PROFILE: Howard Glenn, BIA national CEO

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Marine Business spoke with the new BIA national CEO, Howard Glenn, about what lies in store for the expanded industry association.

One of the most significant developments for the local boating industry in 2015 came just as the year was drawing to the close with the news that the Queensland industry association, Marine Queensland, had been formally wound up and, almost in the same breath, a new regional council formed in its place as part of an expanded Boating Industry Association.

In the end, the transition from the state-based association to a national body was swift and seamless, although that belies the months of hard work and negotiation that had already gone on behind the scenes. It is also the precursor to a lot more hard work and change as the BIA’s new Queensland members are brought into the fold and a new national identity begins to take shape.

The man charged with leading that transformation is Howard Glenn who was appointed in November as national CEO of the BIA in a new role designed specifically to address the expanding national perspective. The timing of his appointment was opportune; the NSW and South Australia associations joined forces in late 2014 and, in the wake of Queensland coming on board, Western Australia is expected to amalgamate this year. That will leave Victoria as the remaining stand-alone industry association.

Getting down to business

While there is still some way to go before the BIA emerges fully-formed as a national body, Howard Glenn isn’t waiting until then to get cracking on implementing a national agenda.

“We are a national organisation. We are dealing with all national policy issues,” he comments at the BIA’s Sydney office. “There are not too many organisations that cover three or four states. We have good relationships with the other jurisdictions but we are not going to not deal with an issue just because we don’t have complete coverage.”

In a industry which has traditionally comprised a number (too many, some might say) of regional and sector-specific industry bodies, moving to a national representation might seem a challenging prospect to some. There are a lot of established structures and ways of doing things in place, and no doubt some egos involved as well. It takes a lot of courage for any organisation to vote for change that results in its own disappearance.

Equally, news of Howard Glenn’s appointment was met with a number of comments via the Marine Business website querying whether this was simply adding another layer to the association’s management structure. While it’s still early days in his new role, Howard Glenn appears quite relaxed as to what form the BIA will ultimately take and how individual associations and their members will interact with it.

“We don’t want to be so focused on the perfect structure that we don’t just get on with business,” he says. “We’ve got plenty to do.”

He is candid about his brief as CEO “to shake things up” in the industry and points to his experience as a strategic thinker and leader in the government and private sectors as the reason why the BIA has enlisted him to do so.

“Putting business and government and the community together to do quantum leaps – that’s my background,” he says. “The boards of the organisations have decided they need to take quantum leaps rather than small steps - so they engaged me.”

Making a nation of boaters

One of the reasons why Glenn has been appointed is simply to get more people boating and, in the process, give the industry a much higher profile in the national conversation.

“For too long the BIA has talked very well to those who are already involved and not well enough to those who could be involved,” he says. “Everyone wants to go boating and we only talk to the people who do.

“I’ve got a very outward focus about encouraging the expansion of the industry and playing a much bigger part in the recreational lives of Australians. When people say we’ve got five million people who go boating every year, I say ‘Only?’. Everyone has a dream and aspiration to go boating.

“We’ve just got to stop focusing only on the people who already do it and find ways to get more people involved. That’s the way the industry will grow.”

As to why more people don’t get out on the water, Glenn lists three common barriers: access, price and knowledge.

Access is partly a question of infrastructure and it is here that the BIA in partnership with governments can make a real difference. Howard Glenn’s experience on the government side of the fence (he worked for NSW maritime departments prior to this role) is expected to be invaluable in forging links with politicians and bureaucrats. There has been good progress in terms of new infrastructure projects in NSW, says Glenn, but in other places such as Queensland more work needs to be done on building those relationships with government.

The question of pricing is partly a matter of perception. While boating is often seen as a rich man’s past-time, the fact is that the vast majority of people out on the water are doing so relatively inexpensively. It is an activity that needs to be promoted as suitable for all budgets and lifestyles.

Equally, Glenn believes the industry needs to start looking at means of making it more affordable for people to get out on the water without necessarily owning a boat. Other industries such as the accommodation and car sectors have already started adapting to the new ‘sharing economy’ – the likes Airbnb and Uber – and boating is not unlike both these tourism and travel activities in some respects. In the US, Boatbound – which has the backing of Brunswick Corporation - is already offering ‘peer-to-peer’ boat rentals in the manner of Airbnb and it will be interesting to see if such a scheme might take hold here, notwithstanding the existing boat-sharing and syndicate schemes.

Knowledge is about showing people how to get involved in boating and finding ways of opening up the industry so that there are multiple entry points for people to get into it.

“We need to broaden the base enormously,” says Glenn. “There’ll be growth for everyone at all levels if we broaden the base significantly.”

New services for Queensland

The immediate priority for the BIA says Glenn is bedding down the amalgamation with Queensland and rolling out the types of services currently enjoyed by NSW and South Australian members to the northern state. As an example, Glenn highlights the OH&S support provided by BIA such as the Marine Card which makes it easier to employers and staff to conduct workplace inductions and ensure safety compliance. He makes the point that in areas such as workplace safety and tax legislation, marine businesses are dealing with federal laws so it makes sense for the industry to take a national approach to tackling them rather than state-by-state.

In the year ahead, alongside new-look boat shows and what he hopes will be a more compelling Discover Boating week, Glenn also has his eyes set on instituting a national boating survey. It’s a strange fact that in Australia we probably know more about the size of the US boating industry, how many boats are sold each year, who to and how they are used, than we do about our own local industry. The information that is available, such as boat registrations, is often fragmentary and piece-meal; there is no credible national boating statistical snapshot.

Having that sort of information is vital for dealing with governments and planning for the future; no doubt many in the industry would find it useful too to know where the growth markets are.

All in all, it looks like being a busy 12 months ahead for Howard Glenn as he embarks on his “shake-up”. In passing, he mentions that, in his spare time, he is involved in running the local cinema in the small rural town in the Hunter Valley where he lives. It’s an appropriate pastime for a man whose new role over the coming months will be very much about presenting the big picture for the local marine industry.

This article was first published in the February-March 2016 issue of Marine Business.

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