Simon steers Red Cross on the right course

Interim executives are experienced professionals who work for corporates in executive roles such as CEO or CFO, at short notice.

Simon Bolles (OB 1978) moved from a full time career into building a portfolio career, which then led into interim executive management and a five months placement as interim CFO of Red Cross. Stepping in after the bushfires, at the height of COVID, Simon says his timing was “appalling”. At one stage, he even wondered whether he would be the last Red Cross CFO! It was an immensely challenging time, particularly being thrown into COVID after only a fortnight in the role.

Most companies had very rough times then, of course. He had to use every piece of experience that he possessed, as the challenges kept coming thick and fast, and were often those that no one had come across. Simon is very glad he took the role. He met some wonderful people and needed to confront challenges that really got him thinking.

“I remember … I had a question put to me that I just did not have an answer to. I really wasn’t sure. I asked the questioner to ask a divisional head (who reported to me). The questioner said she had asked him, and he said that she should ask me! That was Covid for you.”

The life of an interim exec is one of hard work in chunks followed by long breaks, which works for Simon at his stage and age. “I’ve met some great people and confronted very diverse issues.”

When Simon started at the Red Cross he very quickly needed to get to grips with the urgent and important issues by meeting with staff and the CEO. He had 200 staff  and to add to the challenge, only spent nine days in five months actually in the office.

Simon is proud to have contributed to ensuring the financial security of Red Cross Australia during the pandemic. With no face to face Red Cross calling program, charity shops closed, no donations, first aid had to stop, corporate donations virtually disappeared, revenue declined dramatically, but costs did not. Significant restructuring of the financial resources to ensure the survival of the organisation was paramount as well as dealing with Job Keeper. Support from the Federal Government wasappreciated.

Another achievement is, as at 29 October 2020, $178 million of the $239 million raised for those affected by the bushfires has been spent or disbursed. The remainder will be distributed slowly over time, to ensure checks are in place to ensure the right people received funds. Less than 4c in the dollar has been spent on administrative costs which is also very low.

BGS often talks about preparing the boys for jobs that don’t exist yet. Having left school over 40 years ago, Simon entered a very different world to the one our boys will enter today, but has certainly mastered the art of adapting.

Here are Simon’s recommendations of important attributes for the boys at BGS to be developing now for their future success:

  1. Change jobs, not every six months, but regularly. I was fortunate that I got bored after five years, so looked for new ones. I had a diverse career with many different roles and experiences. When you change jobs, you get out of your comfort zone. You have to meet new people, build new relationships, and learn new skills. It pushes you to develop.
  1. Get a mentor, in Year 12 or when you first leave school. They didn’t exist in my day and I wish they did. I made moves in my career that I wish I didn’t.
  1. It’s easier to network than many think. BGS Old Boys and BGS parents make up a huge network. Get to know your friends’ parents. They will often be senior executives themselves and also know other people. Build your network in that way, and also on LinkedIn. At university, join clubs to network. Sports clubs, the chess club, it doesn’t matter. Here you will network across faculties and meet people from law, finance, medicine, trades. All of these connections are helpful.

Great advice, Simon. Thank you.

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