It’s an impressive track record whichever way you look at it with a large dose of diversity thrown in for good measure. Chairman of Macquarie Group, WA and of the Black Swan Theatre Company right through to a Harvard MBA, WA Citizen of the Year in Industry and Commerce in 2009, and unpaid Chairman of the West Coast Eagles (2007-2010). For Mark Barnaba AM the two threads underpinning his approach to life and work are the importance of family and making the most of your talents.
“I grew up within a tight, Catholic Italian environment and it was a wonderful experience.
The things that mattered most to my parents were love and support for their children and that gives you a feeling that you can do whatever you want and take every opportunity to be the best you possibly can.”
“My secondary education was at Trinity, a Christian Brothers’ school, and they reinforced a lot of the values I grew up with at home.
There were very few lay teachers when I was there and I have to say that I didn’t see any of the negative events that’ve been in the media recently. It was a very good time in my life, to be honest.”
The leadership formula
Mark has an interesting take on leadership qualities and their importance across a number of corporate areas, including the health sector.
“Good leadership is needed in business, finance and health. There may well be a requirement for a different range of technical skills but I think the three most important qualities are firstly, being able to communicate a sense of vision and purpose and secondly, to bring others along on the journey.
There’s a big difference between consensus and informed decision making, the former can mean reducing an issue to the lowest common denominator while the latter means you’re listening to all range of views and making an informed and considered decision.”
“Finally, and this is often undervalued, having a sense of empathy and connectedness with the people you’re working with is critically important.”
After graduating from UWA with a Commerce Degree in the mid-1980s Mark went to Harvard Business School and completed an MBA.
“Going to a place such as Harvard expands your horizons and takes you out of your comfort zone. I was mixing with a completely different set of people from a variety of cultures and it gave me some life experiences at a relatively young age that would’ve taken a lot longer to accumulate in the normal run of things.”
“It certainly gave me a clearer idea of my strengths and weaknesses.”
Building on good foundations
Mark has had a long association with UWA, initially as a student and now as the Chairman of the Business School and an Adjunct Professor in Investment Banking and Finance. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Commerce in 2012.
“In the last 35 years there’s only been about ten of those in which I haven’t been associated with the university. It has been, and still is, an important part of my life and it set some firm foundations for me. It’s a privilege to be involved and give something back, particularly as the landscape of philanthropy is changing in Perth.”
“I think we’ve come a long way in the last two decades, corporate philanthropy is spoken about more openly now and we’re getting a little closer to the USA model. There’s still a gap, but it’s narrowing and we’re making real inroads in this area.”
The world of big business is often portrayed pejoratively as a hyper-competitive environment with alpha-males pushing hard for a competitive edge.
“I don’t think it’s any uglier than other areas of life and there are some very good people – including some of my best friends – in this sector. Sure, along the way you do meet people that you’re a little unsure about but the majority are decent people. To be honest I’ve never thought about it in that way, whether it’s ugly or otherwise. Human nature reveals itself in everything we do and I try to gravitate towards good people.”
“I’ve loved the journey so far.”
Life has its ups and downs
It hasn’t always been plain sailing for Mark Barnaba and he freely acknowledges that a life fully lived will have some setbacks along the way.
“There are bleak moments and you have to expect a few of those.
My father was only 53 years-old when he passed away from cancer and I was 19 at the time. I’ve also had very close friends who’ve died young, some in their 30s.
If you’re around for a while and engage with life some tough times are inevitable.”
“On a more personal note, I had a skiing accident in my mid-20s and crushed several discs in my back. I had to undergo a couple of laminectomies and there were no endoscopic procedures around then.All that still sticks in the back of my head but I hasten to add I have been back to the doctor a few times since then.”
“My wife, Paige had a life-threatening pregnancy giving birth to our daughter Arabella and that certainly focused the mind. We so often take our health for granted and it can change in an instant.”
Mark’s initial focus at university was the sciences and, indeed, he was nearly lost to the medical faculty.
“I did look at doing medicine and, very briefly, enrolled in dentistry and engineering. Commerce grabbed my interest but I still enjoy reading the natural sciences, particularly material on the structure of the universe. Having said that, I also read a lot of newspapers and The Economist.”
But for Mark Barnaba family is at the top of the triangle.
“I love going along to karate with my son. It’s important to be a fully engaged parent and I’m quite sure our children are never going to grow up and say ‘gee Dad, I’m glad you won all those awards but you never had time for us.”