Live Lessons from Australian Leaders

COO of Metcash, Silvestro Morabito, talks about writing a road map for your business, shaping culture and protecting the independent retailer in Australia.

The majority of books on Leadership are US based and cite mostly US examples or people from history.  In an effort to learn from the best and for the benefits of SME leaders in Australia and New Zealand, I have approached a wide variety of Australian CEO’s and other top business leaders and asked them to share their stories, their wisdom and insight. The following is an excerpt from Metcash Chief Operating Officer Silvestro Morabito’s story.

How do you go about shaping culture in your organisation?

Silvestro: “The first thing you need to do is work out where you want to go. Then work your way backwards. Because when you know where you want to go, then you can work out how. This will identify what competencies you need, what systems and processes you need to get there. What becomes really obvious is whether or nor the company has the personnel, the IT platform and the capital to get there.  The problem with a lot of business leaders is; they just work. They don’t stop to work out where they are going. They don’t have a clearly defined road map or cause.

One of the first things I did in this job [COO of Metcash] was to agree with my direct reports as to why we exist as a business.  I asked them, ‘why do we come to work?’

Some said, I come because I like it. Others said, because of the money or, their wife told them to get out of the house.  Now they are all okay reasons but that is not why we come to work. At the end of the day we agreed that we want to come to work because we want to protect the independent grocer and liquor industries in Australia.

If you look at Maslow’s triangle, self actualisation is at the top.  To me at the top is contribution. I come to work because I believe in the cause. I believe that independent retailers need to be protected and they have to grow because if they don’t, small business in Australia will disappear. Customers will end up queuing up in Coles and Woolworths and nothing else.

When you have that burning ambition inside and that cause, then I think you are going to do alright. If you are coming to work [for the money] to pay the bills, I feel sorry for you.”

Silvestro worked for Woolworths New Zealand during his twenties as a young and fast paced executive.  Talking about culture change, he said, “In New Zealand with the re-engineering of Woolworths we brought in a change agent from the UK.  We knew where we wanted to go but we also knew that if we tried to do it alone there would not be a whole lot of buy in.

There were also things that needed to be confronted and it was much better if an outsider confronted those issues. So we brought in consultant Tom Jap. He worked with us for ten years. You don’t change culture in a year.  Those people who brag they will whip the company into shape and change the culture in 12 months, forget it. All you are going to do in 12 months is put the seed in the ground. What we did with Tom was work through a lengthy process because culture isn’t just about saying yes to something you used to say no to. It’s about working on everything. It’s about how you speak and treat your people; it’s the way you speak to and treat your suppliers or customers. It’s the way you speak and treat your analysts. It’s the way you behave walking around the office, it’s what you let people have on their walls and don’t have.“

Change agent Tom Jap started with the Woolworths leadership and worked his way down. As Silvestro recounts they were all in a meeting when Tom, not mincing his words told the top tier leaders that in a year’s time most of them would not be there. 

Silvestro’s eye brows raised and with a fixed gaze he looked at me directly and said with emphasis, “That was earth shattering. To a male dominated executive group, and everyone around that table had a record of at least 10 years of success, you are telling us that half of us aren’t going to be here in 12 months time. I thought; who the hell are you?   Then I laughed my head off.  But he was right. You could see it.”

Watch out for the rest of the interview and more Live Leadership Lessons from Silvestro and peers in a new book soon to be published.

About Ingrid Aitken Gattari, Achievers Group

Ingrid Aitken Gattari is the wife of Tony Gattari. She is executive director at Achievers Group. Ingrid has a wealth of experience across a number of industries and has worked in the fields of journalism, public relations, counselling and administration. Ingrid is highly qualified and has a degree in communication (journalism), a diploma in public relations and community services. Ingrid specialises as a trainer, facilitator and coach is the areas of team work, personal development and conflict resolution.

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