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Faith, leadership and philanthropy through the generations

By Veronika Peters

Paul McClintock AO is widely known as one of Australian’s most influential business leaders. He has held multiple chair and advisory positions across industry and government including senior advisor to Prime Minister John Howard and as the chair of both CEDA and St Vincent’s Health. Veronika Peters, Opportunity’s Chief Philanthropy Officer, met with Paul and his daughter Claire to talk about faith, leadership, and philanthropy.

Claire and Paul McClintock sitting with Veronika Peters 

Above: Claire and Paul McClintock (left, middle) with Opportunity International Australia’s Veronika Peters (right)

Veronika Peters: What role has faith played in your career choices?

Paul McClintock: Faith is a fundamental part of who I am. Being educated by the Jesuits, I saw the idea of being a ‘man for others’ role-modelled and I took up the challenge to lead.

Claire McClintock: My faith impacts how I live my career each day, how I value my team members and how I help them live a life of purpose.

VP: What does leadership mean to you?

CM: Leadership is leading from the front, leading by example. We can never expect others to do what we are not willing to do ourselves. The world needs strong leaders who can lead with EQ [emotional intelligence]. There is nothing wrong with following, as long as you are following a true leader.

PM: (Laughs) In a battle it’s good to follow – well behind! Servant leadership is an old concept – but it stands the test of time. It is not about being humble. It is leading for the good of others.

VP: What have been the hardest lessons you’ve learnt in leadership? 

PM: My leadership style is collaborative, seeking to bring out the best in others. This is hard when it does not work because a certain situation requires you to act with an authoritative style. You have to do it sometimes and then step back again – and it confronts people. I had to learn that – mostly by doing it badly and learning from the experience. 

CM: Early on I was told that honest feedback is a gift. It can be, but you need to learn how to receive it and give it nicely wrapped. Most people shy away from confronting difficult situations.  

VP: What advice would you give someone just starting out in their career?

CM: Be comfortable and be authentically you. I also had to learn to not let what happens in my life influence how I show up as a leader.

PM: Keep your focus on who you are leading and how you can help them, rather than establishing yourself as the leader. Don’t take yourself too seriously so leadership can remain enjoyable. Humour helps! 

VP: What role did Philanthropy play in your upbringing?

PM: My parents were philanthropic in that they always looked out for and helped ‘the birds with broken wings’. They were successful, yet there was a time in their life when they were in need and received financial help. When they wanted to repay, they were asked to help others instead. My father never forgot this. 

CM: I had a good upbringing and with that comes the responsibility to give back. I always considered it a joy rather than a burden. It’s all about finding the right avenue to do good. 

VP: How do you go about choosing your philanthropic commitments as a family? Is there a formal process?

PM: Yes! When we got involved with Opportunity, we learnt from others about their giving journey and we wanted our whole family to be involved too. We were surprised to learn it didn’t take as much money as we had thought to set up a PAF [private ancillary fund] and that we could add more over the years. We came together as a couple with our three children, placed all documents of various charities we supported all over the floor and then discussed and ranked them in A and B categories. Every family member is a director. We wanted to be more strategic and personally involved in our giving. 

CM: It is exciting to plan our family’s legacy together. We have narrowed our focus areas down to poverty eradication, education and health. Opportunity ticks all three of those boxes!  

VP: Claire, what are your thoughts on COVID-19’s impact on people living in poverty?

CM: COVID-19 further highlights the great inequalities in the world. Australia is fortunate as a whole. We might have been hit but it is nothing compared to the multiple crises that developing countries are facing right how who were already in dire straits before the pandemic.

VP: Paul, what is the Australian government’s role in this? 

PM: Governments are capable of responding to specific crises—like our Tsunami response—within a day. The situation is different here [with COVID-19]: our leaders are focused on our own survival, there is no clear path or end point in sight yet; the challenge is a global one. Our politicians are focused on dealing with our country at the moment. This might change when the dust eventually settles. 

VP: Many Australians support local causes. How can we draw people’s attention beyond our borders?

PM: This is where personal leadership comes in. The right people and the right channels need to be mobilised at the right time for people to make meaningful contributions. People give when they see the difference they can make to individual lives and communities. Then it is not a bottomless pit but real people needing our help to rebuild their lives. 

VP: Why have you been such faithful supporters of Opportunity?

CM: As a financial controller at Cochlear, I appreciate Opportunity's financial model and the tangibility of who we are supporting. I connect with the stories of the entrepreneurs and communities. It is the old saying “If you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day. But if you teach a man to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime”. This aligns with our family’s giving philosophy. It is helping with dignity.

VP: What are some of the positive changes you would like to see coming from COVID-19?

CM: A greater appreciation of how much we need each other and want to connect with each other. And an appreciation for the people on the margins who might be lonely or in need.

PM: I keep saying, do not tell people to come back to the office until you have figured out what you want them to do there. COVID-19 has broken down existing systems and assumptions including our concept of time and connection and communication and how we get things done. We got a window into what the power and limitations of technology are and a heightened sense of what we truly value. This re-think is exciting, but we won’t feel truly excited until we have mastered the disease. But by then we will have found new ways of living our lives—and this can be a good thing.

Would you like to find out more about how you, your family foundation or corporation can help end poverty? Please contact your state manager today.

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