Mary Lynne Pidcock’s business savvy may run in her genes. Pidcock’s great-grandmother, Mary, was a pioneer of her generation, who in the mid-1800s took over at the helm of her deceased husband’s timber business, Thomas Pidcock & Sons, while also raising their five children. Mary left a considerable estate after her death in 1897, all of which she created herself.
Today, the operating company, Big River Timbers, is still family-owned and run and Pidcock is on its board of directors. However, this position was not automatically bestowed upon her.
“I came to the family business very late in my professional career and only on the basis of my qualifications and experience outside the family.”
When asked if she felt she had something to prove, Pidcock says she’d “be crazy to say no”, particularly being the first female director in the family business.
“I guess I was a bit of a trailblazer there. I’ve always said to my daughters everything is available to you – but you need to identify what it is that you need to do and be prepared to pay the price.”
Paving the way
It was fitting that Pidcock branched out by establishing her own company in 2004 – Transition – which provides specialist advice to businesses on governance and leadership succession.
“My desire is to assist families in business to manage the transition to their succession. We hear a lot about succession planning, but then you actually have to effect the plan and I believe that families in business need outside, independent help to manage that transition to a sustainable future.”
Often the dynamics and competing personalities in family businesses can lead to their downfall, something the Pidcock’s have avoided, despite the occasional conflicting ideas on direction.
“We’ve had our arguments and disagreements and not all parts of our family have been on accord in terms of where they wanted to take the business, but underneath it all, we all have an understanding that we would work it out, and so we did.”
The Pidcocks have been fortunate that this strong family bond and difference in opinion has worked in their favour.
“It’s very important to be able to come together to acknowledge our heritage, to acknowledge the good fortune we were born into and celebrate difference, instead of allowing that difference to break us apart – it’s a very rich experience.”
Pidcock’s career started as a teacher, and while her brothers accepted a position in the operational aspects of the company, there were never any expectations that Pidcock would have a commercial career.
“Although I performed very well in economics at school, I was always encouraged to be a teacher, which was a traditional profession at that time for women and I don’t regret it, I loved teaching.”
Pidcock stepped out of her role as a high school teacher into a commercial career. “On the basis of that experience I came into the company as a family director on the board and I competed for that on the basis of the experiences I had on the outside – I did it on my credentials.”
She later took on the job as general manager (NSW) of Tourism Council Australia from 1993 to 2001, in the lead up to the Olympics in Sydney, which she describes as her most challenging period professionally.
“That industry is 24/7 and the opportunity was a one-off. The mantra was ‘we’re only going to get one shot of this’ and the eyes of the world would be on us.”
Vehicle for expression
When asked what she considers her greatest achievement in business to date, Pidcock is reticent about her contribution as a leading businesswoman.
“My approach to business and my approach to everything – and I think a lot women have this approach – is that it’s always a team effort. My most strongest held belief is that it’s a position of service. People who have asked you to step into that position, are depending on your success.”
She emphasises a comment from fellow female business leader [Westpac CEO] Gail Kelly at a female leadership business forum, who says that women wanting to step into leadership think they need to be 100 per cent ready before they put themselves up for the position. Pidcock says that men on the other hand understand that they can step into a leadership position and access the energy of the resources around them to help them grow into that position.
“I think the main difference is when [women] believe they’re ready. It takes courage and confidence and a lot of that confidence comes from pre-conditioning.”
Pidcock describes what she sees in younger women as a “constant ambivalence” between thinking they can have everything and wanting to have everything without being willing to give something away, even temporarily.
“I help people that I mentor [realise] that to choose something often means to not choose something else, in other words, have a look at the price you’re going to pay and weigh up whether or not it’s worthwhile.”
With her depth of experience, Pidcock has sound business advice to offer. She believes that having advisers, in the form of a mentor or coach is a vital addition to progress one’s business or career. Aligning with other businesses is another strategy that she has undertaken at Transition.
“My view on business now and the extent to which it’s changed is that there’s lots of strategic alliances that can be relatively informal that you can have with businesses that can offer another specialty. You need to have strategic alliances with other businesses that you trust and know are good value so that they can provide with you a broader offering.”
Pidcock lists the most rewarding aspect of being involved in both her family’s company and running her own business is creating the framework to contribute.
“The acknowledgment of individual difference and the opportunity to contribute, that’s what turns me on. It’s a very privileged position as far as the heritage aspect of my work is concerned and also it’s a privileged position and this stage of my life to have the freedom to develop a new business and to create something that I know is necessary.
“Business is a vehicle for creation, self expression, relationships with others; they’re vehicles that create an opportunity for others to contribute.”
And while she says her risk profile has changed with age and experience, she concedes she has taken some huge risks, not all of which have been successful.
“Even now, why start a business at this stage of my life? That’s risky – but it’s exciting and it’s new, and I do have a very strong belief that I have something to offer. So the biggest risk is not to take a risk, and to do nothing, because in the end what you’re risking is your life and I’m not to prepared to do that.”