A business reflection on building for the future

Tue, Aug 16 2016

When I started my business writing at the kitchen table midway through 1985, it was just the beginning of a dream fulfilled. Little did I envision Buchan becoming a global player in the communication industry three decades later.

Nor did I appreciate, in the beginning, the immense efforts required to build, and build, and build – even in times of economic downturn when there’s a natural instinct to contract.

I know I disappointed my late father in ignoring his footsteps in the profession of architecture; but my love of the written word and a passion for issues and current affairs pushed me in the direction of communication.

Pictured: Tom Buchan, Executive Chairman, WE Buchan; Melissa Waggener-Zorkin, CEO & Founder WE Communications

Early goals

Looking back on those early years I really didn’t give much thought to what shape or structure the agency would develop. I wanted scale and influence and impact, while retaining agility to move on opportunities with alacrity.

My goals were simple, albeit challenging:

  • Grow my clients
  • Provide high quality, ‘high touch’, service to all clients
  • And, expand continually by building teams of talented and dedicated consultants.

The long term goal of ‘going global’ invariably took a back seat to other goals; but it was always a motivator for growing.

More than 30 years later having worked for countless clients, and employed many hundreds of talented communicators, I’m immensely proud to be Executive Chairman of WE Buchan - an important member of one of the smartest and largest independent communication groups in the world – WE Communications.

Advice from a sage

I’ve always sought advice from successful women and men, not only in the business world, but also leaders in community, civic and public life, and the performing arts.  By listening and learning, one makes improvements continually to personal and professional conduct, and more broadly lifting overall performance of the enterprise.

One of the best pieces of advice came from a prominent and respected scion of Australian business, David Elsum AM, who delivered this counsel to me bluntly and succinctly: “Put a time limit on your days as ‘the leader’, and always remember, it is never too early to introduce succession planning to bring on the next generation of leaders in your business.”

Succession planning – a neglected imperative

Fewer than one in five Australian small to medium enterprise (SME) owners have a formal succession plan in place. This is a failure of leadership, an immense missed opportunity for a fresh approach, new thinking and energy, and ultimately building for the future. 

For me, there has been a number of important steps recognising the need to open the way for others to lead, and also to change my role focusing more on counselling, advising and mentoring.

  • Nominate an appropriate and motivated successor as Chief Executive – we have a dynamic and driven leader in Rebecca Wilson whose tenure with WE Buchan exceeds 17 years.
  • Broaden the ownership of the Company to include some of your leadership group – in addition to myself and Rebecca Wilson, our General Manager and fellow Director, Gemma Hudson is a part owner. 
  • And finally, welcome and introduce investment and equity from a likeminded and highly regarded global communication group, in our case WE Communications.

So yes, most definitely this requires a paradigm shift in attitude and thinking to take one’s name off the door and accept the future belongs to advancing generations of talented communication consultants.  In WE Buchan’s business plan, it also recognises that fulfilling our original business purpose of serving all clients with high quality and close attention, fundamentally depends on ‘best in world’ practices and methodologies. 

Our majority business partner, WE Communications, takes us out into the world and provides a brilliant platform for future growth; advancing the career paths of our employees, and giving our clients additional value added in communication insights, analytics and ultimately stronger results. 

WE Buchan / WE Communications leaders (Left to right): Gemma Hudson, General Manager, WE Buchan; Tom Buchan, Executive Chairman, WE Buchan; Melissa Waggener-Zorkin, CEO & Founder WE Communications; Matt Lackie, Executive Vice President – Asia Pacific, WE Communications; Rebecca Wilson, CEO WE Buchan

Author: Tom Buchan, Executive Chairman, WE Buchan