Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Chair endorses customer focus

Customer service will remain a strategic focus for incoming Goulburn-Murray Water chairperson Sarah Scales.

September 1, 2014 11:00pm

Chair of G-MW, Sarah Scales, with former chair, Llew Vale.

Customer service will remain a strategic focus for incoming Goulburn-Murray Water chairperson Sarah Scales.

Asked about priorities for the board, Ms Scales wants to see further progress in building value for the water corporation’s diverse customers.

‘‘It’s getting efficiencies and synergies in the business,’’ she said.

‘‘Gavin (the managing director) has been addressing our cost base, but it’s also about innovation and questioning how things have been done for the last 10 years and challenging the norm.

‘‘We have some big challenges as far as the cost size of the equation goes, but I think if we have that mentality and culture within the organisation it will be delivered.’’

In her first role as a chair, she is taking on Australia’s largest rural water authority, with more than 600 staff and a turnover of more than $200million.

Routinely the board meetings are ticking off projects worth multiple millions of dollars, but Ms Scales, a business and risk management consultant, is not fazed.

She was previously the general manager of AWB International and held other senior management positions in AWB Ltd, wrestling with derivatives, hedging and pricing.

She was appointed to the board of Queensland Sugar Limited in January 2013 and has been a director of West Australian-based InterGrain, a plant breeding company, since October 2011.

‘‘Leadership comes down to listening, having a vision and strategy and being relentless and boring in how you communicate that in getting stakeholders and staff to own it,’’ Ms Scales said.

‘‘Listening to diverse views is quite fundamental to reaching board decisions.

‘‘My maxim is: surround yourself with really smart people ... and usually they make you look good.’’

Ms Scales lives in Melbourne but runs a mixed farm at Mansfield. She is married to Henry Maling.

Asked about what keeps her busy, Ms Scales lists her board memberships and consultancy and also adds: ‘‘I’m a mother.’’

She is the first female appointed to chair Goulburn-Murray Water where about 75 per cent of the employees are male and abut 80 per cent of the water services committees’ members are men.

There is one other female board member.

For Ms Scales, gender is not an issue, but she jokingly says she is sometimes able to elicit more information from others because she is a woman.

‘‘I’ve worked in a male-dominated industry all my life — agribusiness. In essence I was the only female executive running a P and L at AWB and it was a complicated part of the business.

‘‘I remember going to the states, working out of New York and remember thinking before I went: I am going to America where they invented the word, ‘marketing’ ... and they were shocked they were dealing with a woman.’’

Ms Scales has a Bachelor of Agricultural Science and has completed the Stanford Executive program.

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