Talking courage with a Managing Director

(4.5 minute read).

 Andrew Carter November 2017

Andrew Carter is the Managing Director of Commercial Eyes Pty Ltd.  He is also Chair of BioMelbourne Network; a member of the Medicines Australia Advisory Council; a member of University of Melbourne, Masters of Biotechnology Advisory Council; and an active member and volunteer at The Salvation Army.

Andrew is passionate about medicine and medical device commercialisation, and the importance of ensuring patients and health professionals have access to health technology and services that provide affordable, effective and safe treatments. 

He is very interested in directorship and contemporary governance, in particular the role that boards and directors play in setting direction, organisational performance and culture.

Andrew is also passionate about social justice, with a focus on organisations supporting and working with the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, along with indigenous education and youth homelessness.

Join us as Andrew shares examples of courage that have taken place ‘in the moment’ and that have been planned.

How would you describe workplace courage?

I think workplace courage presents or manifests in a different forms and settings.  Courage may be planned, proactive or in response to an event.  It may be a decision, a spoken word or an action that can occur ‘in the moment’, only to be noticed by a few or something that is impactful on others and has a lasting impression.  Courage may be applauded or derided depending on circumstances, but in all cases requires a person to engage and act.

What is an example of courage that you have demonstrated or observed, that has left a lasting impression on you?

A very courageous act that has left a lasting impression on me was demonstrated in the boardroom of a large, not-for-profit (NFP), social service organisation.  At the time, the Chair, a very well regarded, influential, senior professional, had a very strong personal view on the role of the Board and the direction the organisation should take on a very significant issue, with which the rest of the Board disagreed.

One of the Board members had the courage to speak up and insist that the Chair listen to what the other directors were saying.

The ensuing discussion resulted in the Chair, leaving the Board. This had further far-reaching effects, sending a powerful message to the CEO and to all staff, and ultimately resulting in the growth and community contribution of this NFP organisation.

What does courage look like in your workplace?

In our organisation, courage is about:

  • Stepping in when people demonstrate behaviours that are unacceptable or unreasonable
  • Putting a position or an idea forward that goes against the flow or challenges others to do things differently
  • Stopping what has been the easy or the expected thing to do, and creating the space to try something new
  • Encouraging others to think and work differently

Tell me about a time in which courage was demonstrated to deal with behaviour that was unacceptable.

I can recall a number of separate occassions where clients have treated my staff extremely poorly. While it is accepted that clients occasionally get  annoyed or frustrated, they don’t have the right to treat my staff in an unacceptable manner.

There was one occasion where  a client yelled and abused one of my managers; this took place over the phone.  After being informed of the event, I conducted an investigation and planned my approach.  I subsequently called the client and informed him that we would cease working with him immediately.  I have made a strong stand on this, and we have ceased working with at least three clients who have treated staff in an unreasonable way.

What’s been the impact of your actions?

There was a very positive ripple effect around the office.  Team members know that “I have their back” and that I am prepared to put income aside for the sake of my team.

Tell us about another example.

I mentioned earlier that courage may be in the moment and/or planned.

One of our junior staff members who has never presented formally to an external audience, has offered to do so at an upcoming conference.  We are totally behind her and are complementing her courage with support.  She is participating in a presentation skills course to help in her preparation and her manager will be there on the day.  She will be demonstrating courage in the moment when she gives her presentation and this will be complemented by planning for her success.

Please describe 1-2 examples in which you have been courageous.  What did you do?  Who/what enabled you to be courageous?  What was the outcome?  

I started a new business in 2001 – Commercial Eyes.  I had a go and tried something I’d never done before.  I imagined what the business might be like, how it would work, the services it would provide.

I relied on my partner, friends and colleagues for support.  I agreed on a timeframe that I would work to, to have a business that was functioning, profitable and growing, and set about to build it.

I was prepared to do without – I sold my car, travelled to clients on public transport, and in the early days, helped out a friend as a builders labourer part-time to earn some income.

The encouragement of others, trust and belief in myself, that I was doing something important and meaningful and to some extent, the naivety to have a go and not accept no, enabled me to be courageous.

Today, Commercial Eyes is a, highly regarded, well run, profitable business that has employed nearly 200 people over 17 years. We are currently at 70+ staff, and provide a range of important services to the medicines and medical device industry and make a significant contribution to the Australian health technology sector.

You have a strong passion for people and culture.  What is one area in which Commercial Eyes has been a leader in this space?

When starting Commercial Eyes, I focused on a clear issue at the time, that others weren’t as tuned in to.  That issue was a group of highly capable and skilled mum’s wanting to return to work. They had a need for part time work and flexibility in working hours.  We were able to provide that, all the while maintaining focus on outcomes for clients.  I have received notes of thanks from some of these team members, who at the time just needed the opportunity to contribute to the workplace, do interesting worthwhile work, and to build their confidence for their continued success.

From your point of view, to what extent are Australia’s leaders leading with courage?

I think it depends on the sector – based on my experience in the NFP/social justice sector, I would say that many leaders do so with courage.  In the medicines industry, I think finding leaders that lead with courage is much harder and rarer.

Why do you think this is?

I think this is because to some extent in the NFP sector, they just have to.  When I think of my own experience dealing with highly vulnerable people who are truly disadvantaged and possibly, without hope, you need to call on your courage to do so.  The people working in this sector – the CEOs, managers, staff – all demonstrate significant amounts of courage on a day-to-day basis.

In the medicines industry in Australia, I think courage is sometimes inadvertently discouraged.  Some CEO’s tell me that there is less autonomy and local decision making today compared to the past. This is probably due to the industry being truly global, Australia being a small market and very high regulated, both by governments and the industry itself.  Consequently, courageous leadership might be subdued.

If you’re keen to catch up with Andrew and continue this conversation, he can be contacted at andrew.carter@commercialeyes.com.au.


I first met Andrew (many years ago) on a flight to Sydney when we were, coincidently, travelling to the same meeting.  Since then I have looked to Andrew as leader in both starting a business, but more importantly, in his commitment to helping individuals truly succeed (where success is defined by each individual) in their own right.

@CourageChick


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