Brad Russell-Lane – Getting the Balance Right

Posted February 10, 2020 in Interviews & Spotlights, Wyvern-Corner-Office By Community Relations

After 30 years at Woodside Energy, Brad Russell-Lane (81-85) stepped away from paid employment to focus on the things most important to him – family, volunteering, mentoring others and his hobbies. A proven leader and former Vice President of Supply Chain/Logistics and Commercial at Woodside, Brad knows what businesses look for in potential employees, and has a strong understanding of what it takes to be a positive leader.

What is your recollection from your time at Wesley?

I came to Wesley in Year 8 from a school of only about 30 students, where I was the only boy in my year – it was pretty daunting, albeit I won the Year 7 boys’ 100m race that year. At Wesley we had a great year group, a lot of diverse students and a strong boarding contingent.

I had so much opportunity to get involved in things that I never had growing up in a small country town. I was an average student (had to work hard) but loved sport, I played footy, hockey and water polo. At school I was also able to build some great life-long friendships.

Once you finished school, what was your pathway through university and into Woodside Energy?

I went through university doing an Economics degree not worrying too much about a job because a friend of my dad was going to employ me in merchant banking, however that all went pear-shaped pretty abruptly in 1987 when the stock market crashed. All of a sudden I had to look elsewhere for a job.

I knew nothing about oil and gas, but I went for a graduate interview at Woodside Energy, which I was lucky enough to get. I was then on a three year graduate program in Woodside’s Supply Chain, which I knew nothing about at first, but I got on well with people, spent time on site in Karratha and offshore in the early days learning how gas and LNG plants worked and which was all good for an Economist. Twenty years later I was the Vice President of Supply Chain/Logistics and Commercial, going up there as the ‘big boss’, we’d always have a good laugh about that with the people who taught me a lot on the shop floor years before. I spent just shy of 30 years at Woodside doing a range of jobs, the majority of which were in Commercial and Gas and LNG Marketing and leading various functions all which I really enjoyed. I retired as the Vice President of Australia Business and the CEO of the North West Shelf Gas Project in March 2018.

The job climate is tough for university graduates now, what advice do you have for young people trying to start their career?

The most important piece of advice I would give for Wesley students is to develop their networks and start that early. The networks you have and will grow are important. For example, Woodside take on approximately 150 university graduates a year and they received about 5,000 applications from around the world. The competition is fierce, you’ve got to use everything available to you and you can’t do it from your desk writing letters, you need to get out there and network.

Mentors can be just as important, I was lucky to have some very good mentors in my early years. You have to seek out people you can trust to provide you with guidance on both what you should do but even more importantly how you need to go about it. Mindsets and behaviours and the ‘soft’ skills are more important in a job interview than your technical skills and experience. Leaders generally ‘recruit for attitude and then will train you for skills’.

How would a young person build the confidence to cold-call a stranger asking for advice or help?

Young people may feel reluctant to pick up the phone and cold-call, but I guarantee if an Old Collegian (or any leader in an organization for that matter) answers the phone to a fellow Wesleyan (or young person) who says ‘Can I buy you a coffee, I wouldn’t mind some advice on….’, I guarantee you that person will say yes. It’s important to have the confidence to network, get out there and talk to people, because that’s how opportunities come about in many instances.
Cold-calling is easy, if you commit to taking the leap. It’s the courage bit, your mindset will play tricks on you and say ‘you can’t do that’. My advice – Just do it. You just have to get over it and say ‘I’m going to do it, what’s the worst that can happen’.

What do businesses look for when they’re employing people?

As I have mentioned above they look for attitude, your behaviours, and soft skills and find out who you are and what makes you tick. I have interviewed hundreds of young graduates and senior staff over my time and I personally never looked at just the CV. If they got through to me, they know the technical stuff. I looked for behaviors, what sort of person are they? Are they balanced, honest? I always asked a question like ‘What did your last boss say you should improve in’? If the answer is ‘I did that job pretty well’ or ‘nothing really’, then I never employed them, even if they had the best and smartest skills on the CV. Everyone can improve every day. We are always learning, making mistakes which we learn from. The person has to show me they’re thinking about what they do well and how they can improve, either themselves or how they can help others to improve.

What makes a good leader in the business world?

My view is that a leader has to be a listener. You’ve got ‘two ears and one mouth’, use them in those proportions. You’ve got to listen to people, take feedback and give feedback, whilst not over talking. As a leader you’re developing people, so if I’m having a performance discussion, I try to spend a third of my time talking about what is done really well. But what I want to do is help them, so I spend the rest of the discussion talking about what they can improve, how we can do it, how I can help them and what they can do for themselves. Leaders need to spend most of their time helping others. A leader’s job is to set the path forward, develop the people to deliver it, keep the process as simple as it should be and ‘stay out of their way’.

You built an incredible career, what was the driving factor behind retiring at 50?

I have retired from ‘paid employment’ not from work. I always had a plan, I’m a bit of an organized character, and all my mates would say that. I believe in a plan and I’m not a person who chases material things. As long as I’ve got my family, friends, health, hobbies, my surf and kite boards, my motocross bike, my 4wd, I’m pretty happy. I always wanted to give back and help others out, we’re only on this earth for a short period of time and I wanted to help others in a couple of areas where I am passionate.

There are a lot of people out there who are all work with no hobbies or other interests. I have lots of hobbies and to be honest they were building up, my volunteering was building up, I had a big job and I always made sure we had lots of family time. I had to give something up and albeit most would think I was crazy, after checking the long term finances, I said ‘stuff-it, I will give up paid employment’. I was only able to do this because I had a plan that I developed 10 years ago, tweaked it a bit over time but not significantly. I spent 12 months prior to the decision networking it with my family of course but also bouncing it off people I trusted, sought advice from a life coach and spoke to a psychologist. I worked through a little plan of what my purpose will be in the next 20 years, what are the four or five things I truly need to be happy and so long as I get them all is good.

Work/life balance is obviously something that is very important to you?

It is, and it should be important to everyone, but everyone has a different balance. Young people need to see role models who have got a strong work/life balance. Through technology, most young people are now connected 24/7, so most of my time with young people I mentor and help is spent helping them develop their own work/life balance plan.

Many graduates or young employees have a fear of having to do this or that or stay late. Companies and organisations these days are pretty progressive, they don’t expect that from employees. The problem is the individual does not really think about what their balance should be (your own ‘golden rules’ in my language) and then stick to those rules. Many get caught on some ‘work train’ which is their own supposed view of the world. Next thing you know, they’re working 55 hours a week and their relationships are struggling, for example, and they wonder why. It is the mindset of the individual that drives their behavior. I like helping the younger folk on having the right mindsets on this so called ‘work/life balance’ thing.

Talk about your experience with Diabetes WA and the Polly Farmer Institute?

When I decided to retire from paid employment I didn’t want to spread myself too thin so I chose to focus on two areas I wanted to help. I chose diabetes research and indigenous youth.

I was diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic at 36 and I was pretty lucky in that sense that it was late. It would be much more difficult for an individual and their family having to deal with juvenile diabetes at a young age or going through adolescence. I’m a practical guy, everyone gets something. I’ve got this, I might get something else, just get on with it is my philosophy.

I was really interested in the research side, I always want to learn something new. I wanted to help because I have skills in governance and I have networks, so I joined the board of Diabetes Research WA. We raise money and provide annual grants to WA researchers looking at prevention, management and hopefully one day contributing to a cure for Diabetes, one of the world’s fastest growing diseases. I like to see advancement and things improving, so whatever I can do to help them I do.

My passion to help indigenous people started from growing up in the South West, but I‘ve seen all the issues and spent time with indigenous groups through my career. I wanted to start by helping indigenous youth through education, my belief is you have to start helping the kids. If you can help one indigenous child get an education and then move onto a trade, a certificate or a degree or work placement then they are all the better for it and then their children will also have a better chance to realise their aspirations.

What inspired your desire to give back?

The right role models at an early age, that’s what it was for me.

My grandparents lived in Nolfolk Street opposite the Wesley gates. I used to go to their house often as a five year old for dinner and there’d be two indigenous boys from Darwin playing for Perth Football Club. They’d be down on their own and my grandmother would cook dinner for them a couple of times a week.

Another example was a mate of mine from Wesley whose mum used to deliver Meals on Wheels on weekends. She wouldn’t take us surfing until we had helped her deliver Meals on Wheels. It was half forced as a Year 9 kid who wanted to surf, but seeing that, it’s all role modelling. It all left an impression on me. I did not realise it at the time as I just wanted to get to the beach but later on I realized the benefit. That’s what I’m trying to do now. You look at some role models today and unfortunately our young people see a lot of the bad ones, and the media is mostly to blame for this. In politics, there’s backstabbing, individualism and selfishness. You look at the banking industry and all the greed surrounding the royal commission and you look at the sports stars that seem to always be in the news and that have not been positive role models. There’s many more positive role models though, they just don’t grab the media’s attention. They’re in this school, they’re in the community, they are in sporting clubs, organisations, not for profits and even Government. Everyone can give back and be a role model in giving back to the younger folk. It is just about doing the little things and sometimes doing them once is enough to encourage someone else to do it for the first time. So the next time you do your meals on wheels duty grab your son or daughter (or grandchild) and their scruffy blond haired friend and take them with you!

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