OHA Australia Wide – John Diddams (OH ’66)

Meet John Diddams (OH ’66) — a non-executive director leading businesses to take the next step.

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John F Diddams: an OHA member leading businesses to take the next step

Years at Haileybury:  1962 to 1966

Current location:  Sydney

Other locations:  London

Since its inception, Haileybury has always been taking the next step and always had the leaders to do so.   So it shouldn’t be surprising that former students have become leaders who help businesses take things to the next level.  John Diddams (OH ’66) has made a career of doing precisely that.  As a non-executive director, John has been key in various capital raisings and initial public offerings (IPOs) that have allowed businesses to raise the money they need to go onwards and upwards. Some of these businesses include a jet pack manufacturer, a tandem sky diving operator and a developer of cancer-detection technology.

John attended Haileybury’s Brighton campus from 1962 to 1966 during which time the Keysborough campus opened.  John remembers marvelling at the wide open spaces of Keysborough which was then a thinly-populated area.

After finishing at Haileybury, John relocated to Sydney.  John’s father was Managing Director at Swallow & Ariell, Australia’s first biscuit manufacturer dating back to 1854.  John’s family moved interstate after the business was acquired by Arnott’s in 1966.  John studied at UNSW while working as a cadet accountant at John Lysaght, a manufacturer of steel products now owned by Bluescope.  In 1973, John moved to London where he joined the European internal audit group for Occidental Petroleum, culminating in becoming Internal Audit Manager for Europe, Middle East and North Africa, necessitating extensive travel and exposure to many businesses.  During this time, he bumped into another old Haileyburian, David Harry, in a pub and struck up a friendship which saw them travel and ski around Europe.  John returned to Australia in 1979 where he spent many years working in capital markets.  John did another stint in London from 1989 to 1991, which included plenty of travel to the USA, before returning to Australia to start his own consultancy.

In the last twenty years, John has served as a non-executive director managing the raising of over $500 million for 20 businesses and listing 10 of these on the ASX. These include:

  • Martin Jetpack, which develops and manufactures jetpacks;
  • Somnomed, which manufacturers devices for snoring and sleep apnoea;
  • Experience Co Ltd, which provides tandem skydiving, rafting, ballooning and canyoning experiences to its customers; and
  • Indoor Skydive Australia Group Limited.

One of John’s most rewarding IPOs has been Volpara Health Technologies Ltd.  Volpara is a business headquartered in New Zealand which develops imaging algorithms that enable the early detection of breast cancer.  John regards Volpara as an organisation that has made a huge difference in the early detection of breast cancer and which has become a major player in this field in the USA.  John is currently a non-executive director of Volpara and Experience Co, both of which are listed on the ASX.

John’s advice to Haileybury students and alumni who are considering a career as a non-executive director is to work with highly capable people; encourage responsibility and accountability in all who report to you; be fair but firm; trust in your own judgement, but don’t be afraid to alter your tack if circumstances change; and make the most of the opportunities in your executive career before entering the non-executive sphere.

As for the lessons he learnt at Haileybury, John is grateful for the guidance of members of the Commerce staff who taught him several subjects including accounting, which is a skill he’s used his whole life.  The school also instilled in him the importance of discipline, teamwork and balancing work and play.  It’s clear these values have stuck with John.  Although he currently sits on the Boards of two ASX-listed companies, he still skis, plays golf, travels and spends time with his children and grandchildren.  And really, work can never be far from play when you’re a director of a business that provides skydiving and canyoning!

In short …

  • Is there a film you’d recommend to anyone? Bohemian Rhapsody: great music and acting … and now an Oscar!
  • What’s your favourite band?  Queen, AC/DC, The Eagles, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones all come in at equal first.
  • Have you met anyone famous?  I met Bob Geldof at the next table at a restaurant in Chelsea, London.  I like his music and what he stands for. Fortunately, he likes Australians so he was very chatty!
  • If you could invite anyone to dinner (dead or living), who would they be?  There’s too many to mention, but I have always admired JFK.  I remember to this day when in 1963 my neighbour in Beaumaris, Victoria told me “Kennedy” had been shot.  I thought “Who’d want to shoot Graham Kennedy?”
  • What was a highlight of 2018 for you?  I took my whole family including grandchildren to NYC for Christmas, then Disneyworld in Orlando and skiing in Colorado.  It was a marvellous 3 weeks, à la the Griswolds!
  • What are you looking forward to in 2019? Continuing my work as a non-executive director, maybe another IPO, some golf, some travel and time with the family, especially the grandkids.

To read more about John, go to https://www.jfdcpa.com.au/

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