Mum writes in her journal in 1982 how happy she is. She has four wonderful boys and a loving and hardworking husband. She writes that Dad has worked so hard and he has provided her and us with a wonderful life. She discusses his work at the pubs we owned, his hard work driving around Sydney as he delivered beer and furniture. Her pride and gratitude are palpable in the few pages where she writes her personal thoughts.
The hard work attribute has proven infectious with my brothers and me. David, who has for 30 years run his own business, building it from a one-man plumbing service to a force in the plumbing, hot water, and air-conditioning service industry. Ben, leaving the comfort of Sydney to build a life in rural NSW, and tirelessly care for his mother-in-law, sadly suffering from the debilitating dementia. He provides day-to-day, hour-to-hour care in his own home, and has done do for many years. Robert, splitting his time between helping and caring for Mum and Dad, and working with David as one of his most reliable and talented plumbers.
The hard work bug has also driven me and helped me in a number of careers, both professional and sporting.
Professional, I was trying to build a career in the public service in a time when able-bodied white Australian males were the prime candidates for promotion. Women, people with disabilities, and non-English speaking employees were often over looked for spurious reasons. I never let it get to me. I just worked harder, removing their excuses and reasons for overlooking me.
I won a public service medal in 1988, and was rewarded with a series of promotions, and championed the way for a number of vision-impaired and disabled staff.
In the private sector, my first foray was into business with Mardi. We certainly took a leap of faith. Both of us quit our jobs and went into the computer-training business. If you ever wanted the definition of hard work, it is running your own business. My Dad did it his whole life and David had done pretty much the same. We did OK for a while, but in the end, the model didn’t work for us, so we sold out and explored other opportunities.
In exploring other roles, I joined the Royal Blind Society (now Vision Australia) as a senior manager, and spent five years shaping the blindness sector in the ACT. I eventually left as I didn’t want my disability defining my career.
I moved on to RSPCA, and am now with Recreational Aviation Australia. As CEO of both these organisations, hard work is just the start of the story. At the head of an organisation, the hard work is relentless and you never really get to turn off.
I think back to the work Dad put in, providing for us for decades. The advantage I got as a youngster was seeing him first hand. He regularly took us out with him to show us the ropes, or help out when he needed help. I didn’t really like going out on the furniture truck. It was hard bloody work. I enjoyed being with Dad and driving around the inner city and inner west suburbs of Sydney. I enjoyed dealing with the people and the problem-solving of getting furniture into impossible places. The part I didn’t enjoy was knowing that I was only doing 25% of the work and poor old Dad had to do much of the lifting. He was an extremely strong man my Dad, and I was a weedy 14-year-old. I’d often be on the underside of a double wardrobe with mirrored doors and Dad would be halfway up a flight of stairs literally heaving the wardrobe up by himself. His effort, his dedication to getting the job done was an inspiration to me, and it made me work harder and explore ways of getting the job done differently. It is this attitude that I’ve taken to each and every role I’ve had.
How can a specific task be done more effectively? How can I help this person get more out of themself? How can we communicate better with our clients?
The key question I ask of everyone is, “What are the things we can do to make a positive difference to our constituents?” This question focuses everyone on two key things: improvement and customers. It has served me well, and is seated in the learnings from Dad all those years ago.
My final word on hard work is that sometimes life throws you curve balls. In late 2013, I ended my career at RSPCA.
Three weeks later, I suffered a major debilitating eye injury requiring multiple surgeries.
In January of the next year, I underwent knee surgery.
I was unemployed, could barely walk and had lost 30% of my remaining useful vision. I was a mess physically and emotionally.
What did I do? I started an MBA degree.
Now some would say, “Why not have a break?” Not me, hard work is hard work and the only way to face adversity is to turn the tide in your favour. Your true measure is how you rise when faced with that adversity.
As a result I didn’t stop. I started. I recovered from my eye injury, knee surgery and got an MBA. I also studied and qualified with the Australian Institute of Company Directors and worked as a private consultant.
Four months later, I re-entered the full-time work force in a new CEO role, in a field completely foreign to anything I’ve done in the past. Somebody I didn’t even know at the time put his faith in me, the faith I had in myself was repaid, thanks Mick. More hard work. Thanks Mum, thanks Dad, you made hard work a way of life and it has served me well.