Dr Brent Jenkins is a passionate Novocastrian with strategic flair and a high tolerance for uncertainty.
As CEO of the Hunter Research Foundation since late 2013 he is focused on creating a vision for the region’s future and supporting conversations about how to achieve it.
He is an impatient, pragmatic and unconventional leader, with this approach paying dividends in terms of creating positive organisational tension and achieving change.
For a snapshot of our audio interview with Dr Brent Jenkins, please view the above video.
TO READ THE EDITED INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE SEE BELOW.
- Looking first to the recent changes the Hunter Research Foundation has undergone, as a leader how do you ensure your team is onboard?
Creating change is a process.
It starts with two things ‚Äì one is having a compelling reason to change. Shaking people out of their complacency and saying that we need to do things differently if we’re to reach our potential. The second thing is to create a compelling vision ‚Äì somewhere to move to.
It’s balancing those factors and having people engaged in the process of understanding where we are and saying ‘we could be here’.
You also need to create and involve a leadership team in the process, and be a part of that process, but not dominate it.
If you can align people’s passions and their objectives for their careers and their personal lives with where the business is going you’re a long way towards success.
For 50 odd years people here were passionate about the Hunter and wanted to do quality research and wanted to make a difference, it’s about creating structure that would enable that.
- How do you encourage creative thinking and leadership?
In one sense I like to get out of the way. I always like to create space for people. I don’t like being micromanaged, so I much prefer to provide a space so people can create an idea and run with it, then they own it. They get the benefit of the success, but if it doesn’t work we learn from that. You’ve got to encourage risk taking and a certain attitude for failure.
- What do you believe makes business in the Hunter unique?
There is a perception that the Hunter is a microcosm of Australia. In a certain sense it’s true. We’re blessed with a variety of opportunities, we have arable land, we have mining, we have the coast, and that’s served us well as it creates a resilience, as generally you’re not relying on one particular sector.
In more recent times the mining sector has been quite dominant. We know there are a lot of industries and businesses tied to mining, particularly in the Upper Hunter. So the mining sector sneezes and everyone gets a cold in the Hunter. We’ve seen some of the unemployment and business confidence impacted by that.
We’re blessed with opportunity and have the potential to have a fantastic region going forward. To me it’s really how do we get together as a region and align behind things that will attract investment.
- Throughout your career have you witnessed any leadership traits that struck you as particularly effective (or ineffective)?
You only have to hear the speeches of people like John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The heart of creating change and generating value is establishing a vision. So to me it’s people who establish that vision and share it.
My vision is irrelevant to you, what motivates you is your vision. But if we can align those and we both share elements of that vision you can achieve a lot of things.
‘We’ll put a man on the moon in 10 years’ ‚Äì what a unifying statement that was. The leaders that I admire are those that can articulate a compelling reason for doing something.
- How do you define the difference between a Manager and a Leader?
Certainly as a CEO you have to wear both hats.
If I’m wearing my leader hat it’s more targeted on the heart. It’s about inspiring and motivating. I’m only successful, and the organisation is only successful, if people feel they are successful in it and that are getting what they want out of their role.
As a manager it’s more about the head, in terms of the analytics and asking what we can improve. I’m a big one for questioning and asking why, I don’t want to hear the why not’s.
Ultimately you have to align the vision and the business model to resonate and they really reinforce each other.
It’s about achieving alignment with where we want to go and what we’re doing.
The Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre is focussed on delivering independent and engage regional research and analysis. It represents a partnership forged between the long-standing Hunter Research Foundation and the University of Newcastle.