Carol Dance (MBA ’88) on her vibrant career using creativity across business and the arts. Carol is now a playwright and painter.
How did your career path take you from business to the visual and performing arts?
Carol: I painted as a child, but never imagined anyone could make a living in the arts. So I studied economics for my BA. I wrote theatre reviews for the Wentworth Courier (unpaid) for seven years and worked part time as the commissioning editor for the UNSW Press. I then completed the AGSM MBA in 1987 and became CEO of the Australian Commercial Disputes Centre. I couldn’t have done the job without the MBA. At the Disputes Centre I had great fun writing the role-plays used to train mediators, and so thought I'd try my hand at playwriting as well as painting when I retired. I've now had 14 short plays and four full-length plays produced. "Golden Soil" was about the AWB kickbacks paid to Saddam Hussein. “Indian Embrace” about the Bhopal industrial accident was produced in Parramatta and Adelaide. My company, Scene Theatre Sydney, produced “Future Seekers” in 2017 and “Kiss of the Gallery Guard” in 2018.
How did your AGSM MBA fit into your career plan?
Carol: Having been the editor at the university press, I was exposed to many disciplines, from accounting texts to books about kangaroos. So I was completely open to all possibilities when I began the MBA. It didn’t take long to get excited about organisation behaviour, my eventual concentration. I used OB skills everyday at the Disputes Centre, especially conducting workplace mediations. I often drew organisational charts for disputants that highlighted why the staff was having difficulties, much to the appreciation of the conflicted parties. I also use MBA tools now in dealing with theatre producers and art galleries and in organising art auctions for charities.
What are the key synergies between art and business?
Carol: Of all the hundreds of organisations I dealt with at the Disputes Centre, the solution to problems usually lay in creativity, something some organisations, particularly mechanistic ones, just hadn't thought important. The same creative process that starts you on the road to a new painting or a new play can spark the idea for a new product, the resolution to a dispute or the solution to a technical puzzle.
Successful organisations think outside the square, in a way artists do in creating something that has never been done before. Also teamwork is important in both the arts and in business. My first play I wrote in isolation, sitting at my desk. Some kindly producer then got me into play readings and dramaturgy where many people helped create the final script. The more appreciation of different points of view and the more teamwork involved, the better the outcome for businesses and for artists.
A favourite memory of your time at the AGSM @ UNSW Business School?
Carol: I loved the debates we had on Friday afternoons at the downstairs lounge. We had mixed teams of faculty and students debating in front of an enthusiastic slightly rowdy audience of 40 or 50 students. All sorts of topics were debated (Should corporations embrace social responsibility? Is ethical investing competitive? Will the EU last?)