Epic Digital was the result of that period of introspection and exploration.

The success of that venture and it’s acquisition by Icon Group then presented another set of challenges and opportunities, which combined with our ‘decade of dilution’ left us both exploring what our roles and contributions could look like going forward.

We realised that our Founders Legacy delivered a significant role for us each still to play, which led to the development of the Iconic Women and Founders Forum programs, which not only helped our own development in this next phase of our careers but was also able to contribute to the development of the next generation of leaders.

The inaugural Founders Forum cohort

A Decade of Discovery

I started the decade having travelled extensively within Australia, predominantly for work, but other than a couple of work related trips to the US and UK I’d had virtually no overseas exposure at all.

I’m ending the decade with 2019 travel alone seeing me visit 17 different countries, with the opportunity to absorb so many experiences and influences as a result.

In 2008 our post GFC recovery plan saw us formulate a 3 step strategy of building our expertise in cancer care pharmacy, to then move from pharmacy partner to hospital owner and service provider, with a view that we could then export that expertise to Asia.

Pretty bold when you consider that neither Stuart or I had ever really spent any time in Asia at that point, but we find ourselves closing out the decade with Icon Group now providing cancer care services in Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and China.

Australia is a truly wonderful place to live, but the perspective and ideation that travel provides can never be discounted, and a willingness to get on a plane and embrace the learnings that different countries and cultures can provide has been a key component of the expansion that this decade has delivered.

Like anything worthwhile, it hasn’t always been easy. Icon’s initial expansion into Singapore saw Stuart relocate there as his base for a period of time until operations were established, which was something our family had to navigate through as a new normal. In the later part of the decade, Icon Group CEO Mark Middleton’s willingness to get on a plane and travel to China close to 50 times in a 3 year window is a large contributor in enabling Icon to become the first Australian healthcare company to treat a cancer patient in China. In one of Stuart’s Founder’s Five motto’s, ‘If it was easy everyone would do it’.

A Decade of Documentation

The same principles that have allowed the decade of digitization have also driven the opportunity to document personal and business activities in a way never previously available.

Social media and it’s associated tools have allowed everyone to become their own publisher and publicist, and significantly disrupted the previous dynamic of information creation and sharing.

This blog has been a powerful tool for us to deliver our own messages, and share the ‘story behind the story’ of the more polished press releases. Both Stuart and I are big believers in the need for and the power of authenticity, and between social media and blog posts we’ve always endeavoured to share the ups and downs of the decade that has been.

Putting your head above the parapet always runs the risk of leaving you exposed to potential sniper attack, but for the large part we’ve felt that the reward in sharing our journey and it’s learnings has far outweighed that risk. Ironically the worst of the negativity that I’ve experienced has come from other women, who’ve (almost always anonymously) felt the need to point out my shortcomings as a mother courtesy of my career and life choices – which Sascha and Sam generally find highly entertaining and have offered to write personal endorsements to reassure that they are doing just fine, but thanks for asking.

Like most things in life, the positives far outweigh the negatives though and the way that online channels have broken down the geographic boundaries and allowed friendships to be maintained – and formed – has been a part of this decade that I’ve embraced and enjoyed.

A Decade of Discipline

I’ve written previously about my belief in the power of Gallup’s Clifton Strength’s Finder, and knowing both your own natural strengths and the things that you have absolutely zero natural talent for no matter how much effort you put into trying to improve!

Discipline is one of my top five strengths, and while it’s one that I grappled with initially it’s one that I’ve (reluctantly) come to embrace.

The decade started needing me each and every day to lock down on my discipline strength, using it to get out of bed each morning and face the day ahead, unsure if today was going to be the day where the banks called to say time was up.

While that need has – thankfully – passed, it’s still a strength that this decade has taught me to embrace. It’s the one that gets me out of bed at 4.30am to head to Pilates, knowing that committing to that routine has seen an end to the lower back pain that previously had the potentially to cripple me for days. It’s also the one that has seen me clock up 800 rides (and counting) on my Peloton bike over the past few years, ensuring that my cardiac fitness won’t hold me back from enjoying the experience when my Virgin Galactic flight number comes up at some point in the next decade.

It’s also the one that allows me to show up and execute on the goals that I’ve committed to, regardless of how much easier alternative paths may be have been at times over the course of the decade….

A Decade of Difference

In a decade that started with a goal of survival, not only for our personal position but much more importantly for that of the 300+ people who had joined us and shared our vision, and the patients under our care, it is quite extraordinary to find ourselves at the end of the decade seeing the business that we founded now making a difference in the lives of cancer patients not only across Australia but also throughout Asia.

Icon Group now employs over 3000 wonderful people who are all committed to making a difference by delivering the best care possible to as many people as possible as close to home as possible. The values that were established in the previous decade of Innovate, Connect, On-Purpose, Nurture and Energy have stood the test of time and continued to provide a reference point throughout this decade as the business has grown and expanded.

If you’d told us as we entered 2010 where this coming decade would take us, we would have asked what you’d consumed in your New Years celebrations! We could never have envisaged what an extraordinary period of personal and business growth this decade was going to deliver, and as a result we’re not setting any limitations on what can be achieved in this coming decade.

The only thing that’s certain is that it we’ll do it together, and it won’t be dull!

Celebrating turning 50 and looking forward to the next chapter

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1 comment on “The Decade That Was

  1. Quite the decade! Loved this recap Cathie, possibly a testament to that discipline of yours. Here’s to another iconic decade ahead.

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