Mum, bless her soul, 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 before her death. He provided day-to-day, hour-to-hour care in his own home, and did 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.
Professionally, 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 worked twice as hard as the next person and studied feverishly, completing a complex tax law degree and proving a lot fo people worng.
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 manager, and spent five years shaping the blindness sector in the ACT. I eventually left, searching for more challenges.
I was, very proudly, appointed CEO of RSPCA ACT and spent eight years reshaping animal welfare locally, nationally and internationally. This role was the epitome of hard work. For eight years I basically worked seven days a week as I threw myself into saving lives, raising money and forging my leadership style. I left in 2013, jaded, exhausted and with a could hanging over my head and my leadership style. Targeted by a small group of ego-driven megalomaniacs I was left with no choice but to leave a place I loved and had done so much for. I spent the next six months reflecting on my time. I chose to learn from the experience rather than wallow in it. I commenced an MBA (completing it 18 months later) and read a lot. I read about decision making, leadership, authenticity, self reflection, empowerment, human resource management and managing in a crisis.
I threw myself out there about six months after finishing at RSPCA and was appointed CEO of Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus). The need for hard work just kicked into high gear! At the head of an organisation, the hard work is relentless and you never really get to turn off. Couple this with joining a highly technical industry, an industry I’d never worked in and then throw in the fact i’d suffered a massive eye injury just six months earlier and had lost a lot of my remaining sight meant I was up against it. How was I going to excel at a new role, a role and industry where perfect eyesight was the norm.
For six years I again threw myself into this role. My MBA, my reflective time, my technical training from the ATO, my never give up attitude all played a role in my success. Having the faith of a visionary Chairman at RAAus also helped. He couldn’t care less about my eyesight, he was output focused and I was able to repay his faith with some quality outcomes.
I left RAAus at the end of 2020, having navigated the COVID crisis and returned to the blindness and low vision sector. Vision Australia came knocking during 2020 and the role I explored was the culmination of something I had worked towards for twenty years. I was ready, both technically, but also personally to lead a large team and large budget to deliver quality outcomes to thousands of people who are blind or have low vision.
My biggest focus in the last few years in preparing for a role of this nature was an investment in my own emotional intelligence, EQ. I am wedded to the concept of servant leadership and practice it on a daily basis. I further augmented by EQ and transformational leadership journey in 2019 by attending Harvard Business School.
I’ve forged a career as a leader who transforms, and a lot of that transformation has come in how I manage myself and those around me
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.