For nine years, Suzanne Ardagh and Michael Chaney AO were a powerful team at the top of Wesfarmers, one of WA’s largest listed companies. As Personal Assistant and CEO they shared an extraordinary partnership built on mutual respect and trust.
As part of The Business of Education event held at Wesley on 6 August, Ms Ardagh and Mr Chaney were interviewed by Headmaster, Ross Barron, and Executive Assistant, Anna Sellings, providing valuable insight into the workings of a world class Assistant/CEO partnership and practical advice to maximise the potential of this essential working relationship.
Ms Ardagh emphasised open communication as key to their successful working relationship. She said one habit she developed while working with Mr Chaney was allotting five minutes in his schedule at the end of every day to discuss administrative issues that often went overlooked in the rush of the work day.
‘For me, it was important to get feedback and also grab the opportunity to have a quiet chat, because it’s not fair to make assumptions,’ Ms Ardagh told the forum. ‘As a principal, you can assume your assistant is happy and that it’s all working, but I think it’s important to touch base every so often.’
Speaking to Business News after the event, Mr Chaney said what he learned about working with his assistants was broadly applicable to all his leadership roles, including his time as chancellor of UWA. ‘I don’t think there are any material differences (in the relationship),’ he said.
‘I think the sort of things we describe in respect to where a relationship works well can apply to education as well as business. It’s about having a rapport, and the assistant being able to provide support to the chief executive, principal or vice-chancellor [in a way] that eases their burden administratively, anticipates their needs, looks after logistical arrangements and allows them to get on with doing their job.’