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In this Best of Series episode, we hear from Brad Gordon, seasoned resources executive, on how to create a vision and game that inspires your team and attracts the best talent.
We interviewed Brad in early 2018 when he had just left his role as CEO of Acacia Mining, a position he had held since 2013.
Prior to that he was the CEO of Intrepid Mines Limited, Emperor Mines Limited and was Managing Director of Placer Dome, New Guinea.
Brad co-founded mining servicing company Big Yellow with 2 other executives, and also sits on the Board of Firefinch Limited.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Brad talk about:
- The magic and tranquility of working in a team 2000 metres underground;
- Why having vastly different career experience, including overseas, trumps a linear journey;
- How the game of attracting and maintaining the best talent works; and
- What he does in moments of doubt.
Connecting with Brad Gordon
You can connect with Brad via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
“You've got to smell the roses. If there's ever any doubt, you only really have to look back and see the results and achievements. It just puts you in a completely different frame of mind.”
On working in a mine
- There’s nothing I like more than going 1000 or 2000 metres underground; it's a different world. It's nothing to be scared of, it's enjoyable. It can be quite an eerie feeling, but one that I enjoy. It's a quick learning curve but there's definitely a camaraderie amongst miners.
- There were fatalities so there were some really difficult times underground, but I learned a lot and became fanatical and passionate about safety and I wish I'd done it earlier. It took a big accident in Fiji for me to become passionate about safety when I lost one of the guys that worked for me.
On building experience and a track record
- Technically I was always reasonably strong; I could find a problem and a solution fairly quickly. But I think the real difference is that I've been fortunate to have good people working with me. I can put a good team together fairly quickly and it's those teams of great people who have achieved the successes, they've made me look good.
- I work with a company that would not promote you to Managing Director level unless you had worked in three different countries, not mines, countries. I think it was a really good rule. You had to have that international exposure to be successful at a senior, international level.
- Steve Jobs would say, “Join the dots. Keep experiencing different hearts of your career and the world.” Generally your middle managers don't find what they love doing until their mid-30s or even 40s. But I wouldn't worry about that. I tell the same thing to my children, to just keep experiencing different things. Those dots won’t make sense to you looking forward, they never do, they only make sense looking backwards.
- So find what you're passionate about, it's so true. You can't be great at something unless you love doing it.
On moments of doubt
- They happen often enough. When they do, there are a couple of people I know from various walks of life that I'll call and have a chat and work our way through it.
- But you've also got to smell the roses. So if there's ever any doubt about where you're going or what you've achieved, you only really have to look back and see the results that the team has achieved over the last several years and it puts you in a completely different frame of mind. Not enough people celebrate the successes.
- I've just given up needing to prove who I am and what I need to do to prove myself. I've now got enough confidence in my ability to succeed in almost any situation.
On stinging feedback he knew to be true
- I can remember a very vivid memory of the most important feedback I ever got, in my early 30s. I'm not a small person, as you know, and my manager at the time (the CEO) said to me that I intimidate people not just physically, but my manner when I walk into a room.
- Instead, I should ask them about their kids or ask them for a coffee. Don't launch into some production discussion immediately. He said I had to lower those barriers and I’d achieve more. It was soon after I got back after spending seven years in Fiji and it gave me a sense of self that I didn't have before.
On staying focused as a team
- We are always very clear about where we want the company to be in five or 10 years time. You've got to know what the vision looks like and then you've got to have some systems and processes in place that measure progress. And then you've got to have the plan and the routine around the plan and measuring your progress is extremely important and that links into your personal progress as well.
- I don't know how you can be successful if you're trying to field 100 emails a day. I really don't know, unless you're working 20 hours a day. That's where a lot of middle level managers get it wrong today. The people aspect of the business is extremely important and you can't do that from sitting behind a desk.
- I remember I used to try and spend 60 percent of my time on people stuff. If you're not spending more than half your time on people stuff then you're going to make it very difficult for yourself.
On getting the best talent
- It's a game. You're creating a game that people want to sign up to. So you've got to create a game that attracts people. You have to create a larger game than what they are seeing.
- One of the questions I ask people in the business, particularly middle managers, was if I gave them AUD50,000,000 tomorrow, what would they do? You can always hook into that need that they have, the deeper need that the soul has. If it’s something significant that they still want to do with their lives, I could say, “Well, why don't you become involved in this aspect of our business as well?”
- Most companies in the world don't have a game that people want to play, so they create their own negative ones such as undermining the boss or criticise the culture. The leaders of these companies should be the people who are designing that game so that it attracts the right people.
On leading and inspiring turnarounds
- You have to take the people with you. There has to be that impetus for change. The first thing I'll look at when I go into a new place is the structure, not the people. One of the places I went into had 14 levels of management, so we made that four.
- Then you look at the people and their capacity. And finally, look at your strategy and the planning and the tactical plans that sit below that strategy.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Get international experience – you're 30 to 40 percent better than someone who's only worked in one country and been exposed to one culture before.
- Don't get too fussed if you are not making progress, just continue to join the dots and when you look back, every little dot will make sense.
- It is all about the people you know.
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