Australia’s $20K Atrocity
A small box on the front page of The Australian today announces the resignation of AusPost’s CEO: Red Letter Day As Postal Boss Quits. The offense? Christine Holgate rewarded employees with $20,000 worth of Cartier watches. A bureaucrat resigning over a blunder that didn’t ‘pass the pub test’? Hardly newsworthy, the paper decided.
What we’re seeing on the national stage is the endemic bullying that women face in business — in this case, promulgated by none other than the Prime Minister himself. And yes, you should care.
To start, Holgate did nothing wrong. The initiative that led to the Cartier watch reward was for AusPost to handle more banking transactions for the big four banks. As the big four race to cut costs by closing branches, huge swathes of the population, namely the elderly and underprivileged, are at risk of not being able to do their banking in person because most of us have transitioned to online.
Securing these deals was a superior strategic initiative on all fronts:
- It made the best use of the existing physical infrastructure of AusPost ensuring that every town in the country had a place where people could bank.
- It was a move designed to accommodate the people that society chronically leaves behind as companies continually behave under the guiding principle that they are accountable to shareholders and no one else.
- It provided additional income streams for AusPost and was a savvy financial choice.
This is a screenshot of targets vs actuals in the 2019 AusPost annual report:
Not only did Holgate beat every single ambitious target, she blew some of them out of the water. She isn’t just decent at her job. She’s outstanding. As a result, she chose to reward a few key individuals with a gift of appreciation — a $20K splurge. Excessive? Hardly. Here’s a quote from Harvard Business Review regarding employee appreciation:
“Adam Grant and Francesca Gino have found that when people experience gratitude from their manager, they’re more productive. Another researcher recently found that teams perform tasks better when their members believe that their colleagues respect and appreciate them.” She gave them a status symbol, a fancy watch, to say, I appreciate you and everyone else should too. That isn’t largesse. That’s called emotional intelligence.
This is what Ian Silk of Australian Super had to say about Holgate in the Australian Financial Review:
“Christine doesn’t look or sound like a chief executive from central casting, but if you can put aside preconceptions of what a ‘normal’ chief executive is meant to be, you find someone who is one of the best and most successful executives in the country. Her ability to motivate and lead is exceptional. I’ve walked the floor of Blackmores’ factory at Warriewood with her. She knew so many of the workers by name and their personal stories.”
During many discussions with my own employment lawyer, Leonie Kyriacou of Pigott Stinson, she answered my question of why there are so few women at the top by saying that strong women get sick of being bullied. It’s simply not worth the toll it takes on their mental health and their families. That is to say, the best female performers have too much self-respect to get caught up in the bullshit of insecure and ignorant colleagues, or in this case, Prime Ministers with very obvious alternative motives.
This story isn’t over. Nor is it third-page news.
It’s worth noting that the AusPost network is of exceeding strategic, financial, and political interest as more and more people turn to online ordering and deliveries to fulfill their day-to-day needs. The AusPost supply chain is, quite simply, the most important one both nationally and internationally.
In short, this was never about watches. It’s about Aramex, a massive logistics provider in the Middle East. Recently, AusPost doubled-down on a joint venture with Aramex Global Solutions becoming a full owner of the logistics provider.
From the annual report: “We strengthened our international capability this year by securing full ownership of Aramex Global Solutions, which we previously held in a joint venture with Aramex. Since renamed Australia Post Global (APG), this company provides end-to-end, cross-border logistics solutions to international retailers, including access to customs clearance capabilities and our last-mile delivery network in Australia.”
It appears that the brand of Australia is being used to lend legitimacy to a logistics company in the Middle East. Is that a problem? It’s hard to say. After an hour of digging around about who runs Aramex, and how Aramex Global Solutions sits under the Aramex umbrella, I found no answers, only further questions. The company is seriously opaque. It appears that the CEO of APG, Nabil Zaghoul, is:
- A London-based executive,
- Overseeing an arm of a Dubai-based logistics company run by Bashar Obeid
- Whose technology is predominantly used in India and the US
- A portion of which is now owned by Australia Post, which is owned by the Australian government and describes itself as ‘owned by all Australians’.
So yes, aside from the perpetual issue of females being bullied out of top jobs, you should f-ing care about this news. The acquisition of APG happened on Ms. Holgate’s watch. (Yes, totally intended.) She wasn’t an excessive spender, but she might just have been duped — chosen precisely because her reputation as a leader is beyond reproach.