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The newly appointed Chair of children’s preventative health organisation, Life Education, talks to Kat Boehringer about his hopes to inject some agile business acumen into the mix.

The newly appointed Chair of children’s preventative health organisation, Life Education, talks to Kat Boehringer about his hopes to inject some agile business acumen into the mix.

In a complex and constantly changing environment, Australia’s not-for-profit sector is facing challenges to its long-term impact and sustainability. As head of one of Australia’s fast- moving consumer goods companies, Garry Browne is no stranger to change.

While Mentos, Chupa Chups and Fisherman’s Friend might seem a world away from a friendly giraffe and childhood health education, according to Garry Browne there is a lot the not-for-profit sector can learn from the fast-moving consumer goods industry.

For more than 20 years, Garry has been overseeing a 180-strong team at Stuart Alexander and Co., which markets and distributes global brands consumed daily by more than 4.5 million households in Australia. Founded in 1884, Stuart Alexander and Co. has survived the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the invention of e-commerce. In the world of fast-moving consumer goods, change is a given and the business has had to grow, adapt, test and challenge to keep up.

“It’s a movable feast out there and now, more than ever, it is important to be agile and adaptable. Stuart Alexander & Co. has a history of diversifying as business needs warrant – moving into new areas, products and roles as required. The not-for-profit sector is no exception,” Garry says.

Garry sits on a number of not-for-profit boards, including the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife and the Centre for Social Impact at the University of NSW. In 2014 he was presented with a Member of the Order of Australia for his work related to youth, environment and business.

“What gets me up in the morning is being able to help people and organisations realise their true potential. My work in the for-purpose sector gives me enormous satisfaction. I also love a challenge,” says Garry.

When he stepped into the role of Chair of Life Education Australia in March, Garry had a clear view of the challenges ahead.

Life Education, well known for its popular mascot Healthy Harold the giraffe, has been providing health education to school children for almost 40 years. Currently, the organisation works with more than 4,200 schools and over 710,000 students across Australia. Since its inception, Life Education has empowered approximately six million children to make safe and healthier choices.

“Life Education is a strong brand. It has passion in its DNA, which breathes vibrancy and life into the organisation. To make Life Education even more successful will require further innovation both in the way we deliver the program and in our portfolio of programs,” says Garry.

Garry has seen many brands fall by the way after failing to reinvent themselves. “If you don’t acknowledge the changing nature and dynamics of the communities in which you work, you risk leaving gaps. There are a lot of small disruptor businesses which are finding those gaps in the market and filling them with new ideas and new approaches.”

For Garry, key to agility is people with the right mindset. “At Life Education we have people who have a commitment and a belief in innovation. If you don’t have a culture that has a mindset of anything near that, you are not going to get to where you need to be.”

Garry’s belief in the ability of people to adapt and change, and his commitment to ensuring that all people have the chance to be the best that they can, attracted him to Life Education.

“Our society hinges on the next generation of Australians. As a parent myself I recognise that, as we move through society today, there is an imbalance in what children receive in education and in life in general. I want to be part of addressing that imbalance so that all children are given the opportunity to thrive.

“To be successful you need to have confidence in yourself and the confidence of the people around you. I believe in empowering people and encouraging them to have a go. From that perspective it means learning from your mistakes.  It’s great to celebrate success, but you have to accept failure happens too, and learn from it.”

Garry’s own path to success was not an easy one, but it was his self-belief and the support of his mentors that got him where he is today.

“When I was at school I was told I would never get a high school certificate (HSC). It was only in the last two years of schooling that the headmaster showed confidence in me and told me I might have a chance.

“The memory of getting my results for the HSC will never leave me. I ran down to the post office and had to look at the results twice tob elieve I had actually passed. My results meant I would have the opportunity to go to university, making me the first person in my family to have the opportunity to receive a university education,” he adds.

According to Garry, brands, like people, rely on belief. “Brands have their own personality. They are like people, they have to be nurtured, protected and developed,” he says.

This sentiment comes at a time when belief in brands is at an all-time low. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that the world is facing a crisis of trust in all sector, including not-for-profit, which fell from 52 to 48% in the past year.

“For any brand to thrive, it must stick to the integrity of its intellectual property, while at the same time recognising that nothing stands still,” says Garry.

“While there are times when it is imperative to explore how a brand can reinvent itself, the value of the brand must be maintained in the mind of stakeholders. That means understanding potential risks associated with promoting or executing the business. You need to be vigilant, and aware at all times about where your brand is, how it is being used, and with whom it is being used.”

Despite the decline in trust across institutions, Garry is optimistic, pointing out a distinction between ‘sector trust’ and ‘brand trust’.

“You can’t compare the two. Trust boils down to the credibility of the brand and the business. For example, Life Education is out there delivering a service that is not provided by government or by the commercial sector – we are on a mission to empower young people to make healthy choices, and there is great need for that service and a belief in our power to deliver among our stakeholders and customers.

“To have a trusted brand, like we do at Life Education, you need to have people who have integrity and the ability to understand the mechanisms of good governance. If you don’t have the right people in the right roles, you are destined for disaster.”

One of the most challenging tasks for any leader, says Garry, is bringing out the best in your team. “To propel a business forward, you need to be innovative and creative and challenge people to think outside the square in terms of ‘how can we do things better?’ I’m collaborative: I lead from the front but I also recognise that to deliver outcomes people need to be engaged, enthused and inspired to be part of the team.”

Garry sees this as an area of growth for Life Education, which operates under a federated model consisting of state and national bodies.

“We have an amazing amount of experience and capability both in our state and national offices and around the Life Education board table. There is potential to maximise on our knowledge sharing.

“I don’t believe in the word ‘can’t’. Every time someone says the words ‘no chance’ to me, my mind steps into a different gear. It motivates me to start thinking how we can make it work. It’s how I have always been.”


Kat Boehringer

Kat started her career working as a journalist for regional newspapers before moving into health and science writing. She now works as a freelance communications and media consultant for a number of not-for-profit organisations, in the area of health, including Life Education. Kat holds a Master of Health Communication from the University of Sydney.

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