Nov 19, 2017
By Greg Layton
CEO, Water Corporation
How to be honest, fun and make a difference in your work
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In this episode you’ll hear from Sue Murphy, CEO of Water Corp.
Sue spent 25 years at Clough engineering after completing an engineering degree where she was one of only two women out of 300 students. She has been the Water Corporation CEO since 2008 and on the board at the Fremantle Dockers for 12 months. She is also a director at Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).
We cover how to be honest, fun and make a difference in your work.
Sue’s top quotes:
- I learnt that it's not what your background is that matters, it's how well you can relate to the people around you. You don't come in and enforce your own self on everybody around you, you learn about the people around you and you learn what matters to them
- Harold (Clough) was very strong on giving people empowerment. He's philosophy was employ the smartest, most sociable kids you can find straight out of university and let them loose and see what can happen
- Harold always argued you can fake it for a few hours when you work with someone and make them think you're clever, but when you work side by side with someone in a joint venture on a construction project for months and months at a time, real talent shines through. His motto was plagiarise shamelessly. We learned procedures and policies and design skills and all kind of things from our partners, but over the years we also taught a lot back
- Construction is a great way to learn a lot of things, mostly about managing people because when you're on a construction site, hierarchy has little status. Respect has to be earned
- I think the best advice you can give any young person is don't plan too much just say yes to every opportunity that's opened up to you
- I found the joy of a construction project is that all the discussion you have later in your life about mutual goals and common purpose. You don't even have to have that conversation because you're working in a God-awful place generally, and you're trying to finish the project on time and on budget and you all want to go home. You don't have to articulate a common purpose, it's clearly there. I was involved with lots of projects and with some great people and each group of us that worked together came out feeling that we knew each other inside out and we became wonderful friends that I've still got
- Never rip off a client when you can, because they'll look after you when you need it
- I've seen a lot of men and women who were technically very good at what they did, and who aspire to be managers and leaders for all the wrong reasons. They aspire to it because they thought it was the next step in their career or what they should do, and what they ended up being was a very adequate at best, manager and leader and very frustrated because they liked to do the tasks. To lead and mange people it's about giving them the power and the freedom to be the best they can possibly be. If you want to actually be the best engineer in the world, then you're probably not going to be a very good manager
- On what to do if you’re stuck in your career: My first question would be why, why do you feel stuck and if your passion and your thrill comes out of doing the work you do, can you not try to negotiate a wider range of projects in that area or something like that to give you the satisfaction that you want because too many of us follow other people's dreams not our own
- I think you waste time and effort trying to be all things to all people. You actually can't be all things to all people. You've got to work out what actually matters. What matters will move with time. There're times when you focus in a business should be external and there're times when it should be internal.
- Harold Clough was a wonderful mentor. You'd go and see Harold when a project was going bad and he owned the company outright. He'd give you a hug and say, “You smart, young people always come up with clever ideas.” and you'd go away and you'd think, “Oh my God, it's his money and he thinks that I can do this.” You'd work every hour God's sent to make it happen.
- On recruiting: I'm looking for someone with sense of humour, whose not up themselves that I could actually imagine enjoying time with. They have to have all the competency and skills and the basics. They have those before you usually meet them anyway. Part of it is about … they talk about the no dick heads policy, I actually think that's quite important, but apart from that, it's about a bit of passion and a bit of spark. They don't all have to be firing on all cylinders all that time. In fact that can be a bit irritating if they were but being able to articulate a bit of a passion.
- On interviewing: I like to have a chat as you walk out the door, I don't like to do the shake hands and the candidate gets ushered out by the head hunter. I'd rather walk them down and say, “That was really good. What are you doing this weekend?” just see how it goes. I also like to get my PA to bring them up, the old PA discussion it's really important, what did you think of those three, which one could you imagine working with
- On transformations: Most go wrong because if you're leading a transformation you know what's going to be better. You can see so clearly why you're doing what you're doing and where you're going. Transformations fail because nobody else can see that. You've got to be able to articulate, “What's in it for me to everybody”. You've also got to get to a point when you've explained and explained, you know who is not with you and lose them. You've just got to make them go away in some shape or form depending on they either need to be part of another team if it's a team based thing or leave the organisation because if you don't, not everyone's going to make every change
- My main saying is life's too short for instant coffee and cheap shoes
- Don't take yourself too seriously. It's not a big deal. Don't believe your own hype, but don't believe that you're that bad. When things are bad and projects are going poorly and everything is falling apart, just step back and look at it and laugh at the absurdity of it all because it's never as bad as you think it is.
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