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7 Questions with Fiona Lang
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7 Questions with Fiona Lang
Name: Fiona Lang
Current title: General Manager
Current organisation: BBC Studios, Australia & New Zealand
As the GM, I am responsible for our Australasian operations of BBC Studios. This includes content sales, our branded services (9 channels on various platforms, including Foxtel and Fetch), consumer products, licensing, live events and home entertainment businesses. Together with ITV, we are also responsible for a new digital service called 'Britbox Australia".
Although there is always a lot going on in the media, I also have interest and involvement in sport (currently played out - no pun intended - as Deputy Chair of the peak body for soccer in NSW, Football NSW). I am also a director of UN Women Australia.
Before BBC, I worked as a corporate lawyer. As part of my transition out of law/advisory and into general management, I attended INSEAD Business School in Singapore on a scholarship from Chief Executive Woman in 2017.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging part of being a CEO is when something goes really wrong and you know it is yours and only yours to solve with your team. In those moments, you know that every step you take matters and it is not about you but about what you are doing for the whole.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was a lawyer and enjoyed working with different clients executing on their big strategic moments (mergers, acquisitions, buy outs, IPOs/listings). Like so many women after children, it was not sustainable for me to continue so I left this and went in-house where I was able to use the legal-business- finance in a different way. It was natural for me to think for the company and my path was a natural one of taking on the role of COO for a good many years first. This was an excellent training ground for me and I think the biggest plus was looking after strategy in that role.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I typically wake up with reluctance but knowing that an exercise class is ready to start in 10mins and if I do not join the class, I will feel bad all day! By the time I am 20 mins into the exercise class I do not regret it. When I return it is a case of seeing my boys off to school. Once this part of the day is done, I actually enjoy reading emails that have come in overnight as I genuinely enjoy my job and given the head office is London, the time zones work well. I try to ensure that as we return to the office, I am physically present in our Sydney office between 10am - 3.30pm. Our flexible work arrangements allow me to be home to hear how my boys' school day went when their bus gets in at 4.30pm. The laptop comes out after this afternoon tea and while they do their homework, I am on my laptop for work and often dealing with head office. As we are a global company, evening calls from time to time later in the evening or early morning happen but I am a big believer in sleep and its problem solving powers so I am normally in it when my boys go to bed.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Last year I was working intensely on a big project. The board had signed off on the capital for it before COVID was a word we understood. It was big and complex and we had a team working on it across multiple time zones. It was clear we didn't have enough Sydney based staff with deep experience in the area when COVID hit and given the consequent travel restrictions, we needed to hire a local leader for it to provide strong and clear leadership and direction in this new business area. While I could see the issue and we eventually addressed it, I learnt a lesson in waiting too long, pausing too long and not being bold enough. It all worked out in the end but I look back and see we relied too much on the good will of a loyal team and as a leader, I could have and should have solved the issue quicker for the team.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I was taken with some of the lessons in Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" right from high school days leadership experiences. More recently I have come to appreciate the role that empathy plays in leadership and the need for us to consciously put ourselves in someone else's position when trying to really understand a decision or an impact. One of my colleagues and I have a "walk in their shoes" exercise when it comes to staffing issues or where we can see that there are differences that we need to resolve and I am taken back to Atticus Finch's words in that book. At the time I first read it though it impacted me in its message about being bold enough and self assured enough to speak out and stand up for truth. Groups of people gathered, whether at school, insinuations or corporations can become consumed by the positioning and politics that exist in these places. Spending time on the positioning and politics is not only time consuming but can also turn our focus inwards and away from others. This can be contrary to the very thing we need as leaders. While I try to be a pragmatic leader, I do use the "Atticus Finch Test" of whether it matters if I speak up and voice my opinion on a matter against the majority. While I am not always speaking up, I am trying to listen more. As leadership positions are privileged positions I think it is on us to do this.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
There is nothing more pleasurable than seeing more junior talent in an organisation and providing opportunities for development. In our projects we try to introduce new leaders into work where they are given a lot of responsibility and to get away from the idea that leadership is about how many people you line manage. These complex projects can see future leaders self manage (lead themselves) as the biggest form of the leadership and then lead projects sideways and even manage more senior members of staff. These projects do not happen every day and can be an intense boot camp style training on leadership but we try to ensure support is there.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
We hear a lot about how culture is everything and the most important aspect of leadership. When I took on my leadership role, we were also in the middle of a merger (indeed, it was that which had led to my new role). Our company had a strong culture that had been applauded and keeping it was considered important to the office. It has taken me some time in this role to understand that culture also needs to evolve and that it can and should take much from the changing context. Understanding this at a theoretical level and knowing which aspects of a culture to fight (by which I mean retain budget!) to preserve and nurture and how to lead change in culture during a merger and how to also let it be organic is something I think a leader needs to actually experience to understand.