Salt of the Earth

– Denise Goldswor­thy is some­what of a trail­blazer, start­ing her ca­reer in the male dom­i­nated min­ing in­dus­try and build­ing a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer with BHP and Rio Tinto be­fore start­ing her own con­sul­tancy, Al­ter­nate Fu­tures to help people think out­side t

Business First - - CONTENTS -

When Denise Goldswor­thy be­gan her work­ing ca­reer in 1982 with BHP Steel, she could have been mis­taken for the raw prawn. At 17, Denise had moved away from home, out of Syd­ney to New­cas­tle and was mak­ing the tran­si­tion from school cul­ture to hav­ing to know what to do in the em­ploy of a min­ing gi­ant. How­ever, if you ever have the plea­sure of speak­ing with Denise, you quickly learn that it would be quite dif­fi­cult to come the raw prawn with her. She is a quick adopter, a quicker adapter and is con­stantly learn­ing.

The other ad­van­tage en­joyed when she be­gan with BHP was the small, sur­pris­ingly sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment she found her­self in.

“They were very sup­port­ive and gave me additional train­ing – that was a con­stant for all of my time there. Dur­ing the time I spent at BHP, I did some­thing like 14 jobs in 16 years. I was just con­tin­u­ally learn­ing.”

Denise wasn’t just learn­ing on the job, she was also putting her­self through univer­sity.

“The part-time ar­range­ment where you can make some con­nec­tions be­tween why you’re learn­ing the stuff at Univer­sity with what you’re do­ing at work, helps sup­port the idea of con­tin­u­ing to learn and ask ques­tions and find­ing out why some­thing makes sense. I think that is lack­ing with some stu­dents to­day.”

She learnt that work­ing for BHP was all about de­liv­er­ables and com­mit­ting to the task at hand.

“If you took on some­thing, you were com­mit­ted to do it. Mov­ing through the com­pany and hav­ing a pres­ence is about ask­ing the right ques­tions. I was con­stantly try­ing to stretch my­self and look­ing for the next op­por­tu­ni­ties, which was part of why I fin­ished up do­ing so many dif­fer­ent roles in the time that I was there. If I was in a tech­ni­cal role, I wanted to know if I could I do a live su­per­vi­sory role.”

Denise was con­stantly ask­ing to do more and more chal­leng­ing tasks. She was a part of BHP’s stan­dard ro­ta­tion pol­icy, but af­ter 12 months they took her off that ro­ta­tion and gave her more use­ful things to do.

By the time Denise found her­self at Rio, she was al­ready a se­nior man­ager. At BHP she had un­der­taken var­i­ous iron-mak­ing and tech­ni­cal roles as well as steel­mak­ing op­er­a­tional and tech­ni­cal lead­er­ship po­si­tions. She left BHP as a su­per­in­ten­dent and joined Rio Tinto as a man­ager for tech­ni­cal mar­ket­ing at the Ham­mer­s­ley Iron di­vi­sion in Perth.

She learnt a lot about her man­age­ment style as well as lead­er­ship ca­pa­bil­i­ties dur­ing these years.

“At BHP we would reg­u­larly make pre­sen­ta­tions to the line man­age­ment about what we’d been do­ing over the last three to six months. I went into this ses­sion with this whole vi­sion about how se­nior man­agers are able to walk on wa­ter and that they know ev­ery­thing. The most se­nior per­son in the room asked me a ques­tion about some of the tasks that I was do­ing and I thought why doesn’t he know this stuff. So, it then made me start to look at the knowl­edge and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the people that are ac­tu­ally mak­ing de­ci­sions. Then I thought well if I make the ef­fort to go and ask ques­tions and un­der­stand what’s go­ing on, I could be a re­ally good man­ager and show these people how good a man­ager could be. That be­came my phi­los­o­phy to any work that I was do­ing. It was a mat­ter of how could this be done dif­fer­ently, how could it be done bet­ter.”

Denise says this ap­proach has helped her build trust and re­spect. Her will­ing­ness to con­tinue to learn is one of the tenets Al­ter­nate Fu­tures is based on. She sees her­self as a puzzle mas­ter, deal­ing with risk man­age­ment and area plan­ning and ev­ery­thing else an MD has to deal with and then see­ing how the pieces fit to­gether.

“You need to know enough to be able to ask the right ques­tions of your ex­perts and be com­fort­able tak­ing ad­vice from them. You need to recog­nise if there is an is­sue that needs to be ex­plored fur­ther. I ap­plied those prin­ci­ples through BHP and Rio and I sup­pose in a way that ul­ti­mately lead to why I’m now run­ning my own com­pany. I be­come frus­trated with big busi­ness in Aus­tralia be­cause a lot of people are not ask­ing ques­tions, es­pe­cially when there are huge op­por­tu­ni­ties to im­prove busi­ness, in­clud­ing those two very large and suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies.”

Denise seems to lament the idea that few people are striv­ing for ex­cel­lence any­more. She says fear is a ma­jor fac­tor.

“I’ve been ex­plor­ing this ques­tion, be­cause it’s an im­por­tant ques­tion for me. And a lot of it is around per­sonal fears, which are be­ing ag­gra­vated by high gov­er­nance and the high leg­isla­tive en­vi­ron­ment that busi­ness is work­ing in at the mo­ment. There is an aw­ful lot of pain and pun­ish­ment if you try some­thing and it goes wrong. So it is just a lot safer for mid­dle to se­nior man­agers to main­tain the sta­tus quo. If

some­thing out of the or­di­nary oc­curs, then those man­agers have a scape­goat.”

Al­ter­nate Fu­tures is about help­ing people change the sta­tus quo; en­cour­ag­ing people to step away from their com­fort zones and face their fears. To do this you have to get your cul­ture and sys­tems right.

“You need to have sys­tems change around risk man­age­ment pro­cesses to al­low you to make the best de­ci­sion that you can with the in­for­ma­tion that’s avail­able at the time. And while you may not be able to cre­ate a 100% guar­an­teed sys­tem, you can use risk type pro­cesses to make them as strong as pos­si­ble.”

Or­gan­i­sa­tional psy­chol­o­gists work with Denise as well as some ex­tremely com­pe­tent, very spe­cialised tech­ni­cal people. They go into com­pa­nies to un­der­stand where the or­gan­i­sa­tions need to make change and guide them so that they are com­fort­able man­ag­ing that change them­selves.

“We’re not about go­ing in and mak­ing the de­ci­sions for them. We are about help­ing them learn how to be dif­fer­ent. And, we work from both the in­dus­try and the re­search side. It’s in­ter­est­ing at the mo­ment that most of our work is ac­tu­ally within the re­search side. The only work that we’re cur­rently do­ing with in­dus­try is with start-ups, where they’ve been a smart en­tre­pre­neur with a great idea but are won­der­ing what the next step is.”

Al­ter­nate Fu­tures is in­vest­ing in some very good re­search. They are find­ing that there are not only cul­tural and sys­tems gaps, but there is ac­tu­ally a huge lan­guage bar­rier. The ‘techno-boffins’ run­ning the re­search labs are fail­ing to com­mu­ni­cate prop­erly with busi­ness and vice versa.

“They’re all us­ing English, but they haven’t got the faintest idea what each other is say­ing,” Denise says. “So they are not get­ting the point or un­der­stand­ing whether their prob­lem and a par­tic­u­lar so­lu­tion works to­gether. They’re not build­ing trust.”

Al­ter­nate Fu­tures fa­cil­i­tates the trust. They are work­ing on sys­tems to help busi­ness and tech­ni­cal ex­perts un­der­stand each other.

“There is some bril­liant re­search hap­pen­ing right across this coun­try, but in­dus­try is still scared to en­gage with it even though some of them are go­ing broke. They’re ac­tu­ally less scared of their com­pa­nies go­ing broke, than hav­ing to per­son­ally change and en­gage with a new tech­nol­ogy that they don’t un­der­stand.”

Most ex­ec­u­tives have a track record of suc­cess and are re­luc­tant to go down dif­fer­ent paths. Denise’s job is to help them un­der­stand that just be­cause they may have been suc­cess­ful with one tool in their kit, doesn’t mean that they’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful for the next 10 years. She comes from her own suc­cess­ful place to do this. There was a point in time with Rio where she was look­ing af­ter 3,000 people and sev­eral bil­lion dol­lars worth of cap­i­tal. She spent two years as vice pres­i­dent op­er­a­tions of Asia Pa­cific, as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Dampier Salt and HIS melt, and as the chief commercial of­fi­cer of Au­ton­o­mous Haul Trucks. She learnt a lot at Rio Tinto just head­ing up these di­vi­sions.

Does she feel she needs to be men­tored?

“Not men­tored, but I do think I need to con­tin­u­ously learn. So that whole phi­los­o­phy that I’ve talked about where ev­ery per­son that I meet, I as­sume that there’s some­thing I can learn off them. I see that to­day.”

It is a phi­los­o­phy that has stood Denise well. It has won her a Tel­stra Busi­ness Woman of the Year award. She ad­mits to en­ter­ing the award to gain pub­lic­ity for some of the things Rio Tinto was do­ing. How­ever it be­came fan­tas­tic recog­ni­tion around what she had been do­ing in terms of best prac­tice. The award opened doors for pub­lic speak­ing and gave her the con­fi­dence to start Al­ter­nate Fu­tures.

The aim for Al­ter­nate fu­tures is to grow enough of a client base and re­spect across the re­search in­sti­tu­tions, that they trust Denise to cre­ate win-win suc­cesses. As she has stated pre­vi­ously, part of tak­ing re­search in Aus­tralia to the next level is go­ing to be around more col­lab­o­ra­tion.

“The only way Aus­tralian In­dus­try, man­u­fac­tur­ing and min­ing in par­tic­u­lar are go­ing to sur­vive, is if they do things dif­fer­ently. There are some ma­jor changes that need to hap­pen to ac­cept that, so one line of vi­sion for my com­pany is to make Aus­tralia a bet­ter place. And, I’m do­ing what­ever I can to fa­cil­i­tate this with a bunch of very en­thu­si­as­tic, very smart people who also have the same vi­sion.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.