Dating back to 2010 – although he has spoken publicly for much longer – each speech in the book is preceded by an introduction and discussion of context. Yet it is clear one person has written all these: Gonski’s personality comes through.
“I intentionally begin and finish with personal pieces because I want to emphasise this is a personal book, these are my thoughts – and the final speech is one for my 60th birthday I never actually gave,” he says.
One consequence Gonski hopes the book will have is to draw corporate figures back into public debate. Not, he readily acknowledges, on giving the thumbs up or down to governments but genuinely participating in important discussions.
In Gonski’s case, education is an increasingly important theme, one he says he has become more and more involved in over the last decade. (He is currently chancellor of the University of NSW and has been on school boards.)
All the royalties from “I Gave a Gonski” will be distributed to the Aspire Program which assists those who suffer educational disadvantage.
“I think I have become much more involved with education in later years because it is so crucial, it is a very important part of my life. And I am particularly concerned about the socially disadvantaged and their access to education.”
While this collection is not an autobiography, the authorial voice is clear and the subject matter so aligned with that voice that a clear picture of the chairman, director, lawyer and philanthropist comes through clearly.
Particularly in the opening and closing speeches, On Human Rights in Australia and On Turning Sixty, but also in speeches on education, being a professional and gender diversity, the personal is clearly on display.
“I have said in the text, one of the things I believe very strongly is the sense of a whole person – in life but also in business. And even in terms of shareholder returns, we need to have a broad outlook,” Gonski says.
“I am in favour of specialisation but in some ways we have become too specialised – after all, I specialised in mergers and acquisitions. But when we become narrow we lose perspective, when we are broad in mind we become more tolerant and more sensitive to what is happening.”
That is one reason one of Australia’s busiest and most connected businessmen – the one fixture in the AFR Magazine’s annual power lists – continues to give graduation speeches regularly.
“This idea of being broad in mind is something I always start with in these addresses,” he says. “It is behind my thinking on gender, on diversity. When we look at people for jobs, we look at focus, hard work, these are good things – but I think we also need to focus on broadness.”
Gonski has no hesitation in arguing his views on diversity and openness ultimately contribute to shareholder returns: “As I say in the book, unless you have active debate and people with a range of backgrounds questioning, you risk not only a narrow view but also a wrong one. Honest debate is what makes for better decisions.”