with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

Listen on

In this episode, we meet Mike Schneider, the current Managing Director of the Bunnings Group.

Before being appointed to the top role, Mike was the Managing Director of Bunnings Australia & New Zealand and had also led the store operations teams, having joined Bunnings in 2005.

His career has seen him hold a range of senior operational, commercial and human resource roles, both in retail and financial services, most notably at Target, Westpac and The Warehouse Group.

Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of NSW and has completed the Advanced Management Program at INSEAD, and the Advanced Strategic Management Program at IMD.

In this episode we talk about:

  • How having a diverse career path has been to his benefit;
  • Why genuine empathy and being a consistent not predictable leader has been the key to his success;
  • What he means by an integrated life as opposed to work-life balance; and
  • His 4 Hs Framework that allows him to lead an authentic life.

Connecting with Mike Schneider

You can reach Mike on LinkedIn.

On lessons from his childhood

  • Things that really stood out to me were the importance of family and of caring for one another. My dad was very sick through my childhood and suffered from heart disease. He benefited from someone donating a heart in the early 1990s. We saw from that the gift of life and the gift of generosity of spirit that donating organs can do, so that's something that I've always thought really important.
  • It also was a time when things were pretty tough financially because I had parents that were sick and couldn't work. So things that influenced my thinking are really fair conditions for people to work and really good rates of pay for your team members so that people can live lives that have meaning and purpose.

On having diverse career experience

  • There's no harm in it. When people ask me about my career, I often refer to it either as a tapestry or a patchwork quilt, because there are lots of different bits to it. And I've sort of followed my curiosity and interest, more so than chasing a job title or the next promotion. When I solve problems, I can look at it through a range of different lenses.
  • In some ways, the generation that's entering the workforce is seeing the value of diversity, of thinking diversity, and experience.

On being a CEO/MD

  • I think the danger for CEOs is to allow yourself to be surrounded by people who only want to tell you how good your ideas are, how funny your jokes are, what a great person you are. You actually need the balance of people that will go, “You got that right. You got that wrong. You could have handled that in a different way.”
  • People talk about CEO being a lonely role, and it can be. But that's really about being left to make the final decision around something that's really hard; and often that's a people decision.
  • I think for leaders in today's world, consistency's really important. It's not about predictability, but it's about balance and fairness. People want to know that you know what you stand for and that they're signing up to be led by you.

On frameworks

  • At Bunnings to have some very clearly laid-out frameworks around what we call a leadership model but it's actually a business model.
  • Further to this, if strategy is doing things right, culture is doing the right thing. So, by balancing these and your experience in your decision-making, you tend to have a good instinctive reaction.

On work-life balance for his employees

  • People often talk about work-life balance, but the more senior you get, the less you can speak authentically about it. What I think you can achieve is an integrated life where you're doing things for your personal life during the work day and things for your work day during what traditionally would have been seen as personal time.
  • Real care is not just in a moment; it's about following up, finding that person and quietly taking them aside and saying, “Hey, look, you were confident to share this issue with me some time ago. I'm just checking in to make sure you're okay.” That shows genuine care first and foremost, but it is also to make sure that if things are still out of kilter, maybe there's more support that's needed.

On the 4 Hs of authentic leadership

  • I'm very privileged at Bunnings to lead a team of over 43,000 team members. The reality is that inside that team, we've got team members who can't read and write, speak English as a first language, and a whole myriad of ways that people take on information.
  • I think it was John Eales who said that if you can make the complex simple and the simple compelling, then it's a really important communication tool. So for me, the 4 H's were a very simple way of outlining what I stood for as a leader and because it's more inclusive.
  • Honest
    • People know what they're getting. They may not like the feedback they're receiving, but if they know that it's coming from a good place and it's open and candid, then it builds trust.
    • It also means admitting when you get it right and admitting when you get it wrong.
  • Humble
    • For me, this is a little bit of me as a person and my upbringing. In fact, we work really hard to have a very low profile as executives in Bunnings. The second you start to believe your own press, you're in a world of trouble.
    • The real heroes in our business are the people that are pulling on a red shirt and tying on an apron every day and caring for our customers or other employees around the world. The rest of us get to play a supporting role in actually helping them do their job.
    • We don’t have a head office – it's called the store support office. The reality is that if you're not serving a customer in a store, then you're serving someone who is.
  • Helpful
    • Treat other people the way you want your loved ones treated and you usually come up with a much better outcome than perhaps what you'd think about for yourself.
  • Happy
    • Happiness doesn't just have to be at home or with loved ones; it can be at work as well.
    • Conversely, being unhappy at work often gets taken home and being unhappy at home often comes into work.
    • You need to be grateful for the tough things that challenge you to be a stronger person and actually live enough in the moment to value the things that mean the most. And to surround yourself with people that you want to be with and that want to be with you.

On health and wellbeing

  • I think having a good degree of personal fitness and health is really important. Leadership is almost a contact sport at points in time. So physical fitness and resilience are important. But pick a fitness regime that fits you in your life right now.
  • Sleep is the other one and has a big role to play in mental health, physical health and organisational health. When you're tired and you're jaded, you're more emotional and perhaps your decision-making becomes a bit more short-term focused than it should be.

On asking for help and mental health

  • I have a coach that helps me with some running. I have a coach who does a bit of work in the gym. I have a good GP that I go and check up with every six months.
  • I have a psychologist, not because of anything other than I want to make sure that the mind and the body are working really well. In today's world, talking about issues around mental health and mental wellbeing are actually still a little bit nervy, particularly for people in senior roles.
  • I think the statistic is across the course of a lifetime, one in four Australians will be diagnosed with a temporary or permanent mental illness. We employ over 40,000 people. You can do the math on how many people may or may not be struggling at any given time, just in our organisation. Making it an okay thing to talk about is important.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders

  • Take a chance on yourself. Say yes to opportunities that make you interested or that you're curious to know more about. Job titles and pay packets in the long run don't mean as much as you might they think they do, particularly when you're starting out your career.
  • Stay true to yourself and see it as going to find out more about yourself. You'll work out what motivates you intrinsically and extrinsically. It's amazing where it can take you.

Books and resources mentioned in the episode