It’s amazing how a seemingly small event can so profoundly change your perspective.
Two events have had this impact on me in the past week.
The one that made me think about this post was actually the second event –
of Margaret Jackson as chairman of the Qantas board. I have had deep
qualms about the APA
private equity takeover offer for Qantas.
My initial reaction to Jackson’s
press comments was cynical. She stood to make a substantial personal gain
if the bid succeeded. How could she avoid a conflict of interest I thought?
I took some perverse enjoyment from the collapse
of the bid. I don’t like the arrogance of Private Equity much and it worries
me that a consortium like that can have such a huge impact on people’s lives.
But when Jackson announced her resignation, I felt sorry for her. Margaret
Jackson is recognised as one of, if not the, leading business women in
Australia. She has been on the Qantas board for fifteen years and chairman
for seven. When the bid was announced she would have to have thrown the dice.
Would she throw her weight behind the bid (with the personal cudos and financial
reward she would receive if it succeeded) or would she fight it. I don’t
know how long she agonised over this decision, but it could not have been
automatic. There was never a guarantee the bid would succeed. In the end,
it sat on a knife edge and failed by the slimmest
of margins. Had the late offer been accepted, or received by the deadline
she would have been seen as a master strategist, placing the airline in a
position for its next phase of growth.
As it is, she is seen to have mishandled the whole affiar. In business, you
are either one or the other. A hero or a villain. Never a real person with
strenghts and weakness. With both doubts and courage.
The other event to spark my thinking about changed perspectives was the screening
earlier this week on ABC TV of the
drama series Bastard Boys –
a fictionalised account of the 1998 Australian Waterfront
Dispute. Nominally this was a dispute between the Maritime
Union of Australia (MUA), (led by John
Coombs) and Patrick
Stevedores (then owned by Chris
Corrigan). This dispute was a seminal piece of Australian industrial relations
history about the power and place of unions on the one side and the right of
management to make changes to work practices on the other. The dispute involved
almost everyone of note in industrial relations in Australia at the time, including Peter
Reith (Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business)
in the Howard
Combet (then Assistant Secretary of the ACTU)
Kelty (the Secretary of the ACTU).
At the time, those of us on the left were horrified by Corrigan’s tactics
(backed by Reith) of sacking his whole workforce, putting balaclava clad security
guards with guard dogs around the docks and bringing in a non-unionised workforce
trained in Dubai.
Having been brought up in a working class family, I still too readily see
bosses as the enemy and unions as on the side of good. Although I could see
there was obviously a desparate need for waterfront
reform I felt Corrigan’s approach was beyond forgiveness. When Patrick
bought a share in Virgin Blue,
I considered not flying with the airline anymore.
Although, I have yet to watch the whole of the two episodes, Bastard Boys
jolted me out of my comfortable oversimplification of the issue. In particular,
it gave me a totally different view of Chris Corrigan – even though he
believes he was misrepresented and charicatured by the series. I realised
that like Margaret Jackson, Chris Corrigan was a real person. In his case he
had invested all he had in Patrick and his own livelihood was on the line.
It took me another step along the path in realising just how much my childhood
view of unions as the good guys was also an unreal representation of the truth.
Yes, wharfies had been treated badly in the past and the MUA had won protection
for them. But the reality was that we needed new work practices on the waterfront
and the unions were using bully boy tactics as well.
My own message to Chris Corrigan is to take heart from the series. No you
weren’t portrayed exactly as you would have portrayed yourself. But from the
perspective of a deyed in the wool leftie like me, it made you a real person
Another changed perspective.