Fiona Smith Columnist

Fiona writes on workplace issues, including management, psychology, workplace design, human resources and recruitment. She is a former Work Space editor at The Australian Financial Review and has also covered property, technology, architecture and general news.

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How James Strong got his bow tie

Published 04 March 2013 12:42, Updated 29 November 2013 09:57

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How James Strong got his bow tie

James Strong’s famous bow tie made its first appearance in the 1980s and he was still wearing it decades later, such as at the Qantas annual general meeting in 1998. Photo: Robert Rough

It was in the 1980s that business leader James Strong discovered the power of the bow tie – an idiosyncratic quirk that set him apart in a sea of power suits.

At the time, probably only the occasional lawyer and architect would pair the bow tie with a business suit, signalling to the world that they were not quite as colourless as their colleagues.

Strong, Qantas director and former Qantas chief executive, died on March 3, aged 68, after lung complications following surgery.

Strong was new to the job heading up airline TAA in around 1985 when he came into the office to prepare for a round of media interviews designed to position him in the public’s mind as the new “face” of the company.

“He came into the office and he was wearing a bow tie, and asked us if we thought it would be all right for the interviews,” says public relations doyen Phil Burford, who was head of TAA public relations at the time.

“I don’t know if he had worn one before, but we had never seen him do it,” says Burford, now chairman of the Icon Communications group of companies.

“The TV interview went very well and he started wearing a bow tie for all his media activity. And then he started wearing one all the time.”

TAA later went on to produce a bow tie in the company colours of blue and yellow as a corporate give-away.

The adoption of the bow tie made Strong instantly recognisable to the public, and he was rarely mentioned in the press without a reference to it.

In terms of personal branding, it was a winner – a little like Virgin founder Richard Branson’s beard (and penchant for throwing women into water), Microsoft founder Bill Gates’s cardigans, or the glasses Dick Smith used to wear when he owned the electronic chain of stores.

Burford says his next boss, the then CEO of Nissan Australia, Ivan Deveson, also “worked” his signature braces.

“We would get him to do an interview or presentation with his jacket off and in his braces because he was in manufacturing. It looked like he was an executive in a manufacturing business.

“Using those visual cues works well for senior executives,” Burford says.

James Strong was appointed to the Qantas board in 2006 as a non-executive director, after his time as CEO and managing director between 1993 and 2001.

He was previously appointed to the airline’s board in 1991.

Strong was chairman of Kathmandu Holdings, of the Organising Committee for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 and of V8 Supercars. He was also a member of the Nomura Australia advisory board and a director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

His other former roles included chairman of Woolworths and Insurance Australia Group, director of the Australian Grand Prix Corp, IAG Finance (New Zealand), group chief executive of the DB Group in New Zealand, national chairman of partners of Corrs Chambers Westgarth and chief executive officer of Australian Airlines from 1985 until 1989.

Strong was admitted as a barrister and/or solicitor in various state jurisdictions in Australia.

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