Think HBR

Let’s Talk With Adrian Price

Adrian Price2
1. In a few words tell us about your current role.
My current role is the Regional Manager for the Australian Industry Group for the Hunter, Central Coast and Northern NSW. Everywhere from “Woy Woy to Wallangarra” but in reality mostly the Hunter, Central Coast and lower North Coast. We are an industry association with a concentration in manufacturing and technology.
2. How have you reached this point in your professional life?
I have had a working life of 51 years, which for various reasons became more interesting after age 40. I started at the Sydney Water Board three days before my 17th birthday, being a graduate of the last NSW Leaving Certificate. I graduated to the complaints desk (not customer service in
those days) and developed my problem solving and negotiating skills. I did a 4 year TAFE Certificate in Personnel Administration without setting foot in a Personnel Department. That came later when I critiqued a presentation by a manager on psychology at my next employer NSW
Department of Mines. He saw some promise in me. That began a career of 37 years in HR related fields – 24 years in Government, one year in private sector consulting and 15 years with Ai Group. Along the way I collected a Post Grad Diploma in HR&IR and a Bachelor of Applied Social Science in majoring in Psychology and Sociology. (Yes in that order!) In 2010 I took up my current role at age 62 which is about business development, member relations and industry promotion. I had no idea where I would end up, but it has been a blast.
3. When you’re not at work, where can we find you?
I am sad really as my work is my major passion. My spare time is spent with my wife, daughters and granddaughters. To relax I pursue a long term passion of steam engines. I bought a 14 ton steam roller when I was 15 and I was a founder of the Campbelltown Steam Museum in 1975. I hold a steam traction engine driver’s and locomotive boiler attendant’s certificate but these days I prefer to do HO scale railway modelling.
4. Where do you find inspiration?
In 1970 when I was 21, I had a meeting with the Superintendent of Tramways in Ballarat. He told me how he started out as a junior Clerk at Camberwell Depot in Melbourne. In those days there was a 44 hour week and people worked on Saturday morning. There was a morning and midday peak hour. The Tramways Union were having a meeting after the mid day peak and were rumoured to be going out for the weekend.
The boss of the depot went home and left my mentor to “mind the shop”. Surprise, surprise, the men voted to go back to work. A big boss came in and said to the junior. “Where is Fred?” “He’s gone home”. “Do you know anything about rostering son?” “No but I have watched how it is done” “Do you think you could have a go?” “I will do my best.” “That’s all I ask.” So he set to work and the system was working perfectly within 2 hours of the men returning. On Monday he was in head office. My first lesson in taking a risk and going the extra mile.
5. What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your field?
My advice is to read widely, identify changes that are emerging and position yourself to either take advantage of the change or to become a driver of it. Leaders have to be out in front exploring the unknown before it becomes known and then making it OK for others to venture there. The ability to sell the message is also of paramount importance.
6. What’s something most people don’t know about you?
It is amazing how strength can be borne from adversity. In the 1990s I did a really brave thing for a Public Servant and landed a contract senior executive service position in corporate HR. My duty statement was really a blank sheet of paper and I had to identify stakeholders, visit
and understand their parts of the business, ask where we could be of assistance and build a business plan (never had done one). 7 months later I was made redundant in “the recession we had to have”. Just before the axe fell I had a conversation with my wife that I could not get sign-off on my business plan and that I might not be working here much longer.
She said “That’s OK. You have won jobs before you can land one again!” Lesson learned – how to be an executive leader, managing the customer interphase. Then I landed a job in the private sector in skills analysis and 12 months later I was made redundant again (with a new mortgage) – Lesson 2 how not to run a consulting business. Eventually I obtained some casual work back in Government and then into a new consulting division where I became co-manager with a woman. It was great working with a woman as an equal in a very creative operation – Lesson 3 I learned from her to be bold and go out and get what you want. I was a changed professional after those 2 years. It would be 15 years before I could put those lessons to use again.
7. How would you like to see the Hunter evolve over the next decade?
I am a “refugee from Sydney” in 2008 landing here not by boat but by car.
I came on a transfer in IR work with Ai Group. In 2010 my predecessor resigned as Regional Manager. The role was restructured and the umbilical cord of IR was cut off. I found myself with virtually a blank duty statement (again) and had to create the role. It was a weird kind of stress – liberating but scary. In Sydney with Ai Group I had worked with SME manufacturers in South Western Sydney for 15 years. I knew how regions worked and the problems facing manufacturers at the end of the industrial age - now that is scary. I have been fortunate to have led two overseas Trade Missions to Germany in 2013 and Pittsburgh USA in 2015. The learnings from those have shaped Ai Group’s strategy for local manufacturing and the reports can be viewed on our webpage Those countries have 250 years plus of manufacturing knowledge – we have 150 which is still solid. Ai Group’s Four Big Ideas for Hunter Manufacturing in 2016-2017 are:
• To hold a Makers Festival to bring together innovative manufacturers,researchers, start-ups and students – conducted in 2016
• To encourage a larger investor community to fund start-up tech companies – in progress
• To encourage the NSW Government to recognise the Hunter as “an international centre of engineering excellence” – currently negotiating for inclusion in the Greater Newcastle metropolitan Plan – which will scale up Newcastle as a Global City
• To encourage the NSW Government to market the region to international engineering tech companies to set up here – longer term
I am immensely enthusiastic about the future for the Hunter, its economy, its people and its industry. We have a window of probably 2 years to make our mark on Australia and the world and then we can expect to see the signs of significant new prosperity from new technology players. We need this to secure a future for our children and grand children as participants, not spectators, in a technology enhanced world.
8. Are you reading anything at the moment?
“The Smartest Places on Earth – from Rustbelts to Brainbelts”
9. What’s the best line from a film you’ve ever heard?
“Everything will be all right in the end and if it is not all right , it is not the end” Sonny in “The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel” – a seniors’ cult film.