Shelly Park | Insights from Industry Leaders
Chief Executive at Australian Red Cross Lifeblood
Shelly Park is the Chief Executive at Australian Red Cross Lifeblood.
- Why did you decide to study nursing?
- You’ve served on a number of boards, what do you think is the most important function of a board today?
- How do you and your team work to help motivate your employees?
- When you are recruiting for a senior executive to join your team, what are the key attributes you look for in the person, apart from technical skills and experience?
- Diversity is becoming a prominent issue. How have you seen the companies and boards that you are working with evolve and manage these issues?
- How has COVID changed the way the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood operates over the last 12 months?
- What have been your greatest achievements during your career?
- What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?
Why did you decide to study nursing?
I certainly didn’t grow up always wanting to be a nurse. I was working in a car sales yard and I was doing stock control. It wasn’t really motivating me and inspiring me. I happened to look outside the window one day and I saw a nurse walking past and I’m a little sorry to say, I looked at the uniform and I thought I could wear that. That made me think about what does it mean to be a nurse and I then started to do my research. It’s not just that I saw the uniform and made a career choice, but it actually prompted me to think about something different
At the time, I didn’t have a lot of qualifications, I only had school certificate when I left school. So I had to go through a long path to eventually being a registered comprehensive nurse. But that said, I’m really pleased I did because I learned so much along the journey.
You’ve served on a number of boards, what do you think is the most important function of a board today?
Well, I think strong and transparent governance, really, you know, I think boards have to absolutely understand an organization. They need to understand the structure, the strategy, the finances, they need to understand the revenue, the customer base and that broad context, all of within the environment that they’re working in. That includes behaviours, culture and ethics. As we watch things playing out through the media, even over the last number of weeks, I reflect often on what is it that is happening within these environments for us to see some things go so wrong and what they do. A growing theme for me is a skill of judgment because I think you have to have incredibly good judgment on a board, not only for yourself, for the board, but also for the organisation. Boards have got so much responsibility, and they need to ensure that resilience and what they do in the environment, whether it be fiduciary, strategic, operational, customer or employee all come with the same standards and those that actually lead governance in every way. You have to live it, you have to do it, and you have to understand it.
How do you and your teamwork to help motivate your employees?
We work out what skills we want, but it’s not only a skill set, it’s actually the behaviours and the whole person that we look at. One of the things that I often say to others, especially at the executive level, is that we also want people that have better skills than ours. We want to bring diversity, diversity of thinking, diversity of thought, diversity of gender, and culture and ethnicity and all of that.
So we actually have that blend because you don’t want all like thinkers, you want creativity, you want innovation, you want some people that can really deliver. It’s very much about being very clear about what you need and then making sure that you recruit the right person. It’s about being able to articulate what your offering is and what you’re looking for. At Lifeblood, we’re incredibly lucky because we’ve got an amazing purpose, and we are actually really privileged to have that purpose which is providing Lifeblood, plasma, transplantation, biological products for world-leading health outcomes.
That inspires people and attracts people, but we need to make sure that people aren’t thinking just because we are under the not-for-profit umbrella, that it’s an organisation to come and work and at the end of the career, or when you’re wanting something a little bit gentler. Because what we’re also looking for is commercial thinking as part of what we do. I think part of our challenge is to really articulate what we do and what we’re looking for and making sure that we recruit well to actually meet our purpose and our delivery of what we do.
Diversity is becoming a prominent issue. How have you seen the companies and boards that you are working with evolve and manage these issues?
I think we’ve moved away from just thinking about diversity as gender and ethnicity, and it has broadened. I think a diversity of thought, but also inclusion as part of diversity. There’s a beautiful quote by Verna Myers that says, diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance. And I think diversity is actually moving and growing and evolving as we go forward. I think there is a true appreciation now around the richness and depth that it brings to an organisation. So, therefore, we can articulate it a lot clearer as to what the value is.
That said, I think we can’t take our focus off gender and ethnicity because we’ve still got quite a way to go. It was really interesting. I don’t know whether you saw a McKinsey article that came out just recently, based in America, obviously, but it talked about it being its was at sixth annual women in the workplace piece and it was referring to the impact of racial violence and barriers that women of colour are facing.
It talked about a notable conclusion that more than one in four women in the US are contemplating downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. Now, that would have been unthinkable in America six months ago, and I’m not sure what impact things like that are going to have here in Australia, but I think we need to keep an eye on it. Because we thought we were starting to make a little bit of progress around gender parity. For example, we need to make sure that the events of the last six months doesn’t change that direction. Over time we’ve broadened what that diversity is. But I think the current climate is going to make us rethink some of that as well.
What have been your greatest achievements during your career?
I have had an amazing career in health and I’ve stayed largely in public health, although there’s more of a commercial model behind Lifeblood as well. I would look back and be really proud of the impacts and the difference that I’ve made. We have just achieved our strategic vision with the Australian government in the area of plasma. So we will be a lot more self-sufficient in Australia with plasma, we’ve secured until 2025, a 10% growth for plasma for fractionation. I would look back on the leadership of people. To me, people are the essence of everything that we do.
Without our people on the direction that we’re doing and without us having been able to inspire them and articulate where we’re going, to share our strategic vision, to inspire them, and motivate them and what they do. I think that focus of inclusion has been something I’ve been really proud of. I have to say, fiscal management because I learnt very early in my career cash is king, It absolutely is. Being able to put strategy and strategic thought, but never taking our eye off that bottom line, I think is something that I would be incredibly proud of as well.
Both Monash and Lifeblood, we have gone through changes of names, Lifeblood used to be the blood service. We changed so that we could actually reflect the whole contribution of the whole organisation because we were more than just blood. To do that and to connect with the community and have that community support and understanding, and then to have really delivered that well, that’s a real tribute to our people. But it also takes strategic leadership and vision.
I think the capability of working with governments, I can’t be successful in what I do, Lifeblood can’t be successful in what they do, Monash couldn’t have been successful and what they did without strong relationship, strategic relationships with the governments of the day. I think that is something that we often underestimate the importance of and something that I think has been done incredibly well.
Some of the other things that we’ve done at Lifeblood over the last few years has introduced human milk banking. Now, human milk banking was something that used to be done in different parts of Australia, but there was no national strategy, no national policy. And whilst we’re not quite there yet, we’ve significantly contributed to that and have some investment from the government at the moment to help secure that even further. Strategy and operations have to go hand in hand. You have to look after today, but you also need to know where you’re going tomorrow.
How has COVID changed the way the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood operates over the last 12 months?
I think like every organisation it’s totally transformed so much of what we do. We have been incredibly lucky, but luck always comes with very good strategic leadership, vision and having capabilities around the organisation that are second to none. For us, we don’t have any product without people. We have to rely on our donors who are a tremendous group of people who actually give themselves to someone they will never meet. We would not have any of our product if we actually didn’t have someone giving something of themselves, whether that be their blood, their plasma and organ donation, which we support as well. We are so reliant on people, then we have to have the people following those really safe and robust processes right through so that we can then deliver back into the health service what is needed, and that could be human milk, that could be plasma, that could be blood.
So we have been incredibly privileged right through COVID to have maintained our donor base. I say we’re privileged because when we’ve looked around internationally, that has not happened in every country. So many countries have had their donor base fall off and we have a very loyal donor base. We also have an organisation that is really committed to keeping that donor base as part of us. We’ve had to do things like changing our donor centres to places of wellness so that people are very, very clear that that they’re not going to be at risk. We’ve had to communicate with people in a different way so they know that they’re safe, whether that be our donors or our people working within our organisation. We’ve had to innovate, we never ever thought that we would lose all of our freight transportation around Australia almost overnight. We used to back on passenger craft as well as freight craft to move product both in and out of different places around Australia and all of that fell over almost overnight.
We rely on the international freight to get in some of the things such as citrate, which helps us to collect plasma that comes from Ireland and then has to be freighted through because we don’t actually produce what we need here in Australia. We’ve had to find really different ways and be agile in how we’ve done that. I am so proud to say that we have not missed a beat. We’ve had to work long and hard and find different ways, but we have ensured that we collect, make and we deliver right through that product life cycle. We’ve just been agile, we’ve innovated, we have had to change some things up and had to change how we do things all without taking any eye off regulators and safety.
What I must say is the government and the regulators in Australia, the TGA, have been amazing how they have supported us on some of the changes that we’ve needed to make. We’ve made them so quickly things that would have normally taken us, two or three years to do with our strategic intent and then doing the policy changes and going through everything. It’s been really impressive to see and I couldn’t be prouder of every person in our organisation, but also our relationship with the National Blood Authority, the Government and the TGA. I think it’s all work together so incredibly well, but we’ve all worked with transparency, so we understand what we’ve needed to deliver.
When you are recruiting for a senior executive to join your team, what are the key attributes you look for in the person, apart from technical skills and experience?
Some of the things I look for are honesty, transparency and being a really good communicator. Communication is so important, both written and verbal
I am also looking for people who are seeking a culture of inclusion, listen, trust and have an understanding of humanity because we‘re quite diverse being part of the wider Red Cross. Humanity is a very important principle for us. That means that a person can actually work in a commercial model with the underlying humanity behind it, which is a lovely blend for me.
What are your top tips for aspiring leaders?
Believe in yourself, have confidence in yourself, understand the environment that you’re going to be working in. Always have the confidence to surround yourself with people who are better than yourself, to me that is the core of diversity is you have different skillsets and the different thought processes. Take the time to understand and learn about the environment. Sometimes take roles that might be a sideways role, but that will actually really grow your skill set to go forward. Find some really good mentors both within the industry and outside of, I think getting that breadth of thinking is really important. Don’t underestimate the importance of education and make sure that you keep investing in yourself.
Today, every day I read, every day I learn, every day I learn of someone else. I think that’s a great thing to invest in yourself early in your career. I often reflect on the words of one of our previous governors here in Australia, Quentin Bryce, who said, you can have it all, but not all at the same time. So, be fair to yourself and work out what you have, and when you have it. You can blend some careers and family and everything that you want to do. But sometimes you just have to work out what you’re going to give. So you’ve got to look after yourself on the whole of your career because without you there is no career.