Consulting the Australian way

Fifty-year-old Johanne Wright recently moved from Brisbane to Noosa Valley in the South East corner of the state of Queensland. Its fabulous beaches and beautiful hinterland with rain forests, green rolling hills and the Glasshouse Mountains make it a popular holiday destination with Australians.

Wright’s qualifications include a BA (Hons), an MA and a Masters in Public Administration. She has been a CMC for over three years and is also a chartered member of the Australian Institute of Human Resources and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management. Australian by birth, she has also lived and worked in the UK and USA.

What is your current position?

My husband and I are co-directors of The Wright Consultancy, our own company which I now operate from a small home office at Noosa Valley, having run an office in Brisbane for the last five years. I work with three or four self-employed consultants at any given time as well as support staff, and my husband undertakes all the business management aspects of the company. We specialise in customised human resource solutions, organisational development and change management. Most of our clients are in local or state government.

What did you do before you were a consultant?

I was head of a department in the largest local authority in the Southern Hemisphere, the Brisbane City Council, with responsibility for human resources, strategy and policy. Prior to that I held executive positions in the Queensland State Government.

When and why did you move into consultancy?

I became a consultant in 1991 after I left the Brisbane City Council.

I had been approached by two of the three largest multinational consultancies in Australia and decided that I would rather set up my own business.

How did you acquire your consultancy skills?

I initially trained as a clinical and organisational psychologist, which has proved to be of great value in my consultancy career. I also have over 20 years’ management experience supplemented by formal education and courses. During this period I was asked to provide consultancy to other governments from time to time. I also worked for more than 10 years in human resources and organisational development within the public sector.

What were the decisive points in your career?

While I was working in the field of disability I was instrumental (with the help of a small team) in transforming the way services were provided in our state. This was an exciting time of great change that resulted in an improved quality of life for many people. At the time it was recognised internationally as being very innovative.

Another key point was when I moved away from the disability field and became director of personnel for the Queensland Public Service Board; a first for a woman and long before the notion of equal opportunities had arrived on our shores. I was instrumental (again with the help of others) in transforming this part of the Board from a paper processing department (we then employed 25 clerks just to process the leave forms of 37,000 public servants) to a group of people providing professional human resource services to client departments and strategic advice to government.

What do you enjoy about consultancy?

The variety, the opportunities to work in different settings and the challenges that stretch my thinking and capabilities.

What are your strengths?

I think that I am a good listener and I have well-developed interpersonal skills. I also have a capacity to see the big picture and to operate at a very strategic level.

What are your weaknesses?

I am not a detailed person nor one for pushing the time dimensions of a project so I need someone on my team to pay attention to the little things that make a difference and to check that all has been completed.

Who has had the greatest influence on your career?

A number of people who have believed in me and given me support have been the people who have helped me the most. If I were to mention anyone, it would have to be my husband. His influence has been twofold. First, because we have been a dual career family. At one point I had to make a crucial decision on whether to pursue an overseas opportunity or remain in Queensland. I chose to stay because of the stage that his career was at. He experienced a similar dilemma some years later. Second and far more importantly, he has always provided wonderful emotional and practical support. He assumes far more responsibility for the housework and cooking than I do and this has enabled me to take on roles and projects that would otherwise have been impossible.

What has been your greatest professional challenge?

Undertaking a national evaluation of a major Commonwealth State funding agreement for people with a disability. This involved literally thousands of stakeholders and significant competing agendas at a political level.

What are your career plans?

The move to the Sunshine Coast is a trade-off between lifestyle and being in the thick of things in the capital city. I certainly have not regretted the move and along with some very famous Australians, am finding the chance to live in such a stunning environment just manna for the soul. The fabulous technology today means that I am in touch with many clients across Australia and the airport is not too far away – even to get to some of my Pacific Rim clients.

Longer term, I hope to develop a new career in my local community, possibly as an elected member on the local council or in a capacity where I can have influence over the future development of our shire. I am committed to the conservation of our beautiful environment and also to the improvement of opportunities for so many who are unable to find work. I hope to move out of consulting within three years to take up another challenge.

How do you keep your skills up to date?

I read a number of journals, attend seminars and conferences, teach in an MBA programme at the Queensland University of Technology and surf the net to research topics that I am involved in.

Tell me about the consultancy profession in Australia?

There are approximately 1,200 management consultants working in about 500 firms for a population of about 19 million. Human resources, financial and change management as well as strategic planning are particularly important with most consultants working in the public sector and for large employers.

What particular challenges do consultants face in your country?

There is increasing competition from individuals who enter consultancy as management and other jobs disappear. This has resulted in a push for more market specialisation and better customer focus. There is pressure on consultants to remain relevant, up to date and to develop a good network.

What would you say to anyone considering management consultancy as a career?

I strongly believe that it is important for someone to have worked in an organisation as an employee before becoming a consultant. It is also essential to develop a lot of process skills that have applicability in many settings.

How do you see the future of international management consultancy?

I have recently done some work in the Pacific Rim and can see how important it is to be able to work across cultures. However, without some sort of infrastructure which enables you to work alongside local specialists, it is very difficult to operate.

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