After five years as Managing Director, UPco’s Amanda Ring is passing the baton.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, Amanda, with her UPco partners, made the decision to re-structure and rebrand their business in 2020; making the transition from SJB Planning to Urban Planning Collective (better known as UPco). If that wasn’t enough, they embraced an office move to new digs on St Kilda Road two years later. Now, having recently announced the appointment of new partners at UPco, Amanda speaks about succession planning: its importance for business and, more significantly, its importance for people.

Q:  Not all businesses actively think about succession. Why has UPco?

A:  Our business has always had a keen eye on the horizon – and its founding partners, Phil Borelli and Charles Justin, were proactive in succession planning from as early as the mid 1990s. Like the tide that ebbs and flows, healthy businesses need team members who are willing to retreat at certain points, and those who are willing to come to the fore. Succession, ultimately, is mostly about timing these movements – but it’s also about positioning a business so it has choices about who steps in and who steps out. Choices give succession planning every prospect of success.

UPco is a great example of how people can come into a business at different times and become invested in its future as partners. Kel Twite, Hugh Smyth and I came on board early in our respective careers, and we’re still happily embedded in what has proven to be a very happy and productive partnership. Our fellow directors – Peter Doyle, Marc Ellenbroek, James Goulding and Henry Wood – joined having previously gained significant experience in other businesses. The combination of partners who have risen within the ranks, and those who have come in at a more senior level, shows the different career paths that can lead to having an equity stake in a business such as ours. At UPco, if someone has the professional and personal qualities to lead, we want them to have that opportunity.

Q:  What would be your advice to professionals aspiring to have equity in a business like UPco?

A:  Where to start in a time when people seem to want to work less, and not more? As I say to my sons regularly, success usually doesn’t just fall in your lap, in any way, shape or form. It is almost always about hard work – and, let’s face it, it’s easier to work hard when you are young and energetic. Of course, hard work inevitably has trade-offs – so you need to be clear about what you hope to gain from your career and frame your ambitions accordingly. Despite an ideal to the contrary, it is not possible to ‘have it all’.

Equity in a business is a great opportunity, but it’s also a long-term commitment and will inevitably require the strong support of personal partners, family and friends. For all sorts of reasons, being a business owner is not for everybody.

Those aspiring to an equity interest in business also need to move away from thinking only about what’s in it for them and, rather, think about what’s in it for all. A business partnership is, in many respects, like a marriage. It requires mutual respect and loyalty. It must be nurtured. It involves compromise and, critically, equal effort. There will also be challenging times along the way, and these need to be managed with sensitivity and patience.

Q:  What are your thoughts on the opportunity for succession that your ‘stepping back’ provides?

A: Every business needs to adapt and change according to the times, or they can quickly become stale and not equipped for the competition. If nothing else, the pandemic period in Melbourne sent a clear message about businesses needing to be ready to manage the unexpected.

New members of partnerships, like our own David Hickey, Kellie Burns, Sarah Thomas, Adam Haines and Andrea Zohar, bring new ideas and energy to their work. They have their own ways of approaching and providing professional services, and fresh thoughts about the best way to encourage and motivate teams. All of this should be embraced. It is important, too, that this energy and these new ideas are encouraged with the support and wisdom of heads ‘sitting on older business shoulders’. So, just in case you’re wondering, I’m not planning on going anywhere yet! Rather, my willingness to step back a little makes space for others at UPco to experience and enjoy what I have for more than 25 years. It’s part of giving back to an industry that has been very kind to me.

Q:  Who are you handing the baton to?

A: The Managing Director’s role at UPco will be passed to Kel Twite. What better example of UPco succession planning than Kel: the lad from the Riverina who started out taking notes for Phil Borelli in a Panels Victoria matter out west! He embodies many more admirable qualities than I, particularly his ability to stay calm in a crisis – not that we’re planning on any more of those. He’ll have the support of all UPco-ers in the years ahead, I’m sure. He’s also a great example to anyone aspiring to the same kind of career progression.

I’m now looking forward to being a little quieter in Director Meetings and giving the new members around our boardroom table the chance to make their own contributions to the ongoing success of our business. I’m looking forward to watching (if not helping) the next exciting stage of their respective careers blossom. Watch this space!