In August 2016, the newly-appointed General Manager of Tianqi Lithium Australia, Philip Thick (72-76), faced the prospect of constructing the World’s Largest Lithium processing facility. Over the next four years, Philip would steer the revolutionary $400 million project to new heights by employing over 200 West Australians and supplying lithium to the battery-hungry technology sector. Community Relations Intern, Lachlan Fitzgerald (13-18), sat down with Philip to find out what it takes to be successful in business.
Philip Thick (72-76) is best known for his roles at the heavyweights of the oil, gas, and chemical manufacturing industries. Working his way to the position of Executive Director of Shell Australia, the Australian subsidiary of the second-largest oil and gas producer in the world, Philip has travelled to work in places most people would not dare go.
Now heading up the Australian operations of Tianqi Lithium, the company controlling 46% of global lithium production, Philip is at the forefront of meeting the rapidly growing demand for the battery hungry technology sector.
Over the winter holidays, I sat down with Philip when he visited the Wesley College campus. With thousands of school leavers choosing to pursue business studies each year, it has long fascinated me how one climbs the corporate ladder to get to the top of their game.
I wanted to see what could be learned from him, but I also wanted to understand how his success in large corporations and businesses came about. There are only a finite number of available positions and finding your point-of-difference in a competitive market is tough.
Is it really what you know, who you know, or a combination of both?
Philip studied Civil Engineering at the University of Western Australia (UWA) and was recruited by Alcoa Australia in his first role. Philip ascertains that the job at Alcoa gave him a ‘really solid grounding’ but credits his interests in the finance and people-managing aspects of business as the driving factor in his decision to move into big business.
Successful business people have by design an appetite for opportunity. This would be evident in Philip’s
decision to move to Shell Australia. In a career with the company spanning 20 years, he progressed to the Board of Directors for Shell Australia and lived and travelled around the world.
During a three-year stint living abroad in London, Philip had the opportunity to work in over 46 countries across Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean. Philip said, ‘there were great opportunities to change roles, and Shell was incredibly flexible’. He also spent two years living in Darwin and eight years in Melbourne.
While travel is part-and-parcel of the oil and gas industry, Philip still claims that Perth is the best place to live, highlighting how lucky we are to be isolated from the world— especially in the current COVID-19 pandemic. When Philip returned to Perth, he chose to send his son, Stephen Thick (06-10), to Wesley College.
In his current role, Philip is the General Manager of Tianqi Lithium Australia. Philip said that being involved in the lithium plant, which was the first of its kind outside of China, was an exciting prospect.
‘I was the third employee at the company, and now we employ over 200 Western Australians from the local community.’ Lithium has a bright future, with global demand forecast to continue to increase, particularly with the rapid move across the globe to electric vehicles.
In a whirlwind of commitments, one must ask: how can you possibly find time for yourself? With men’s mental health becoming a more prevalent topic for discussion in the public arena, Philip says being involved in the community, through services like Avivo and the Disability Services Commission, is how he finds his own downtime. ‘People who work in those services are amazing, and their work is incredibly important.’
It was clear to me that Philip holds contributing his time to the community in high regard. He currently serves as the Chair of the Perth Symphony Orchestra and the Chamber of Arts and Culture—Western Australia. He has served on the Wesley College Council and often comes back to the College in his position as Chair of the Endowment Fund Committee.
When asked about today’s job market, Philip was quick to mention the constantly changing nature of jobs, including the rapid development of new Artificial Intelligence (AI) and software in industry.
While change is inevitable, and developments in industry cannot be controlled, Philip also encouraged young people to not be afraid to change their own course if it is not a good fit.
‘At the time, you think that a year or two is a long time. When you get to my age, and in the longer term, you realise that it’s much better to change’.
I was beginning to see that daring to adapt to this change was the catalyst driving Philip to his own success. In following his personal interests, he pursued a totally different pathway from which he started at university.
While preparing for my interview with Philip, Wesley’s Director of Finance, Geoff Searle, told me that if there was one thing I would take away from meeting Philip, it was that he was a ‘really good guy’.
This clearly shone through when I asked Philip what was his greatest achievement in business.
He responded: human safety. Working in places like Pakistan, where life was unfairly cheap, Philip said he had the opportunity to place a higher regard on preserving human life. Working with Shell gave him the opportunity to develop policies to guarantee a greater emphasis on the safety of workers in developing countries.
Even now, after so many experiences, Philip holds his time at Wesley in high regard. He received an academic scholarship and credits his ‘exceptionally strong parents and family’ for the opportunities he received later.
Philip still jokes that the only problem he faced during his time at Wesley was studying English. ‘My Year 12 English teachers were incredibly persistent with me.’
However, upon learning Philip achieved straight As in Year 12, as well as being awarded Dux of College and receiving a General Exhibition Prize, I think English may not have been a problem at all.
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