Interview | Ian Goddard (Yarris)

Ian Goddard is a man of many talents. He transitioned from senior partner of a prominent corporate law firm to delving into the world of entrepreneurship and technology, founding Yarris Pty Ltd, where he is the CEO.

Yarris develops cloud-based technologies to simplify workflow processes, working across many sectors, and managing well over $1 billion dollars of services each year, including legal services,  telco construction and insurance. In legal, ‘Dazychain’ manages legal operations for in-house counsel, and ‘Legal Panel Gateway’ is the system for government legal departments.

Ian has served as chairman or director on various public, private and Government boards. His career shows his passion for developing new and better processes for commerce and work.

Sophie Tversky (TLF) was very fortunate to gain the below wisdom from Ian!

What is one word to describe your approach to life?

Happy (and persistent).

Throughout your career you have embraced change, as reflected by your career shifts from corporate law to founding a business incubator, which then led to Yarris Pty Ltd and Dazychain. How important is adaptability and what has this looked like in your life?

Absolutely essential. Like it or not, life and circumstances are constantly changing, and we can adapt, or give up and die. I think adapting and changing is fun, it keeps life interesting. I would hate to be forever static and unchanging.

Over the years, I, just like others, have necessarily adapted through being younger, poorer, older, richer, single, married, divorced, married and a parent. In work I’ve changed from a builder’s labourer, a factory worker, a boat charter operator, a junior lawyer, a partner, a company chairman to a technology CEO.

In most changes I was untrained, and I just ‘learned on the job’. I think the difference between successful people and less successful people is that some people learn to adapt quickly as their circumstances change, and others don’t adapt well and repeat mistakes. With hindsight, I would have sought out more training or paid more attention to the training that I was given so that I could have adapted faster.

Very often change is uncharted, painful and/or scary and you don’t really know how you are going to adapt, but you always do, hopefully. For example, coping with a little daughter with asthma for the first time, managing a cash crisis in business or having to terminate staff in a downsizing. The experiences are vital for learning how to do them the next time.

Of course, good changes are easy to deal with. Signing off on a big deal, getting married, winning an award, these don’t take any resilience to manage. The good changes are easy, but I wonder how much we learn from them.

Throughout your career, you have striven to give back to the community. Are the changing legal landscape and the new generational mixes in organisations changing the concept of corporate responsibility?

The concepts certainly have changed.

I think there’s a greater emphasis on more formalised philanthropy, and corporates now are supposed to operate corporate social responsibility programmes if they want to be seen as good citizens. So to that extent, the willing volunteer has plenty of opportunities to sleep rough or run  marathons to raise money for charity.

What has interested me more is being part of the leadership creating these programmes or managing the organisations that are involved. I think there’s still plenty of opportunity to be involved, but the landscape has changed. The people who get the jobs are more formally qualified now and there is more competition to win those roles. The bar has been raised by a number of factors.

  • A number of high profile cases have illustrated the risks of being a director. Enterprises want directors who are skilled and can manage risk.

  • There is a trend for non- executive directors to be qualified with the AICD.

  • Aspirant directors commonly see their path to commercial boards as starting with a not for profit organisation, so there is more competition for those places.

  • Also, with the very justifiable emphasis on diversity, the path to directorships has broadened for women and narrowed for men.

There is a lot of discussion regarding 21st century skills for legal graduates. In your transition from corporate law to technology, what skills have you found essential and transferable? Additionally, what new skills have you had to learn?

Initially, when I jumped from law to business, I thought I was pretty well equipped for it. I was partly right.

The skills of mastering a brief, making presentations, leading a team, understanding finance, dealing with clients and generally knowing how to get on with people were really useful. Many lawyers I know feel they don’t have the skills to move into business, and they looked longingly at their colleagues who did make the jump. The fact of the matter is, they could move, but they risked a good income.

Lawyers should take heart, they possess valuable and sophisticated skills that many workers lack.

However, there were, and still are, skills that I have to work at. I think a couple of decades as a lawyer did not help me to be a great manager. I’m not particularly good at setting goals for staff and monitoring them in a systematic and disciplined way.

My biggest learning was that in my former role as a lawyer, the longer I worked and the more hours I billed the better. However, that attitude is utterly wrong in business. I now try to involve others and delegate as much as possible. I don’t win plaudits from doing the work, I win plaudits for the results. I still have to strive to be mindful of this. I find that habits I learned early in my career are very hard to change.

How do you think delivery of legal services will continue to change?

Here are my guesses.Law will be a lot like retail. That is, in the total shopping mix, some purchases will be made at the store, but online is more convenient and cheaper for many everyday things.  Similarly, some legal services will require face to face and bespoke, but many needs will be satisfied with cheaper pre-packaged and online services.

Law firms will have fewer staff, but more highly skilled staff.Specialisation will be essential for successful private practice. Only specialists, assisted by the right technology, will satisfy customers who want formulaic service delivery, at a good price, with great service.

Technology will continue to improve productivity. E- discovery has been mainstream for a while, and we will see growth in automated contracts, smart contracts, automated workflow systems and blockchain.

More lawyers will provide their services in an in-house capacity.

In-house lawyers will use not just their legal skills but also operational and business skills. Their roles will increase in importance.

In-house jobs will be well paid, but not at the levels of current private practice partners.

One might think the Bar should prosper with high calibre junior barristers able to provide their services more cheaply than their high-priced solicitor brethren. However, my guess is that the Bars’ conservatism and some archaic practices will impede them. Combine that with society’s aversion to expensive litigation, and quality competition from law firms, and I think the Bars will inevitably shrink, although there will always be an important  place for skilled specialist advocates and criminal specialists.

There will always be a highly paid demand for lawyers who are great negotiators and advisors who can navigate their clients around society, business, government.

In your opinion, is there a difference between the state of change in government and corporate sectors and how do you approach working with each?

Yes, I do think there is a difference.

Corporates have a definite edge in innovation because they are more nimble. In fact, even the historically bureaucratic big corporates are investing in startups and new practices. Finance and insurance companies recognise that cheap specialist competitors will probably destroy their old business practices. They are seeking to stay relevant by pouring money into fintech startups. Mining companies are challenged with lower profits and an imperative to reduce costs, and Australian miners are world leaders in adopting new mining technologies.

Government has huge needs - to reduce expenses and try to balance their budgets, provide desperately needed services to people with disabilities and to fund the rapidly aging population, to name just a few imperatives. Government needs innovation and technology more than any other sector. However, given the inherent bureaucracy and the low quality of political leadership, government badly lags the corporate sector in innovation. There has been good policy work on innovation done in theory, but much less achieved in practice.

Having said that, our experience, as vendors of innovative products is that at the end of the day it is ordinary humans make the decisions to innovate or not. Whilst most people favour change and improvement in principle, in practice they often are too busy just coping, or worrying about their kids, to spend the time and energy to learn how to do something differently. ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, it’s good enough to get by.

In all cases there is a couple of constants - expert change management makes the difference between a successful launch and a failed IT project.

Also, in all organisations public and private, if you want to innovate you need to find the powerful champion who can make it happen.

In creating your products, how do you balance innovation with increasing privacy/cybersecurity issues?

I don’t find that an issue. The privacy and security requirements are a given, they must be met, so we meet them and develop products within those requirements.

The consequence is that those requirements might mean that we invest time and money in meeting new requirements imposed by our customers instead of focussing on new developments.

It’s worth noting that every year the requirements are more onerous. I expect the coming European changes will add yet another degree of complexity. 

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