THE OLD BOSS OF ABC CHILDCARE IN AUSTRALIA CAME BY HELICOPTER - THE NEW BOSS OF ABC COMES BY MINI.
AUSTRALIA'S LARGEST CHILDCARE CHAIN IS UNDERGOING A MASSIVE OVERHAUL AS A NOT-FOR-PROFIT ORGANISATION - FOCUSING ON CHILDREN RATHER THAN ON REVENUE GENERATION.
Brisbane, May 2012 - Julia Davison is seeking to change the focus, and the culture, of the once-troubled childcare business
"Eddy came by helicopter, I come by Mini.'' That's how Davison, the new boss of Australia's largest childcare chain, sums up the difference between her and her predecessor.
The British-born Davison is overhauling the former ABC Learning business founded by Eddy Groves which collapsed in 2008 with a $A2 billion debt.
To break with the chain's controversial past she has rebranded it Goodstart Early Learning, referencing its new non-profit owners and the shift in focus to fostering childhood development rather than maximising profits.
However, still the ghost of the fast-living Groves and his McDonald's-style ''one size fits all'' approach to childcare looms large over Goodstart. ABC Learning was in the headlines again this week (May 17), with its former chief executive Martin Kemp on trial in a Brisbane court for breaching the Corporations Act in the company's dying days. Groves, who faces similar charges, is to stand trial later in the year.
The fact that Groves still attracts more media coverage than Goodstart highlights the challenge Davison faces: can she convince parents the company, which looks after 72,000 children, really has changed for the better?
Kylie Stevenson, who runs the flagship Goodstart centre in Indooroopilly in Brisbane's west, recalls the old regime.
''It was like we were puppets - 'This is what you can and can't do,''' she says. ''There were very strict procedures and policies, head office said yes or no. We made no decisions as directors. It was all about the money.''
A standard eight-week menu which had to be served to every child at the 650 centres across the country on the same day, and opening hours were uniform, regardless of location. Staff had to call head office for permission to change even a light bulb.
Now directors are being given much more autonomy to decide what best suits the families at their particular centre. ''With Goodstart the barriers have come down,'' Stevenson says. ''There's no scariness, there's no reprimands. Head office is there to work with us, not against us. Now the centres are all for the children. The old company wasn't exactly like that.''
Davison was actually thinking about semi-retiring when the Goodstart job came up. She has worked more than 25 years in health, first in hospital administration in Britain, then heading up government agencies in South Australia.
Mindful of the company's history of financial troubles, Davison describes her job at GoodStart as ''social purpose with a business discipline''.
Read more online at brisbanetimes.com.au