How Antony Blackshaw got the confidence he needed to become a CEO
Antony Blackshaw knew he had to learn new things to become CEO of one of Australia's biggest homebuilders, but he didn't expect them to be about himself.
"My focus was to get up to speed with current thinking around strategy and marketing, the areas I had the least exposure to," says Antony, who was CFO of Henley Properties when he enrolled in the Advanced Management Program at Melbourne Business School.
"But the program also made me focus on myself, which was illuminating," he says. "It was challenging and quite emotional. A journey of discovery for me."
Antony had been CFO for more than 15 years when he began thinking about the chance to step up and lead the company. Henley was facing several industry-wide problems such as housing affordability and supply issues – but it needed to solve its own internal challenges before it could triumph over the external ones.
To unite the senior leadership team under a common purpose, Antony needed to become an effective leader with strong human skills – which he learned on the program by taking an honest look at his strengths and weaknesses.
"I often received feedback about not being the easiest person to deal with," Antony says. "I always discounted the feedback and didn’t attempt to make enough of an effort to change people’s perceptions of me."
Antony was thought of as a dry financial executive, rather than the dynamic leader he was striving to become.
"From a personal point of view, the program helped me understand why people think a certain way about me, and the influence and impact I could have on them by behaving differently," he says.
Antony became CEO of Henley in March after finishing the program, and took many of the ideas he learned back into the office. There was some resistance to his ideas for change because of the stakes if they failed, so Antony tried to make them less personal using a tool he learned in class.
"When I came back from the course, I shared a book called Playing to Win from the program with my team. After reading it, they understood where I was coming from, and that it wasn’t about me."
Antony and his leadership team are now focusing on developing a customer-centric strategy focused on long-term sales and brand recognition to ensure the continued success of the company.
"We just did our biggest piece of external market research and found that what we deliver at the price is globally competitive," he says. "I'm confident that as we progress through 2018, we'll have a clearer understanding of who we are, what we want to be and where we need to head."
Antony says the skills he learned on the program were invaluable for developing and getting buy-in for his strategy.
"It put us on a journey, and when people see they're on a journey together, they have a mutual understanding of what we're trying to achieve. It is changing the team dynamic in a really positive way," he says.