We Will Tell You What’s Good For You

As the financial year draws to a close it’s time to look again to our national body, Greyhounds Australasia, to see how we are doing. Sadly, no luck. The latest stats on people, dogs and cash are for 2011 – still. That makes it really hard to assess the industry. We then have to rely on state annual reports which are sometimes informative, often not. Good news stories can outrank facts. And you cannot put them together and add them up as they all approach the subject differently.

Fortunately, the thoroughbred’s Fact Book will be out later in the year and will provide lots of current data about all Australian betting, including greyhound betting. But it will not include Betfair turnover because the company says it is not relevant and refuses to supply it. Can you believe it?

Another option might be to take the various Racing Ministers’ words of wisdom and cut them in half or, in Queensland’s case, by two thirds.

How on earth can you run an organisation properly without good information about the whole country? Or even parts of it. States might think they are islands unto themselves but the dogs don’t know that. Neither do the punters.

And, sad to say, all Queensland’s form and results are going into the NSW Ozchase system this weekend, which will make them extremely difficult to use. Ozchase continues to be a poor relation to other formguides and the like, notably those from Victoria. Since Victoria is the only state doing reasonably at the moment, you would think the other states would be pulling out all the stops to catch up. Not so. They just don’t get it. Maybe a course on customer relations would be a help.

WHO’S ON FIRST BASE?

Talking about Racing Ministers, since they are responsible for appointing board members of state authorities it is interesting to note a pattern emerging.

Do you know that the chairmen of five major greyhound authorities are lawyers? They are Queensland, NSW, Victoria, SA and Greyhounds Australasia. One of those is a QC.

So was the guy who conducted the last statutory review of NSW greyhound and harness boards. Well, actually he was a barrister which is a bit of a worry. Their brief in life is to nit-pick about words and argue that black is really white, mainly on behalf of wealthy firms. Vision, progress and corporate objectives do not get much of a look-in, certainly not in his case. Maybe he had the wrong brief?

Lawyers are paid to get things right, which makes it odd to see that GRNSW is trying to shift a commercial enterprise (Tweed Heads dogs) from NSW to Queensland. Since that could shatter long term contractual obligations, as well as pose a massive constitutional challenge, you have to wonder how they would bring that about. Or why? What does it achieve? More jobs for lawyers, perhaps?

They might pick up some secrets from Prince Leonard of Hutt River Principality, 595km north of Perth. Having seceded from Australia, he seems to be doing well by charging incoming tourists a fee for stamping visas in their passports. And on special at the moment is a commemorative watch for only $45. A coin in honour of the late Princess Shirley is also available

Elsewhere, I can recall a proposal of mine going to the board of a company I once worked for. Later I got a response from one director – a prominent QC and good bloke – that he recognised the way it was written and therefore knew where it came from. No word about the worth of the proposal, though, only about the writing.

It all reminds you of the example of airline captains, finely trained, highly skilled, well paid members of the community. Yet the first duty of a pilot is to assess the risks and not take them. The duty of a businessman is to assess the risks and take one of the options; otherwise he will go out backwards. Who would you rather have running your company?

(This, incidentally, is why the old habit of putting pilots in charge of airlines – and there were many – is a relic of the ages. They have all done it at one time or another, but not anymore. See Ansett, Qantas (twice), Butler, Hazleton, Kendall, Pan Am (also twice), Cathay (launched by Australian pilot Syd de Kantzhow), TWA (Howard Hughes was a dedicated pilot), Eastern (Eddie Rickenbacker, a pioneer), and so on. It is also interesting that only two of those airlines are still operating, one of them somewhat shakily).

All these folk are no doubt well-regarded, upstanding people but our question remains: are lawyers the best people to take an industry into the modern age? Since breeding is down, betting is generally declining, field numbers are falling, as is their quality, and the industry is now reliant on mug gamblers, there is a big doubt about that.

It is sensible to have a lawyer on the board, for obvious reasons. But not in charge.

What we desperately need is a national body, led by someone who is prepared to mount his white charger and roar into battle, brandishing his sword and encouraging the troops to follow.

THE UNDERLYING ISSUES

The whole question of who to put in charge is argumentative, of course. We hear about hotshot “independent” advisors being used to come up with possible names for board membership yet you can judge only on results and they are mixed at best. Too often the motive seems to be to pick people who are “sound”, as Sir Humphrey might say. Ministers never like the boat being rocked, yet how else can you achieve progress?

The greyhound industry lacks real leadership, partly because of its fragmented nature, partly because it has shown no inclination to adapt to modern standards of governance, partly because it has been concerned only with process and not outcomes, and partly because it has always been low man on the totem pole.

Therefore it must look to why this is happening and correct its direction and its corporate strategies. Put simply, it has worthwhile assets but they are not being utilised well. That shortcoming means the buck has to stop with the various boards and to the people who put them there.

Whether our leaders are lawyers, accountants, doctors or vets is perhaps not so much the point as whether those folk can achieve results. Demonstrably, the present lot are not doing that, hence my query about the current dominance of lawyers – circumstantial evidence, you might say.