Ccentric Interview with Julia Squire
Could you outline your current position?
I am the CEO at Ability Options which is a large non-government organisation providing employment and disability services. Its mission resonates with me – “To support people who need assistance to achieve their aspirations and inclusion in the community”.
What attracted you to the role at Ability Options?
I came as an Interim CEO to cover the role while they recruited a substantive CEO, with no intention of applying for the full-time position at all. I really loved the organisation, the sector and what it is trying to achieve. In the end I got drawn in and decided to apply for the permanent position to continue the work I’d started.
Was this the first Interim role you have taken on?
Most of my career has been in permanent positions but I have done a few interim roles over the last couple of years. I really enjoyed the new lease of life that doing Interims gave me and I jumped between a few positions before finding an organisation that I really love. Once I did, I decided to see if I could stay.
What were the characteristics that primarily attracted you to an Interim role?
I have worked as a CEO since 1999 in various jobs. A couple of years ago I decided to set up my own company and I did a mixture of project and interim work for a couple of years. I really enjoyed doing it and I planned to continue to work in this type of role for a few more years. It gave me variation and I had time to travel to new clients because my children were older. I could pick and choose assignments and have time to do other things as well. I think one of the risks in all of that is if you are a committed individual, organisations can get under your skin. Ability Options definitely got under mine and I decided I wanted to build on what I had started.
Did you find it challenging to adapt to your new role in the time-frame you were given?
It is important with an Interim role that you be very clear on what the outcome is that the client is looking for, and the nature of the job. What is the outcome that they are trying to achieve by using an Interim? Is it to fill a gap and keep things in the direction that they are already going? Is it a turn-around? What needs to be done? You find out as much as you can and then work to that.
It is a very different approach going into an organisation temporarily either to help fix particular issues or to keep a seat warm, particularly for an Interim CEO role when a permanent is being recruited. There’s a balance between getting on with the business and ensuring the permanent CEO can make longer term decisions for themselves. The Interim needs to be very clear with the chair and the board and ask them exactly what it is that they want, and make sure they can deliver that. If it isn’t clear, you can get into a situation that can confuse the organisation, as well as potential candidates for the permanent position. The second thing is to make sure that you have a good exit strategy so that the incoming CEO can seamlessly step in and do the things that they need to be doing for the longer term. This is very beneficial for the organisation. It is important not to create a sense of dependency or reliance.
What was your first job out of University and how did it shape your career?
My first job out of University was with the National Health Service (NHS) Graduate Management training scheme. It was a 2-year program, training NHS managers. It gave me a grounding in the NHS and general management. I did my post graduate in Health Service management during that 2-year training program and it taught me a lot about Health services in terms of knowledge, but more importantly it taught me a lot about working with people. My career has been spent working in businesses that deal with people, so this was invaluable for me as a grounding. It was a very tough training program, backed up by practical experience and academics. A lot of people that went through this course in the UK went on to do good things.
What is the most rewarding part of your current role?
I can see the difference that my decisions make much more clearly than through lots of additional layers in bigger government run services. The non-government sector gives you a much clearer line of sight to the participants at the end of the service provision and that for me is very valuable.
You used to live in the UK, what made you decide to move to Australia?
I’d had 25 great years as a Health Service Manager and CEO in the UK. I had been doing these types of jobs for years and I wanted something that was familiar, but different at the same time. There was a big restructure in Queensland a few years ago and I was offered a job as a CEO in Queensland and came over to Australia to run a hospital and health service. It gave me familiarity, because I knew public health but also something new to work with in terms of a new country and a new context. The health needs of north Queensland, the geography of Australia, differences in funding and the high socio-economic differences for indigenous communities gave me the extra interest. The second reason I moved here was for my family. I thought it was a great opportunity for my kids and it has turned out to be so. We are now British by birth, and Australian by choice!
How was your experience with Ccentric?
Great! As an interim I was on the books for several agencies. The thing that struck me about Ccentric was the due diligence that they undertook before putting me on the books. The communication and the support throughout the engagement process and placements was also excellent.
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
I spend time with my family. I read – I’m loving Australian writing. I am also a big soccer supporter. I was brought up in Nottingham, so I support Nottingham Forest. The rest of my family are sadly Manchester United supporters.
What was the best book you have read this year?
My son bought me an easy-read book called the Kookaburra Creek Café by Sandie Docker. It isn’t something that I would normally choose to read, but what I like about it is it has some amazing descriptions about life in the bush, bushfires and how local communities operate and build their sense of community and resilience. While it is a really easy-read and I do read other stuff this one was my latest and only pleasure read so far in 2019!