On Wednesday 5 June 2019, Warrane College had their first formal dinner of the semester. They heard from Dallas McInerney, Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Schools NSW (CSNSW) since August 2017. CSNSW is the representative body of the state’s almost 600 Catholic schools and their owners, as well as the system authority for approximately 550 NSW Catholic diocesan schools. Prior to this, Dallas worked in financial regulation and public policy across the government and private sectors.
McInerney spoke to the young men of the college about the good foundations he had in life, and how that motivated his work today. “I think it’s really difficult for a young person to go out into the world… and be true to what they’ve learnt at home. How can I replicate that? How can I honour what was given to me from my family… I think that’s one of the things that motivated me to take the current job that I have,” he said.
McInerney started by telling the young men about the good foundations he felt he had had in life. “I have been very lucky throughout my life, and the first bit of luck I had was the family I was born into,” he said. “I had two parents, both of whom came from very, very modest means… My grandmother invested all that she had, time and otherwise, into my mother’s education. It was that experience that my mother had that she was determined to pass onto her children… My father had left school at 14… I say that background to make the point that whatever gifts, or enjoyments or benefits you have; you’re very temporary custodians of them.”
McInerney went on: “The other things which put me in good stead were the robustness of living in community as one of nine kids; the boys’ school with hundreds of others; it does give you an early outlook on life. It can strengthen you, make you more robust. And I’ll always be grateful for those early opportunities because you were tested and you were stretched, and you did learn about self-doubt and criticism and not receiving always the best treatment from your fellow man. And to have those experiences early, I think, is important. Now that’s not to say that everyone should go through a god-awful existence, but I’m glad that I had those challenges.”
He said that even with a good foundation, the challenge for young people is sticking to how they’ve been brought up when the world around them is so different. “How do I make sure my children have the same experiences and formation that’s put me in such good stead, when every other part of society is sending them completely alternative messages to the ones we’re trying to send them at home?… It’s unrelenting, because I would have less facetime with my son and my daughter on a daily basis than they would with their iPads. So their view of the world is more influenced …by that than me.”
"Never give up the opportunity to do something different or talk to somebody who’s either smarter, older, or more experienced."
McInerney also gave the young men some advice on friendship and mentorship.
“A point I would make is I truly believe the friends you make at this age, now, are the best friends you’ll have ever. My best friends that I stay in touch with, value, love and interact with, and actually pine for… are the ones I met between 18 and 25… Life does get very busy… and the opportunity to make new friends becomes very limited… The beauty of having friends like that, from these formative years, is it doesn’t really matter if you don’t talk to them every day… they do give an extra dimension,” he said.
McInerney went on, “The other thing I’ll make comment on… is never give up the opportunity to do something different or talk to somebody who’s either smarter, older, or more experienced. I saw too many of my peers who were a little bit disdainful of people who were older than them… Some of the richer discussions I’ve had personally and certainly professionally are with people who have been there, experienced and really gone through with their careers, and now just want to share time with you. It’s not something that we do well in Australia with respect to valuing that great corpus of experience… So if there’s an opportunity to find yourself a mentor… I would definitely recommend that you try to regularise that… I have so many examples of times when people have given me counsel when I didn’t even know I was seeking it.”
He also advised the young men to learn to listen, and to really value their time in the college. “I was reflecting on some of the people who have come here before to share their thoughts… I was taught very early to remember that you have two ears and one mouth and to use it in proportion, and it was good advice because I’m one of nine children in my family… And coming back and joining you for dinner this evening did return to me the sense of enjoyment in numbers, and how joy shared is joy doubled, and there’s no substitute for being with your brothers and sisters… Cherish your time here.”
Career advice from Brendon Cook, CEO of oOh! Media
He was ADMA Marketer of the Year in 2016, and is the International Vice President of global Out Of Home industry body FEPE (the Federation European Publicite Exterieur). And on Wednesday 28 March 2018, he was Warrane College’s welcomed guest at their formal dinner - Brendon Cook, CEO of oOh! Media.
A leading operator in Australia and New Zealand’s fast-growing Out Of Home advertising industry, oOh! Media works to create engagement between people and brands through location-based media solutions. As Cook explained to the boys, media and advertising is very much a business that is about leading thinking.
Cook grew up in Sydney’s western suburbs and attended Marist Brothers. He didn’t put too much into his school studies but rather learnt on the job following school, and started his own business at age 28 – because of a recession, and with just $6,000 in his pocket.
Cook founded oOh! in 1989 and transformed it from a traditional Out Of Home advertising business into a new data-driven, audience-led digital media company with content and publishing capabilities. These days it’s a Top 200 ASX company, with shareholders from around the world including; Silicon Valley, New York, London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong and Australia/NZ.
He went on to share the following pieces of wisdom.
Ideals to uphold in business
“Many of you will become leaders in your community,” said Cook. “The most important thing is you must remain humble, you must remain respectful of everyone around you. Because if you look at any great leader around the world, you’ll find that’s the core... Egotism is a big fallback.... It’s one thing to be confident; it’s another thing to be egotistical as you move through life.”
He continued: “So our business runs on some pretty basic values. Respect is key: respect for all teammates, respect for people you’re dealing with, respect for suppliers and respect for customers. Teamwork: working with people; really understanding how to work with people. We’re all different and it’s the beauty of our business – it’s a living organism. You don’t want everybody to be the same. If everyone’s the same you get narrower thinking... And fun: enjoying everyone’s company...at oOh! we feel like a family.”
Adding value to society
Cook explained the importance of a business having more than financial reasons for operating. “We’re a commercial business; our job is to sell space, it’s what we do for a living, we make money, try to help people sell stuff to you guys... But within that you can ensure that you’re adding value to society in more than just financial rewards... For us the best way we can do community purpose is we were the first Out Of Home Company globally, to employ a full-time community manager. We actively go out and seek causes to support... We as a business get right behind that charity... our staff can take time off to support charities... I think any business that doesn’t have a strong social conscience will fail ultimately.”
Keeping the future in mind
Cook also told the boys a couple of ways in which he has learnt to look towards the future in his business dealings. The first? Working on machine learning. “Why? Because machine learning will provide process and efficiency, to give humans the time to do the things that humans do well – to create and thinking. And that’s really what we’re trying to move to.”
Another thing he suggested the boys think about was disruption. “So as a business person, the challenge we have today is how we think about disruption,” said Cook. “As a leader, my job is to think about disruption. How can this business be disruptive? And start to take action years and years in advance of that disruption to give you some chance of surviving. Because whichever way we look at it, on average, most big businesses today have about a 15-year lifespan. Will Facebook look like Facebook in 15 years? Will Google look like Google in 15 years? Unlikely. There will be something else happening. So the one thing I’d suggest to you in whatever career you’re in – start to say to yourself, what am I really learning... and what could disrupt it?”
(Photographs from the evening are available here)
Why don’t we argue anymore? With Dr Renée Köhler Ryan, Dean of Philosophy and Theology at Notre Dame Uni
On Wednesday 8 August 2018, it was the Dean of the School of Philosophy and Theology at the University of Notre Dame Australia who came to talk to the young men of Warrane College. Dr Renée Köhler-Ryan, also a professor lecturing on topics such as Philosophy of the Human Person,Political Philosophy, and more, spoke about the importance of disagreement.
“So as you’ve heard, I’m a philosopher. And philosophers really like arguments,” she began. “But what I’m finding increasingly difficult when teaching philosophy is that people don’t like to argue that much anymore... so I thought it might be worthwhile to talk about what it means to have a reasonable disagreement, given that we’re living in an age right now where most people want to get away from disagreements.”
Köhler-Ryan went on: “We have trigger warnings... Before you present any material that anyone in any way might be offended by, you warn them beforehand. And that is becoming increasingly difficult for academics who are really charged with the task of bringing up things that should get a response; a reaction.”
“Being human is actually a fairly difficult thing to be, so if in university you’re not faced with all of the problems and the difficulties of what it means to be human, then it becomes increasingly difficult as you go on in life. So what I’m starting to be more and more concerned about – when I look in the media, when I look in my classrooms, everything else – is that people are so willing to be offended that everyone else is worried about saying anything…that they might really genuinely believe in and want to bring up, because they’re afraid that they’ll offend other people.”
Köhler-Ryan told the boys what Eric Voegelin commented regarding Nietzsche’s work: “People have lost interest. They don’t have any fight in them anymore, they don’t have any gumption in them anymore, so they’re not willing to put themselves on the line and to get into it, to really figure out what life is about. They’re satisfied just to sit back, relax and try to enjoy. To me when I read that, it sounds very, very familiar.”
The rules for disagreement + possible outcomes
Köhler-Ryan went on to explain the rules of disagreement to the boys. “First of all you need to have a starting position… and realise, going into an argument, that you might not be so sure anymore when you come out of it… An attitude of openness going in means that one has to be able to listen, but you should also be able to think through ideas for and against a certain position; and try to have a big picture of what’s going on before going into the nitty gritty details.”
She talked about Thomas Aquinas being someone who truly lived the rules of disagreement well. Köhler-Ryan said that the exciting thing about him was that he could give the opponent’s argument even better than they could! Aquinas was also invested in the idea that it’s very human to ask questions and go deeper even when you know the answer.
Köhler-Ryan explained something she gets her moral philosophy students to do. She asks them to pick a moral issue they have an opinion on, and then explain why their opponent believes what they believe, before presenting their own view. There are three outcomes that can come from this – first, that a person will change their mind in the process. “This is an exciting moment!” said Köhler-Ryan. Others will better understand their own position, because the more they understand their opponent’s position, the deeper they can understand their own. And the third possible outcome would be that the student isn’t so sure of what they think anymore.
Recently, as she told the boys, Köhler-Ryan has been researching disputes between two of the fathers of the Catholic church – St Augustine and St Jerome. “One of the things they were arguing about is whether Christians should just amicably agree about everything, or whether they should discuss and really try and figure out what’s going on…” she said.
“One thing we could think about is why we avoid disagreements, and whether there are some moments where you would want to avoid a disagreement, and whether there are others where you’d want to go right into a disagreement…”
She went on: “We live in a political state which is democracy… rule by the people… Democracy only works if you have an educated populace who are ready to think about what is good for society. So if you’re living in a democracy where everyone is saying ‘I don’t want to offend anyone so I’m not going to tell you what I really think,’ then you’re actually in a very dangerous situation, because no one is able to bring out into an open space what they want to think about and talk about. And so the rules of debate become quite difficult.”
Köhler-Ryan also talked about how important university is as a setting in which to practice the rules of democracy. “You have a range of ideas. You’re actually learning…how to think in university, no matter what it is that you’re studying. In university you always come across ideas that you agree with and ideas that you disagree with, and you’re kind of learning how to navigate and negotiate them.”
A career in the psychology of air safety with Dr Claire Marrison
On Wednesday 9 May 2018, Dr Claire Marrison had words of wisdom to share with the boys as the formal dinner guest at Warrane College. The Standards & Systems Manager at Air Services Australia, she told the boys about her work – oversighting how Airservices’ approach to both safety and environment management – and how she got there.
Overall she had three main lessons for the boys; on risks, opportunities, and priorities.
Marrison told the boys how she started out studying psychology, something her parents nicknamed a “Mickey Mouse degree”. True, she didn’t really have a career path in mind – but psychology interested her and she was keen to go to university.
After completing her honours degree in psychology, she was still unsure where she was headed. She travelled to Australia, backpacked, and headed home to the United Kingdom just as undecided as to what the future held for her.
But as she told the boys, not everyone will have it figured out from the start, and that’s okay. “One of the things I want to say to you today – there are points in your career where you need to take risks,” Marrison said. “Only by taking risks will you get to see what your real potential is.”
Back in the UK, an opportunity arose – she was asked to do a Masters course, and it didn’t hurt that she would be paid for it. An airline wanted some research done on the psychological welfare of their staff, so she was trained to be an air hostess and she travel with them in order to complete it. After a year of this, she got asked to look into passenger responses to aircraft emergencies – which turned into her PhD.
It was from this place that her career in air safety took off, so to speak. “As I said at the start, I’ve never really had a firm path of where I wanted to go; opportunities arise and you just grab them,” Marrison said to the boys. She learnt that airplanes need certification to do with evacuation safety, but that there had been instances where supposedly certified planes didn’t have successful evacuations, resulting in many deaths. She began to study what was going wrong by simulating emergency situations, and it turned out to be that the competition between the passengers involved was the mystery factor. From this she had to think about how to change evacuation situations from a psychological point of view; which led to a change of regulations.
With this specific area of expertise under her belt, Marrison found herself in great demand and was able to come to Australia as an air accident safety investigator. She spent time looking at human performance, with questions such as why pilots make errors, and also studied survival factors in the US. It was after about four years of this kind of work that she started working for Air Services Australia, where she felt she was at the end of the chain where she could have more practical impact.
Keeping your priorities straight
Marrison finished up with some advice for the boys. “There were a couple of things I’d like to say about my experience,” she said. “What it shows is that life can be taken away from you very, very quickly. And I suppose one of the things I did take from that is that I don’t think that if my life flashes before me - like some of the people I was then dealing with - I don’t think I’m going to be actually thinking about “I wish I’d worked a bit harder”... I think I would be thinking about the friendships I made, the relationships, and about the contributions I had made to society... So I think for me it’s one of the key things I’ve kept with me.”
She continued: “It’s about, you know, making that contribution to the world and actually having really, really good relationships, because those are the things I think you’ll be thinking about when you pass on into the next life.”
She also encouraged the boys to do what they love. “I think you need to be true to yourself – in saying that, money is important and the higher up you are in the organisation, the more money you’re going to get. But if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, then you’re not going to have that quality of life.”
(Photographs from the evening are available here)