CEO Direct Channel Podcast #4

You know, when I took on this job, I got a whole lot of SMSs and messages from friends and colleagues. 

Along the lines of  – ‘I thought that you’d know better’, or ‘you must have rocks in your head’.  I was even told by industry insiders that I’d probably get yelled at if I went to an industry meeting.  

But you know, I’ve certainly not yet experienced any of this – quite the contrary in fact.

The groups I have met with in Esperance, Albany, Bunbury, Busselton, Fremantle, Ledge Point, Cervantes, Dongara and Geraldton have all been the same – with intelligent  discussions, a blend of opinions, everybody was always very respectful towards each other – and importantly there were healthy contributions from younger people. 

I recently attended the Western Rock Lobster C Zone meeting – with close to 200 people in attendance – and the atmosphere was superb.  I was told later that the C Zone meetings in past years could be let’s say quite ‘colourful’ to say the least.  

I’d hope this was a light-hearted comment as I experienced a healthy dynamic which saw some serious respectful conversations, a magnificent tribute to the life and achievements of Tony Jurinovich – and a collective focus on the challenges facing the industry.

Hey guess what – our industry is in great hands if we hold this line.

I was so proud to be at the meeting of the deep-sea crustacean fishers who asked the department to impose a voluntary quota – yes, asking for a quota. 

They looked at the science and themselves made a recommended management decision and then asked the department if they would implement sustainability actions which were ahead of the curve. 

This is fishing people demonstrating their commitment to responsible management and sustainability and wanting to reduce the burden of imposed external compliance.

I was also proud to have been in the room to discuss the implementation of a voluntary code of conduct to have float and line requirements for the octopus industry to minimise whale entanglements.  The rock lobster industry is also embracing this very same issue.

I’ve been in many meetings where DPIRD staff have briefed fishing people on all the latest science, and there’s been some really interesting discussions which followed.  And the mutual relationship at that level has been strong and healthy.

Likewise I’ve seen presentations by compliance officers and the VMS people and AMSA – the approaches taken by the industry have always been very respectful and balanced – we’ve put our views forward and got a good hearing.

The point I’m making is that from what I’ve seen in the past two months, we really do have a healthy industry when things are done right.  

But we need to project this positivity outwards to the community and shake off those old stereotypes – and win back the social licence by changing any impression that at times we used to be an erratic bunch.  Because that impression is what generated those SMSs that I received.

I guess that’s why I reckon we should all take on the challenge of being a fishing industry ambassador – and be a walking, talking example of outstanding Western Australian citizens.

In my role, what I want to achieve is to change the way we are respected right across the spectrum – both from within and without – how we see ourselves, how we act, how we present ourselves, how we embrace and interact with others – and how we are perceived by others.

Certainly we as an industry must act in dominion and earn our respect – at WAFIC we must be winning our public positions through overwhelming logic and delivering with professionalism, precision and finesse. We’ve got to be compelling, earning and winning respect rather than demanding or wishing for it  – or complaining that we don’t have it.

We’ve actually got to win it.

Just like WAFIC needs to win your full trust, you also need to win the community’s trust.

I know I have a challenge to make WAFIC great again.

Between WAFIC and the industry, we are in the process of rewriting and redefining the relationships – we are relevant and we will be more relevant – I’ll be out there at your meetings on the ground, I’ll be learning and listening and importantly acting to deliver outcomes on your behalf – and moreso, I’ll be communicating regularly with you on many fronts through many avenues.

We will also be rewriting the relationship profile with all our stakeholders – the foundation principle is that we will be collaborative and cooperative, inside the tent, we will become the builders of trust and relationships, constructive, we will be thought leaders – and we will become an irresistible force – irresistible in many ways, through our intelligent advocacy, and irresistible from both the soft and hard diplomatic force and power which we will demonstrate.

We’ll have the government seeking our input rather than running away and avoiding it – the past is out the window.  WAFIC is rewriting the relationship matrix, we are going to redefine how we interact with you, how we represent you, how we support and service you, and how we will make significant differences on your behalf. 

Can I say however that there are some people who don’t agree with this approach – and while I very much respect them and their views, I simply can’t see how a default adversarial approach can possibly deliver anything.  Maybe yes every few years for a major issue which threatens the very core of our existence, but not for the day to day interactions where we actually need to win the support of key stakeholders like DPIRD or the Minister.

I mean, if you were running a restaurant and a customer came in, gave you an earful, trod on your toes, said that you were untrustworthy and biased, and then asked you for the best seat in the house overlooking the river, then what seat would you give them?  The one next to the dunny, if they were lucky.

And if they ordered pea and ham soup then they’d probably get more pee than they bargained for.

So we need to be smart in our relationship management or we will pay the price.

We’ve certainly paid for it too much in the past, and I’m sorry but I’m not letting that self-inflicted damage happen again in the future.

The strongest steel hand we have is the one that’s tucked up in a velvet glove.

We are on a new pathway, and we will put the runs on the board.  It’s going to be difficult, particularly with significant reductions in revenue soon to hit our WAFIC budget due to the loss of GVP value from COVID and trade matters.  

As an industry, as WAFIC, we are going to have to bring the sector groups tightly huddled close to the mothership to create a unified force, we are going to have to reduce duplication and find efficiencies from shared services – because there will no longer be enough money to cover multiple stand alone bodies.  

The industry model in the near future will by necessity have to be quite different from that of the near past.  So pretty soon, we are going to have to sit down together and work out a new way.  This is unavoidable.

 Can I sincerely say that I’m very proud to be at the helm of WAFIC –  and I mean that, I’m very proud to be part of this magnificent industry which makes such a great contribution and has such fantastic characters. 

I’m not fazed by those SMSs I mentioned earlier because I know those days are being left behind us.  We do have a great future but in getting there we’re going to have to change a whole lot of things – not only what we do, but how we do it.

But you can be assured that your industry will have strong and certain and effective leadership for the roadway ahead, yes there will be some rocky challenges which will test our resolve, but equally some amazing opportunities – if we play our cards right.  

You can download the audio podcast here.