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7 Questions with Rick Willmott
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7 Questions with Rick Willmott
Name: Rick Willmott
Current title: Chief Operating Officer
Current organisation: Charles Sturt University
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
For most of my career I have led major transformation programs for large complex organizations. The challenge with these programs is ensuring that there are strong mechanisms to lock in the changes for the future. In my experience this is a combination of establishing an effective leadership culture during the journey and ensuring there is a strong operating system in place. Even after leading six large scale transformations this remains the most challenging aspect of my roles.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I started my career out of university with a large French multinational and was immediately thrust into a difficult situation at the age of 22. There was an extensive strike in a major plant where I was the employee relations officer. I became a major part of the resolution of the dispute and then was placed in charge of the cultural transformation program to secure an additional $1 billion in investment to expand the plant. This was learning fast in the deep end. The investment was secured and the plant expanded.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
On a normal day I am awake at 4am in the morning, I do some exercise and then work on clearing my emails until 7am. I then have breakfast and shower for the day. My meetings would start from 8.30am and I try to have 15 minutes between meetings to take care of any key actions and prepare for the next meeting. I usually finish meetings by around 5pm (when possible). Then I close out the day and look at the agenda for the next day. If I have specific work to do I block out time in the calendar for those tasks.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
While people may say they understand, you need to take the time to make sure they do understand
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The book is a little dated now, "The Ascendant Organisation" by Peter D. Wickens. I read this book very early in my career while seeking to turn around a culture following large scale industrial action. The key focus of the book was aligning the continuous improvement approach of the successful Japanese corporations with the work of the "behaviorists" to provide an optimum operating system in western organisations. I still draw on many of the experiences Wickens shared in my work today.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
In my experience the best way to build leadership capability is through providing leadership opportunities. People have to practice to become good at anything. They have to make mistakes and they have to learn to do real things. Providing leadership development only works if people are able to quickly apply that development in practical real world situations.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
When we were transforming a large industrial plant I took a walk with a couple of the trade union representatives. At the time we were having trouble with emissions levels that may have put the operation in breach of its EPA guidelines. The leadership in this area had been really going hard on work practices and the men who worked in the area while our technical teams tried to resolve the problem. I asked the union leaders what they thought about the problem. Without hesitation one of them said, we know what the problem is but no one has asked us. I found that a little strange but asked him to continue. At some length he explained how the maintenance staff were not paying attention to the change out of key parts in the emissions control equipment. The union leader was right and the emissions dropped dramatically once we ensured the correct parts were installed in the correct places. Our workforces know if we only ask.