CREATING
INDUSTRY'S
FUTURE LEADERS

David Hart

Background

For the past two years I have been the CEO of Dematec Group, an Adelaide based engineering organisation that has traditionally provided industrial automation services to a wide range of industry sectors (including manufacturing, infrastructure, defence, and food and beverage). Over the past five years, Dematec has diversified from our original core business (industrial automation services) into a group of four companies (Dematec Automation, Dematec Energy, Dematec Water, and Critical Asset Protection) offering product based solutions in addition to our engineering services. This has allowed Dematec to enter new industry sectors (such as electrical utilities and ports) as well as new geographic markets, which has resulted in us recently opening a Melbourne office.

This diversification has brought its own set of challenges and opportunities, and it was clear to me that I had to improve my performance as a leader to generate the best outcomes for Dematec in the rapidly changing Australian business landscape.

ILF application process

I had heard the Industry Leaders Fund mentioned (in highly favourable terms) by a number of business associates over the past few years. A number of people had recommended that I apply for it. I subsequently researched the ILF program on-line, and that raised a couple of issues in my mind. Firstly, was I a worthy applicant, given the calibre of previous grant recipients, and secondly, what aspects of my professional development should I be looking to address?Having given these issues due consideration, I commenced the application process.

The application process involved three stages:

1.  An Initial Grant Application Form (approximately two pages long)

2.  The Stage 2 Grant Application Form (approximately two pages long)

3.  An interview with the Industry Leaders Fund Board members

Initial Grant Application

This was a relatively straightforward document that covered the main key areas:

1.  Past educational and training activities

2.  Work history

3.  Community activities

4.  Purpose for applying for the ILF Grant

In the lead up to the due date for the Initial Grant Application, ILF held an information evening where more than ten educational institutions had representatives to assist potential grant applicants in deciding on their professional development activity. In my case, I elected to apply for the Leading for Strategic Success program at Mt Eliza Business School, with the aim of improving my leadership style and performance.

Stage 2 Grant Application

For those applicants that progressed to the second round, there was a more comprehensive application document that covered:

1.  Personal leadership experience

2.  Your views about the characteristics that make a great leader

3.  Your personal improvement opportunities

4.  How you would benefit from an ILF Grant

5.  How your company would benefit from an ILF Grant

What wider benefit will be provided to the South Australian community?

I found this to be a highly thought provoking exercise, as it is very easy to be isolated in the cocoon of your day to day activities with your family and workplace, and not consider the wider impacts of your actions as a leader, and as a member of the community.

This process actually prompted me to consider where I could use my competencies and connections to provide value for those outside my immediate network. As a result, I have increased my involvement with the not for profit organisation, Schools in Business, to take on the roles of Deputy Chair and Treasurer.

Interview with the Industry Leaders Fund Board members

The final stage of the ILF application process is the one I found the most challenging, an interview with the ILF Board, which contains some of the luminaries of South Australian industry including, in my case, Colin Peters, Bernie Kavanagh, Mark Canny, and of course Geoff Vogt.

Over the course of 15, minutes I was grilled as to why I deserve the grant, what I see as the attributes and role of a good leader, what I would do in a variety of challenging scenarios, etc., though Geoff was sympathetic enough to pose a few simpler questions to bolster my confidence.

I came away less confident about my chances than when I had gone in, but it was a valuable experience, and obviously worked out well for me in the end.

ILF Scholars Network

Another ongoing benefit of completing the ILF program is the opportunity to join the ILF Scholars Network. The first event that I am due to attend is in May and I’m sure that the opportunity to network with, and learn from, the ILF alumni will be a highly valuable ongoing experience.

In short, I would highly recommend the Industry Leaders Fund program to any aspiring leader, not only for the grant opportunity, but also for the personal development experience of the application process.

Training program selected

I selected the Leading for Strategic Success program at Mt Eliza Business School with the aim of improving my leadership style and performance. The need to be able to think strategically and then execute according change throughout the organisation had been emphasised in the Business Model Innovation program run by Professor Goran Roos that I attended in 2013. I had then experienced such challenges in diversifying from a service based offering to a suite of products with Dematec Group. As a result, I saw great merit in undertaking a program that covered both strategic and leadership components. Further to this, discussion with previous participants in Mt Eliza programs led me to the conclusion that it is one of the premier institutions in Australia for this type of leadership development.

The description of the Mt Eliza Leading for Strategic Success program is copied in below.

‘The program is aimed at building the leadership skills in participants to be able to think strategically, implement change, foster team members, build alliances, and adapt to the evolving business landscape. It will also help in understanding your personal leadership style and enhance your capability to engender success both personally and in business.’

Training experience

I undertook the Leading for Strategic Success program at Mt Eliza in March 2015. I found it to be a highly valuable program in a number of respects.

Firstly, there was a very strong emphasis on the impact of your personal leadership style and performance on others, internal and external to your organisation. Although this is somewhat intuitive, to have it highlighted so vigorously over the course of the residential week program (as well as in 360 degree surveys in the lead up) was quite compelling (and confronting). There was something of a mantra that if a leader wishes to enact meaningful change within their organisation, the leader should start with themself. This meant quite a lot reflective consideration of one’s behaviours and motivators, which was not something I had expected going into the program, but a very beneficial activity nonetheless.

Secondly, the calibre of participants in the program was very high. This provided a great deal of value as I found that many of the leadership issues and challenges that I face are similar to those that leaders in entirely different industries also confront. As the program is residential, there was ample opportunity to get to know the other participants on a personal level, which facilitated very open sharing of experiences about a whole range of topics and issues. In some ways, it was comforting that high achieving leaders in major organisations do not necessarily have all the answers and wrestle with many of the same issues as more fledgling aspirants.

Outcomes and the future

I have come away from the Leading for Strategic Success program with a number of personal development goals identified during the intensive self-reflection sessions. The program emphasised that in order to change Dematec for the better, it is incumbent on me as a leader to commence these improvements. One of the major areas for improvement is my internal and external communication, with a conscious effort to raise the profile of Dematec in the marketplace. I hope that the results of some of this effort will be evident soon.

From an organisational viewpoint, the development and execution of a sound strategy and the building of an engaged team are keys to Dematec’s ongoing success. I’m certain that the Leading for Strategic Success program has provided me with the insights and tools to make this happen.