Five tips for your business from Billabong’s Launa Inman

While unwilling to talk about the takeover attempts on Billabong, the surfwear retailer’s chief executive, Launa Inman, had five key tips for businesses which she shared at a lunch for the Australian Institute of Company Directors yesterday.

Inman told the audience that everyone expected her to talk about the challenges boards face when takeovers are being attempted.

Inman says she is “definitely an expert” on dealing with takeover attempts but was bound by signed confidentiality agreements as the takeover process continues.

1. Keep up with regulations while growing value

Inman says one of the challenges as a board member of a business is keeping up with regulations as there has been an increase in regulations since the financial crisis.

“You have to ensure that regulations are adhered to but the reason you are there is to help grow shareholder value and I think at times boards perhaps forget that; at times we are so busy considering all the risks,” she says.

“It is not that I am asking for less regulation but we need to recognise as directors on a board we cannot do everything, we do need to ask the right questions.”

2. Have a diversity of skill sets

Having sufficient diversity on a board and in a business is a key issue according to Inman and she says she is not just talking about men and women.

“I think it is more than that. It is about how one approaches making sure you have all the right skill sets for the board,” she says.

“It is no longer a question of knowing people and having friendships and asking to join the board, it is really about running it as a business in its own right and ensuring the required skills of every board member are actually complementary to the chairman and to each other.”

3. Identify and mentor women in your business

Inman does not advocate quotas of women on boards but says there needs to be more women at the top level of businesses.

“Having worked in a large organisation where we had over 25,000 people at Target, I know that when I initially took over that role there was one woman in the leadership team and that was me. By the time I left over 50% of my team were women,” she says.

“In many organisations you have at least 50% of your middle management are women but then they all become dumb as they become senior? I find that hard to believe.”

Inman disputes the argument that people can’t juggle children and their business role because many of the women at the middle levels of businesses have already had their children and they are doing exactly that – they are already juggling.

“So I think it is more about identifying women and mentoring women so they can get to the executive roles, which in turn gives them the opportunity to go on the board,” she says.

Inman says if there is no further change in the next two to three years then she thinks the issue of quotas for women on boards should be revisited.

4. Look for the upside in the strong Australian dollar

The strong Australian dollar is not what has caused manufacturing to move offshore in retail, according to Inman.

“In retail, manufacturing has been offshore for 15 to 20 years and whether the dollar is strong or weak it will probably still be cheaper to get them to Australia and pay the duty, and duties have been coming down,” she says.

“So I don’t think that is going to change, it is just a question of as the dollar is higher it allows the consumer to have better prices. There has been price harmonisation as we become part of the global economy.”

Inman says retailers are fortunate in one sense as the strong dollar allows retailers to land goods at a reasonable price.

“Retailers are reducing prices and that is not going to change,” she says.

“You can’t do much about productivity, let’s be realistic about that, so in many cases we are fortunate the dollar is high as it enables us to juggle how we make our margin in some cases.”

5. Look for the opportunities

Inman advocates business make the most of opportunities this year and approach them in a diligent manner.

“This year is a year that, despite the political uncertainty, is a year of hope. I really do think that, because you see the stock market starting to climb, that does give people a sense of confidence and I think there are a lot of opportunities out there,” she says.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there you just have to manage them.”

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