Talking courage with a Chief Commercial Officer

(~ 9 minute read)

Peter Charlton 2017bPeter Charlton has been NOVA Entertainment’s Chief Commercial Officer since May 2018.  Having joined NOVA Entertainment in August 2012 as Group Sales Director, he has also held the role of Group Commercial Officer with NOVA Entertainment.

Peter is responsible for NOVA Entertainment’s revenue generation across all platforms including radio, digital, podcasting, events and esports.  He leads teams involved in commercial sales, operations, insight and strategy; he works closely with senior executives across the business to integrate commercial messaging into all consumer content and create great experiences and commercial solutions for all clients.

Originally from the UK, Peter very proudly declares that, “I’m an Australian by the way; let’s just get that out there for the record.  I love this country.”

 The virtue of courage comprises four strengths – bravery, authenticity, perseverance and zest. Join us as Peter shares each of these strengths in his stories.  I was lucky enough to observe and be inspired by each of these strengths during our interview.

How would you define workplace courage?

Workplace courage is being true to yourself; it’s being who you are and not having two personae.  We spend so much time at work these days that you have to be authentic.  It’s so much easier for somebody in my position as a leader in the business, having more experience and being older, to be authentic. True courage is staying true to yourself and your principles.

Why is it easier now?

You have more confidence in your own opinion; you have more confidence in where you stand within a business; you have more confidence that people will listen and respect what you say.  You aren’t as worried about conforming or of retribution rather than someone who might have less experience.

From your point of view, why it is important to be authentic?

For one, you’ll stay sane if you’re not acting.

Mental health is so incredibly important that you don’t want to ever lead two lives; to put up a pretense and a façade.

Secondly, people work better with people who are genuine; they might not agree all the time, but trust is built.  In a world of automation, people’s opinion is becoming so much more important than ever before.  Authenticity enables liking and respect, and people work in a more effective and efficient way if they work for somebody they like and respect.  In showing your true self, you get the best out of people; but that takes a fair amount of courage to be real.

Why does it take courage to be real?

To build a relationship with a client that stays with you for a long time, you’ve got to be genuine and honest.  At times, people paint a picture of themselves that is not real in order to win over a new relationship with a client.  That doesn’t last.

It’s the same internally.

If I want somebody to stay loyal to the business, to work hard, to be dedicated, to follow me as a leader, to understand me, I have to be real and authentic.

Sometimes that means I have to be courageous and tell them stuff they might not want to hear, to ask them to do stuff they might not want to do.  But authenticity gives longevity to that relationship.

Are there any other instances where you think courage is particularly needed?

In the work I’m in you can get carried along, particularly around decisions you don’t feel passionate about, and you can move along with the majority.  You see it happen often in business; that people just agree, and they go down the route of something that they don’t necessarily think is the right way.  I was only just in a meeting this morning where that happened.  You’ve got to call it out and say:

  • ” I think we might be wrong,” or
  • “I don’t actually agree with this, but you’re better informed than me and let’s go with the majority because together we’re usually right,” or
  • “I don’t think that’s going to play out.”

Courage is about having authentic conversations; I don’t think I’ve ever worked in an environment where that happens 100% of the time.

Why do you think that is?  Why doesn’t it happen?

I think we’re all complicated, aren’t we?  We all get a bit emotional; we all hold grudges; we worry that if we say something in a negative capacity to someone, they might not come back when there is something I can actually help with.  You’re always thinking about the impact on others;  it comes from a positive place.

Did you ever watch The Sopranos?  I worked for a US company where I thought, “I feel like Tony Soprano.” I’d been with the company about three weeks, and noticed that everybody laughed at my jokes and everybody thought I was right.  So, I called everyone out on it and asked, “Am I Tony Soprano here? Do you think if we don’t agree there’ll be consequences?”  I think they were influenced by my predecessor who had been authoritarian.

What else does courage look like at NOVA Entertainment?

We are a brave organisation. We’ve been courageous because we haven’t settled for success.  I believe it comes from our owners and their experience with both business success and times it may have not gone according to plan.

We intentionally made the decision that we’re not just a radio business, we’re an entertainment business.  We look to develop different platforms; to talk to consumers that are different to our current consumers; we decided to be different in the market.  As a result, we’re a multi-platform integrated media business which has been quite a brave thing to do. It’s become second nature to all of us; it’s become innate and it permeates from the leadership team to the rest of the business.

What’s the associated risk?

We’re in the media business, so failure’s public.  If you go out there and shout about something you do and it doesn’t work, it can potentially have an adverse effect on your credibility in market, with consumers, advertisers and others.

There’s a big risk, but we’re not afraid of failure. We move on quickly and we learn lessons which we talk about; it becomes part of our story.

There’s internal risk too; going to the owners of the business with informed speculative ideas that you’ve done all your homework on.  As an executive team, we’ve been there a couple of times, and we work for owners who will put us through our paces, just to make sure that our thinking is right.

We’re keen to seek the genuine opinion of the whole of the workforce, so we internally benchmark ourselves.  We’ve done an internal survey that we have acted upon for the past 5 years or so.  Part of the survey is asking for feedback on the executive and leadership team which becomes a very public “report card.”  We are encouraged to put ourselves out there; we talk about what we’re going to do and then talk about what we have or haven’t done. Our CEOis clear about being transparent; when we said we were going to do this and we consciously haven’t; or we did and it didn’t work.

When have you been courageous?  

Well I came around the world to work in Australia when, business wise, I was doing very nicely.  I was incredibly comfortable and doing as well as I ever hoped I would do where the next opportunity was probably the ultimate job.  I moved when I didn’t necessarily need to.

PETER CHARLTON_4It was pretty brave looking back because I’d built a career in London media where I could pick the phone up to anyone or do anything based on my experience.  I had to work very hard to get to that position; I really liked it, I enjoyed it, and my associates in media were also my friends. I had built up a huge network.

So why did you do it?

We did it for family reasons more than anything else.  Nothing dramatic, just a change of lifestyle; we had our first son, and my wife wanted to spend as much time with him as possible, so why not?  It wasn’t until literally the wheels were coming down in Sydney and I had an 11-month-old baby on my knee, sitting beside my wife when I thought, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Why are you putting it all at risk?”  

And then it felt quite a lonely place suddenly.  My wife did all the important stuff, setting up our home and sorting Tom out; we had our youngest son relatively quickly after arriving here; but I went to work, and it felt pretty lonely. You couldn’t just pick the phone up; I had to work hard and I had to go back to building relationships.  So, I feel I was pretty courageous doing that.

18 months into my first job in Australia, NOVA Entertainment came calling.  At the time, I was on a 457-Visa where if you lose your job, you’re out of the country within 90 days if you don’t get another job.  When I decided to come to NOVA, I didn’t necessarily point out to my wife that I was going onto probation for six months with one weeks’ notice. But I just felt it was the right job; so I think I was pretty courageous, although I wasn’t courageous enough to point out the potential Visa issue to my wife until I was safely ensconced in the job.

Let’s go back to when your baby was 11 months old and you were doubting your decision to uproot your life and move half way around the world. What kept you here?

It’s a great country to be a parent in; I think it’s easier than my homeland.  I live in Sydney, the land of beaches and outdoors. The media industry speak the same language; it’s dynamic and competitive.  All of that is living up to my expectations and strengthens my determination to make it work.  It ticks all the boxes for the family; it’s a massive opportunity and the older your kids get, you just think they’ll never forgive you if you go home.  I still love my homeland, but Australia lives up to the brochure, it really does.

When you think of your coming to Sydney and staying, and moving from one role to the another whilst here, who or what has enabled you to do that?

My wife. She gave up a great career as a General Manager for a radio station in the UK when we moved to Australia. She has always been supportive of my choices and encouraged me throughout my career. Without her courageous trust in me, we wouldn’t be here.

I’ve also had two really good bosses here. My first boss was a guy called Steve McCarthy, who was the CEO of Adshel for 11 years.  He was one of those incredible human beings that knew everybody’s name and everything about them – from when your birthday was to what time you ran a half marathon in, through to what musical instrument your kids play.  He was inspiring, unique and genuine; very Aussie. He’s a mentor to me now; about being a better human being rather than about business.

And then, my current boss, Cathy O’Connor; she has been really supportive throughout.  Cath is about as good a sales person as I’ve ever met; people admire her experience and her credibility as a female CEO in a difficult marketplace that is media. Working with Cath, you think anything is possible.

Also, my colleagues. I recently caught up with two old mates who both run media businesses in the UK and I had an honest conversation with them, expressing that the people I work with at NOVA are the best I have ever worked with.

Peter Charlton 2017a

What would you tell your two sons, now aged eight and seven, about courage?  I would tell them, “If you’re open and honest, things are okay.”  My eldest is a worrier, he’s competitive, – and I haven’t been much help because he’s a bit like me – so I would tell him, “It’s all right to mess up.”  He loves school and he’s a great soccer player. I know I’m his Dad, but he’s better at age 8 than I was at age 18 – but he’s scared of failure, scared of messing up.  So, I would just tell him it’s okay to mess up. My youngest learns quickly, which is hard to teach. So, I just encourage.

How courageous do you think Australia’s leaders are?

To be honest, I don’t really know.  I’ve been here six years, in that time we’ve had five Prime Ministers, and it’s not through any of them doing anything dramatically different.  The political parties feel very similar to me, they feel close in terms of political ideology.

In business, Australia’s a confident nation, but I think there’s a complacency that we’re doing it better than anyone else when we’re not; I include myself in that.  I went to Cannes (Lions International Festival of Creativity) recently, and I loved it, but it also frightened me because I thought,“There’s a lot going on here that we’re not across and we don’t understand.  I’ve been complacent; I should have learned more about this.”  It’s cost the company very little for me to spend a week immersing myself to bring information and ideas back; I don’t think we do that enough in media.  This should be at the forefront of what we do – look at the rest of the world, don’t be frightened of it.  We are fast learners and we can adapt new ideas quickly.

We’re definitely not courageous about gender equality. We’ve made some small moves but you can never rest on the subject.  We’re not courageous about diversity and ethnicity.  I don’t call out social racism enough in society, in life, around a dinner table, in a school yard, or in the office.  I’m annoyed at myself that I don’t call it.  In business I look around me and think about it all the time.

How do you take the courage that you already have and bring it into those areas where you feel you need to be more courageous? 

I remind myself that “We’ve been here before,” and, “It can’t be that bad.”  I can remember doing that as a kid and I frequently do it now. I don’t think I ultimately have had anything negative or bad happen when I’ve done something that essentially is right. So, you’ve just got to remind yourself.

Also, I have massive aspirations for my family, and to be more successful in what I do.  Sometimes you’ve just got to force yourself to do it. Sometimes you’ve just got to put yourself out there.

Our interview ended with Peter commenting, “This has made me feel braver.”  We know that when we share stories of courage we build and inspire courage in self.  In sharing our own stories we continue to reinforce our own actions, inspiring us to further courage. We also inspire others with our stories, and are inspired by the stories of courage of others.  Keep sharing your stories of courage.  Would love to hear from you.


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