Young Business Leaders 2014

The panel, from left: David Spong, Aaron Musca, Jen Dalitz, Alex Malley, Penny Egan, Preston Kevin Lewis | Photo: Graham Jepson

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INTHEBLACK's Young Business Leaders 2014

They’re disrupters, collaborators and agile networkers. Many display a strong desire to make a personal impact by using their business know-how in social enterprises. All of this year’s INTHEBLACK Young Business Leaders are aged under 40 and most have a finance qualification, but their careers are extraordinarily diverse.

When a panel of esteemed business executives recently gathered for lunch at Sydney’s ARIA restaurant to discuss the broad themes emerging from the stories of these young leaders, they agreed that the breadth of talent and business success in this 2014 cohort offered “a new take on leadership”.

“Leadership didn’t actually equate to ‘I need to be earning big dollars’ and be the biggest earner,” notes CPA Australia’s president and chairman Penny Egan.

“They all say, ‘If this doesn’t work then something else will work and I don’t see risks here but challenges’ and they look at the bigger picture.”

IKEA’s Aaron Musca is impressed with the young leaders’ commitment to social responsibility. There “is a genuine passion, and this vision to do something that makes a difference and the commitment there is so refreshing,” he observes.

Jen Dalitz sees an entrepreneurial “can do” attitude on display, but also identifies another dimension. “What I think is a little new or different is the real seeking out of global opportunities and … then purposefully setting about trying to address those global issues.”

Former CPA Australia chief executive Alex Malley points out the individuality of today’s young leaders, who are increasingly “playing their own game”.

Catchafire's Rachael Chong exemplifies the global reach of this year's list.

Catchafire's Rachael Chong exemplifies the global reach of this year's list.

“The theme coming through is they’re all doing things differently – they’re not predictable. Their way of making a name for themselves is to be disruptive,” he says.

But there’s also more eagerness to collaborate, adds Ericsson’s CFO David Spong. This is particularly the case for start-ups such as Tim Fung’s Airtasker and Steve Hui’s iFLYflat, along with Israel Cooper’s success in his New Zealand venture, Trigger Happy.

Some panellists see the fluid nature of the young leaders’ careers, and their disregard for geographic boundaries or traditional hierarchy, as both a benefit and a challenge for organisations.

Longer-term employees simply aren’t there as much as they used to be, notes Preston Kevin Lewis, and that is a concern for CEOs. But the experiences of Kelly Bayer Rosmarin at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Neel Augusthy at Johnson & Johnson and Nicolette Maury’s career at eBay and now Intuit show that larger organisations can also nurture great talent.

“There’s much more of an ease of movement than there used to be,” says Lewis.

“How do you set up your organisation to play with that and continue to get the best and the brightest?”

Paul Luczak's CPA qualification has taken him down a non-traditional path.

Paul Luczak's CPA qualification has taken him down a non-traditional path.

While applauding the formidable achievements of the group, the panel also has its own hard-won tips to share with these young leaders.

“If I had to give advice, I’d say don’t ever underestimate the importance of relationships,” says Egan. “And don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone and be surrounded by good people because you don’t necessarily have to do it on your own.”

Spong outlines the need for cultural sensitivity. “One of the large challenges for Australia in moving into the Asian Century is really about how we engage the region as peers which means softening a little bit how we deliver messages.”

For Malley, the need to apply early success to a bigger canvas is key for the future. “[Young business leaders] should always be looking to develop their skills for a larger map of leadership; to test themselves all the time with their capacity to influence better behaviour, whether it’s with a handful of people as entrepreneurs or right through, because that’s going to matter when you formally lead something.”

Meet the panel

Penny Egan FCPA, president and chairman, CPA Australia

Alex Malley FCPA, former chief executive, CPA Australia

David Spong FCPA, CFO Ericsson Australia, NZ and Fiji

Jen Dalitz CPA, gender balance consultant and founder, Sphinxx; INTHEBLACK Young Business Leader 2012

Preston Kevin Lewis, managing director Warner Bros Consumer Products, Australia, NZ and India

Aaron Musca CPA, CFO IKEA Australia; INTHEBLACK Young Business Leader 2012