Ever wanted to run a think tank? Now’s your chance to be the next John Daley

By Stephen Easton

Monday July 22, 2019

Rodin’s The Thinker. Getty Images

The opportunity has come up for a policy wonk to lead one of the nation’s best known think tanks, when the Grattan Institute’s inaugural leader John Daley bows out next July.

After 11 years, he said the organisation needed new leadership to continue growing its influence and take its work in new directions and offered some sage advice for other top executives.

“The greatest legacy of a CEO is not what is achieved while you are there, but how you set up the organisation to develop afterwards,” he said. “So far I have been a lawyer, a policy adviser, an academic, a management consultant, a banker, a stockbroker, and the founding CEO of Australia’s leading domestic policy think tank, and I am looking forward to what comes next.”

The job involves doing the work on public policy and patiently waiting for the right political opportunity to hopefully influence the major political parties, Daley told The Mandarin last year.

“In politics the wheel turns pretty quickly, so the chances of the window being open on [one particular] issue at some stage in the next 10 years are pretty high. But unless the work’s already been done, you have no chance of going through that window.”

The organisation’s chair, former Victorian state governor Alex Chernov, paid tribute to the role of its first CEO in making it a “a household name” and a leading voice in national debates on energy, health, education, budgets, tax, transport, and housing.

Chernov pointed to a self-assessment report linking Grattan’s work to concrete government policy changes and ranking its level of influence in the related debates. He said Daley had made “rigorous and practical contributions” to the board’s discussions and established a culture of “both vigorous internal debate and passionate cooperation” since taking on the role in 2009.

“As a result, Grattan has become a magnet for talented policy analysts, and its alumni now hold a series of important roles in government and other bodies involved in public policy.”

While federal public servants prepared red and blue books in the lead-up to the election, the think tank produced an “orange book” and urged them to “defy the national mood of reform fatigue and stare down vested interests to pursue a targeted policy agenda to improve the lives of Australians”.

Former head of the Australian Public Service, Ian Watt, who sits on the Grattan board and chairs its public policy committee, also credited the CEO’s success and praised the quality of its output.

“John has moulded Grattan’s unique brand in Australia for penetrating original analysis that is clearly communicated and sharply outlines the policies that government should adopt,” he said. “Many hold up its work as an exemplar of high-quality policy analysis on complex issues.”

Executive search firm Egon Zehnder is helping find Daley’s replacement.

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