Think HBR

Claire Robbs

Claire Robbs is the Chief Executive of Life Without Barriers (LWB), a not for profit organisation whose mission is to partner with people and change lives for the better. 
Established in 1994 by a group of community members from Newcastle, LWB supports families and children, people with a disability, older people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people with a mental health issue, people who are homeless and refugees and asylum seekers across the Australian community.
Now 21 years since inception, LWB is working in more than 260 communities.
In the 2015 financial year, it supported over 11,500 people across all states and territories, employed 4224 people and had a turnover of $372 million. Claire’s background is in human services with a BA Social Policy/Sociology and a Grad Dip Psychology. She also undertook an Executive MBA through Sydney University. In her career she has held various practitioner and management roles. She has been with LWB for 11 years and in this time held several roles as the organisation has grown and diversified.
A typical day for Claire starts when she jump onto her emails before the kids wake, then it is into mum duties and drop off on the mornings she is home.
Usually she then telelinks into the office to review anything urgent from the night before and then its into meetings with different teams to listen to what’s going on, solving problems and advancing strategic projects. Claire will travel interstate at least once a week to ensure she has a good sense for what’s happening across the different jurisdictions. Within any month, Claire has a range of external meetings across the country with Ministers, peak bodies, government agencies, regulators or other corporate and sector partners, and staff, carers and people who are supported by LWB. She also has regular monthly meetings with the board and executive team.
Claire is inspired by people around her every day - whether they are people being supported or staff. “I am conscious they everyone possesses a unique ability or skill, says Claire. “Each of us have our own experiences and our own way of making a difference. The people I meet and the people around me always find ways to inspire and teach me ways to look at things differently and become a better person.”
Claire has found that the greatest challenge that she has faced has often been her own thinking. “Like many women, I often became overly critical of myself which at times led me to sweating the small stuff. As I’ve progressed I learnt to better focus my energy on the decisions I can make that will make the biggest difference. “
Claire would like to see the not-for-profit sector evolve in a way that ensures there are stronger links between the good work of organisations and the positive outcomes this delivers for the lives of individuals and communities.
She thinks that not-for-profit organisations are well positioned to take a stronger lead role in orienting and guiding all parts of our community around the needs of vulnerable people and groups to achieve stronger results and enrich the whole community.
Claire’s advice for other businesswomen is to get a mentor and define a clear purpose for whatever role you are in. “It is so easy to be distracted by the busy-ness of every day, so having clear purpose and focus is critical. If you are considering moving into, or are currently in a leadership position, a key role is to help make sense of things for people so they understand more about the work they do, the value of their role and the importance of alignment to the organisation’s strategy and the bigger picture. “
“I also love the concept of ‘relentless restlessness’. I think it is healthy to be proud of your achievements, but also to be ever restless and looking to do better.” Claire considers that the Hunter is perfectly placed to form a well-integrated, truly supportive community around vulnerable people. The Hunter is large enough to have access to sufficient resources and infrastructure to support people but is still able to hold onto the essence of a local community with a locally focussed agenda. It would be great to see business and community organisations working together in a more collective way to harness the social capital across the Hunter to provide better opportunities for all.
Outside work, Claire likes to spend time with her family and friends, and relaxing at home.
She enjoys anywhere with a good soy cappuccino or wine, depending on the time of day, and somewhere that offers nice choices for kids so they can also enjoy themselves.