Up close & personal with Glenn Williams

  • Business
  • Saturday, 08 Jun 2013

Glen's story

Williams grew up with loving parents and five other siblings in Sunshine Coast, Australia.

Not one for the academics, Williams dropped out of high school at 16 and found work at NSK Bearings, an established ball bearing multinational company.

He would work there for four years before deciding to pursue a tertiary education but without a high school certification, it was challenging to attain college approval. His perseverence paid off and he was accepted into the Melbourne School of Theology where he completed a three-year Diploma of Ministry.

After his studies, a lecturer presented a new opportunity to him: Spend a year in neighbouring Papua New Guinea and teach at a Christian leaders training college there.

Williams was told that the cross cultural experience would add to his overall development as an individual.

His parents, always supportive of his development, were behind the decision.

Williams describes his parents as firm believers of God who acted on their faith.

“I always saw their sacrifices and that impacted me a lot,” Williams says.

He had always been impressed by their fortitude and this was crucial since remuneration in the line of work he was going into was minimal.

“It's not different for someone driven by a strong sense of purpose,” he says.

Even so, remuneration was not irrelevant but fortunately William was able to experience the faith that his parents constantly spoke of.

The company that Williams worked at was supportive of his decision to go to college and frequently called to offer him work.

In Papua New Guinea, Williams, then 23, developed some of the teaching modules himself.

What he saw in the mostly-rural island and its people's needs compelled him to pursue the study of psychology.

The degree programme would also fill the emotional void from not having completed school in his teens.

“My mother had a natural gift of talking and listening to people. She was committed to that and I was fairly similar to her. I was about 19 when I had a strong feeling about the line of work I would go into ,” he says.

The following year, Williams contracted Hepatitis A, was quarantined and had to return to Australia.

After his recovery, he gained acceptance into the university after explaining his situation to the registrar, and began the degree programme majoring in psychology at the University in Melbourne.

“He got what this was all about and took me in as a mature case student,” Williams remembers.

Now, he had to find a way to fund his education and living.

He turned to his former employer NSK Bearings and sought their national sales manager for a well-paying role.

Williams told him that he would needtime off to study, attend exams but that he also wanted the same remuneration package as a full-time employee in his position.

“I promised that I would hit sales targets. It was an unusual request but he accepted it and I kept my word,” Williams says.

He would work there for a further 18 months.

Painful, but motivating

At his hometown, Williams went into pastoral ministry in his home church where his team strove to reduce drug abuse on the streets.

A report on the dire state of homelessness in Australia showed Williams the need for churches to be engaged in the solution.

“Everyone had to be a part of it,” he says.

Together with the state government, his team designed a programme the Monash Youth Accommodation & Support which later expanded to include a full-time Family Mediation Programme.

Initially, the programme started with four homes that housed some 16 youths between the ages of 13 and 17 with 6 to 8 Lead Tenants (adults) supervising the houses.

This programme continued expanding.

Through these advisors, kids could also learn skills for work and connect with local opportunities.

“Essentially, we reached these children by showing them that this wasn't just another short term fix. And it certainly wasn't going to be an overnight success. It was about the long term success of the indivduals in the programme,” he says.

Williams understood that they couldn't control the outcomes, nor the decisions the kids made.

“But we can persuade, teach skills, give hope and help them grow in a supported environment,” he says.

The social workers took heart in their success stories kids that were healthy, responsible, who found work and eventually married and built meaningful lives.

Williams recalls that some of its leavers were so impacted by the community that they enrolled in similar programmes to help others pick themselves up.

“From being broken and despairing to that. It was something,” he says.

Not all stories turned out pretty, sadly; many youngsters remained unreachable.

Living on the streets, many had developed significant emotional and health issues in spite of the healing hands that reached out to them.

“It wasn't unusual for me to get a call from these kids or social workers that someone was out of control, upset or angry. Sometimes, I'd learn that someone had ended his life and news like that was obviously very tragic,” Williams says.

“These individuals caused pain to people they didn't know cared for them, and that motivated me to persevere,” he says. “For every person to gives us a chance to help them, they are a lot more who don't. It's heartening to get the numbers one at a time, to see them start somewhere.”

Going corporate

Being in that line of work gave William a deeper perspective into the lives of individuals and their families.

He saw that many people were working to help families reconcile; families that seemed “normal” on the veneer, parents who went to work and kids that went to school and came back in the evenings.

Yet, trouble brewed beneath the surface and many of these families wouldn't seek psychological nor financial aid, and welfare was out of the question.

If 90% of families who were hurting wouldn't seek help, there had to be a way to reach them, Williams thought.

He set up Pro Fam Australia (now known as Focus on the Family Australia), a family-based ministry that provided counselling services, workshops and resources to the public.

Williams explains that its objectives were many-fold: Act as a funnel in the corporate sector to address life-work balance, reach the community and train facilitators to launch them off.

“I felt that there was a market because whatever happened at home affected work and vice versa. There must be a way to address these domestic issues,” he says.

Over the years, the organisation trained 3,000 facilitators, enrolled over 80 parents and launched its programme in over 10 countries, including an Arabic version four years ago.

“At the end of the day, it came down to the people who cared enough to deliver the programme,” he says.

His efforts were noticed.

Focus on the Family USA invited Williams to be its international vice president and he eventually became the chief operating officer of Focus On The Family International.

“I saw that there was a real vacuum of leadership in every facet of life. People are screaming out for leaders of character,” he says. “I'm passionate about organisations that aren't just about the profits. In every dozen workers, at least five have gone through difficult breakdowns. In some ways, they may be successful (in their careers), but they know that it came at a very personal cost. If they could, they would have done it differently.”

In Outward Looking International workshops, facilitators don't necessarily initiate family talk but it inevitably crops up, he says.

“When you have someone succeeding in one area and failing in another, I can say that the success will be relatively short-lived and superficial,” he says.

Even so, Williams recognises that it is challenging for some companies to perceive the commercial value in programmes looking into personal life.

Leaders cannot divorce their private life from public life. The presure affects home and that in turn hits back, he says.

“Management must know that replacing a good leader (when he breaks down) will cost a lot more than providing support for their psychological needs at work,” he says.

And most leadership challenges in the organisations he has been engaged with are fairly consistent.

He says: “I ask these questions: Do we have focused leaders? Are we reaching goals? What are we influencing them about? Most leaders don't take time to step back and reflect. Both are critically intertwined.”

When Williams isn't travelling for work engagements, he works from home to be close to his wife Natalie, an aged care therapist, and three children.

DATE OF BIRTH: April 18, 1963

PERSONAL: Married with three children

HIGHEST QUALIFICATION: Doctor of Ministry, in Leadership & Global Perspectives

CAREER: Current CEO and principal owner of Outward Looking International, a global leadership consultancy.

FAVOURITE FOOD: Chicken and ushroom Risotto, and Tiramisu for dessert!

FAVOURITE PLACE: Mooloolaba, Australia

VALUES: Integrity, respect, servant leadership, perseverance, grace

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Up close & personal , Glenn Williams


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