Craig Donaldson spoke with AHRI national president Peter Wilson about the recent membership buyback and future plans for the Institute
What attracted you to the role of national president of AHRI?
Basically the opportunities it offered, given the consolidation that had taken place under Deakin. It’s well known the business went into liquidation in 1999 and Deakin bought it and had to rebuild it effectively. That work has been very productive. It’s established a much stronger credibility to the point where, as a senior HR director, I took AHRI very seriously. I know many of my colleagues did, but it still has the opportunity to achieve excellence in delivery of services to all members of the profession, in the same way that, say, the Institute of Company Directors does for professional directors. So, there’s an opportunity there to contribute to AHRI to go to the next level.
AHRI was recently split into two separate bodies: the professional association and a subsidiary that services the professional needs of members. What was the reason for this?
A number of professional organisations are structured this way. Effectively, you have a governing body for members, looking after their interests and issues around the governance of the profession itself, and the directors are elected by the regional state councils (that is AHRI Ltd). And underneath that, you have a separate commercial board of four people and the service commercial organisation of AHRI at the national office, running all the programs and services on a commercial basis.
What process was used to determine whether AHRI members wanted to buy the Institute back?
The process was consulted through the state councils. Obviously, there wasn’t a plebiscite of 11,000 members. You can’t do that in a commercial bidding process but there was consultation with each of the state councils and AHRI Ltd was set up with the power to finalise its bid and it did that in the normal commercial way.
How much did it cost to buy AHRI back from Deakin?
I can’t tell you that. I can say that we bought it for a very good price, and we’re quite comfortable with that and we’re looking forward to developing the business in a totally integrated way as a result. I’ve signed a confidentiality deed with Deakin and I won’t be breaching that.
What processes are in place to ensure that AHRI is on a solid financial ground and that the Institute won’t go bankrupt again?
Basically, we have strong business development and cash flow processes that I’m involved with and the financial arrangements in place match the nature of where the company is going. My commercial experience has been brought to bear in managing that and I’m very confident of the future and the normal growth opportunities you would expect.
There’s been a fair bit of criticism that AHRI doesn’t cater to the needs of senior HR professionals. How would you respond to that?
I’m mystified by that. Obviously, we’re not in the position of being all things to all people, but I’ve put in the letter in response to Janine Walker (see page 8) that the senior end of the profession is voting with their feet. We’ve had 140 applications for advance to fellowship. I am formerly an HR director with two of the top 50 companies on the ASX and know that other HR directors are interested in the business of AHRI.
I’m not sure where the evidence is that you’re talking about, apart from the odd isolated individual, but the senior profession is interested in AHRI. It is actively involved in the business of AHRI but there’s a potential to improve that, and that’s part of the role that I see in this organisation for myself and how I will be mobilising the national office to support all arms of the profession, including the most senior part of it.
What do you have planned for AHRI in terms of gaining credibility and being taken seriously as an institute and what sort of plans do you have for AHRI over the coming years?
Well, it already has credibility. It has 11,000 members that are voting with their feet in terms of active participation in our professional development programs and the annual convention. So, essentially, our vision is to go to the next level to broaden the professional programs on offer to our members so that it is a resource to them in the development of their careers, right the way through from recruitment to retirement. That’s the first thing.
The second thing we’re doing, the annual convention, is the biggest HR gathering in Australia each year. It has international speakers and we would see that strengthening and getting bigger in the years ahead and broadening its appeal. It’s already very successful in appeal to members and broader members of the HR community who may not be AHRI members. It’s essentially a convention for the profession.
Thirdly, we have 32 of 39 universities that value the AHRI brand as an accreditation of their degrees and diplomas and we see no reason why all 39 universities wouldn’t become part of that. So, we’d like to broaden our accreditation for the skills that HR people are gaining at university before they enter the workforce.
Finally, we would like to strengthen our position as a voice on matters that affect the profession within business and within government as well. That is part of the role that I will be having as national president. I could give you a list of ten things we have planned, but they’re the key four things.