Making Decisions and Holding Yourself Accountable – Tom Houston

Making Decisions and Holding Yourself Accountable

Tom Houston - SMM

With 47 years of experience since he started his apprenticeship, our guest today Tom Houston certainly has a lot of knowledge to share. An electrician by trade, Tom worked his way up through basically every role imaginable to move through to a maintenance manager position, and also senior management for central maintenance groups. 

Tom was very interested in continuing study to better his skill set and has completed a great deal of post-trade study. He has worked in production roles and health and safety roles and believes that his time on both sides of the fence has given him a good holistic understanding of how to structure a successful site and this has contributed to his successes throughout the years.  

We’re sure that you will take plenty of learnings from this conversation and this will give you the knowledge to employ the insights learned here in your organizations to get more from your assets.

For more resources and information, head to the Bluefield Asset Management website.

To learn more about getting the most out of your assets, grab a copy of Gerard’s book Simplifying Mining Maintenance.

Some Topics That We Cover

  • When monitoring your equipment, use gear to track the trends and track the issues over time
  • Working together as one team – doing your budgets together, being aware of your common goals
  • How to reduce costs in an economic downturn
  • Figuring out what you can shift from fixed time to interval when maintaining equipment and working with budget constraints
  • Engaging the sites and the OEM’s
  • Important decision making processes and holding yourself accountable
  • To be a good leader takes courage

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Read The Full Podcast Transcript Below


Voiceover: Welcome to the Bluefield 30 in 30 series where we interview mining industry professionals with more than 30 years of experience and capture their key learnings in 30 minutes. We hope this experience share is valuable for those dealing with similar issues within their businesses.


Gerard Wood: Okay. Welcome to the Bluefield 30 in 30 interviews where we chat with maintenance managers with 30 years plus and try and condense their experience into 30 minutes. Today, I’m joined by Tom Houston. Tom’s got many more than 30 years of experience and has worked in all roles that you can do in maintenance from starting out as a lackey and been through every role as well as maintenance manager and then senior manager for central maintenance scripts. Tom, can you just fill in the gaps around your experience and background and let us know what you do in the day?

Tom Houston: Righto, Gerard, no probs. [laughs] Firstly, many more than 30 years.

Gerard: [laughs]

Tom: I was thinking about this, this morning. 47 years since I started my apprenticeship.

Gerard: Awesome.

Tom: I’m an electrician by trade and I did bits of everything after that, post-trade study. Well, quite a bit of that over the years. I had a real interest in learning more about this RCM stuff and all that stuff. I’ve been in a couple of different production roles, health, safety, and training roles. I think that those blends and I’ll talk more about that as we go but I think that really being on both sides of the fence really gives you a good understanding of what it’s all about. I did my apprenticeship many years ago at Mount Isa when they had really big apprenticeship schemes.

Really brought a lot of young fellows along and then the instrumentation in those days which was you could do bits and pieces of tape that no one- there was no formal EI like there is nowadays. They took the ones who got the best tape results and NTRN put you into workshops. It was fantastic. We did early days electronics. Now, we were still doing cathode-ray oscilloscopes and the old valves. We were at the end of the valve, the beginning of the transistor era. A lot of the instrumentation was pneumatics. Pneumatic chart recorders and all that stuff. A lot of bailey and gear.

That was really good. Then, I worked as a contractor for a year or more in Mary Kathleen which is shut down years and around Mount Isa. That was good to come from doing your time in a heavy industrial post where you’re fairly– The work isn’t a lot of construction or installations, spent a year doing construction work which was good. Then I got into coal fields and I had quite a few different roles in coal mines.

Gerard: Those first years in metals mines, they were primarily a fixed plant environment?

Tom: Yes. Fixed plants. Concentrators, melders, a little bit of underground stuff just not a lot but going down taking readings, checking gear out. That sort of thing. Yes, it was all processing type plants.

Gerard: Then, you moved into the coal industry?

Tom: Yes.

Gerard: That was still in a plant environment?

Tom: No. That was a bit of everything. In those days, you cover the whole mine basically. On a plant down day, you went over there, dragline down there, you went to the dragline or the drills, shovels. Still no mobile. We didn’t have any, there was no electric drive gear back in those days. Closest we got were drills and shovels and that sort of stuff which were fully electric then. When I was in Blackwater, I went to a little- a small mine. I started there as the mine electrician because I’ve done my mine electricians course in the days when you– Well, I won’t say in a cornflakes packet but we had a boss who was really interested in developing his people.

He was a great superintendent and he would pay us more and you had to stay back in the afternoons and trying us up on things like fault levels and what that stuff was about which you’d never really did as an electrician. He was really good, a guy called Les Allison. He loved that stuff, bringing young blokes along. That’s how I got my mine electrician’s ticket. Then the opportunity came up in this little mine that was starting. Two years is my ticket, so I did. I went there for a while and it was only a very small show. Ended up going back into the bigger mines. Then I went from there into sugar milling.

I had a couple of years in the sugar mill which was really good. Those guys are very self-contained. I went in there as an instrument tech which was good too. Not just the old lackey again. Then I went into my first supervision role after that back into coal. I spent five to six years there at that mine.

Gerard: When did you start the study?

Tom: I’ve did bits all the way through, really. Gerard, it was interesting. I did all sorts of things like power line stuff because I was interested in poles, stays where the balance weight you see on a lot of stuff that when you look up and you wonder what the hell it is, you’ll learn about the two-way radios, a course on that. Then when I went back into coal again, I actually did my electronics. I did two years of electronics. I started in AD in electrical engineering in those days, then I had babies. I didn’t finish which is a bit of a bummer because I was doing quite well and enjoyed it but I got back into studying in later years again and did the primary in maintenance management.

I was then using my mine electrician’s foot ticket full blind, I was a supervisor and worked in both the plant and the field areas, dragline, shovels, the same old stuff. First place, I really had exposure to PLCs and things were coming along in those years. That was fun learning, doing a bit of planner in, a bit harder when you are a supervisor.

Then I went back into hard rock mining, magnesite which was really good because it was a greenfield site and I could use the tools, I’ve learned to drive equipment. I was a mine electrician so a registered position and a production foreman, a really good role. I didn’t get to use the tools much. We had our own electricians but there was no demarkation I found that a real breath of fresh air from where I’d come. I did that for a couple of years. Then back in the coal industry.

That was really a financial consideration at that stage. Then, once again in a statutory role. It was an underground coal mine but I looked after the surface. A lot of the same gear, the old 13-17 machines the drag-alongs and things but very good machines as in. Then across to another coal mine further down south but as a maintenance planner, it was a place I really wanted to go but the planning part are done bits of study. I was really keen to try something different, got in there as a planner and did that for another few years and I ended up- the guy who was the mine electrician left.

I was a maintenance planner and a mine electrician. Then the job comes up with the coal plant to look after the production of the plant. I applied for that and got it. I thought for a little while I was mine electrician and a production manager. Until I got someone in place but yes, I got into production which I really enjoyed. Then I went into a health, safety and training role. That was reporting straight to the GM. I looked after a few people in those different roles. It was a passion of mine in health and safety but I was disappointed because I wanted to change the world and I was really passionate about it but it just came down to doing reports because the frontline leaders, another learning, I guess. I always knew that.

They’re the guys who make the difference but to support them properly is not easy when you’re tangled up in reporting and auditing. Then from there into a corporate role in the city, once again, that was the difference. I went to a specialist role. Then, after a couple of years into a principal advisor, then I got into a manager.

Gerard: When you went into that specialist role, is that when you got into mobile equipment because I know you’ve done some great work in mobile and extending life in machines and components and things?

Tom: Yes. It was a little bit of exposure at the mine before that because there were electric trucks when I was planning but because the mechanical guys really own the costing and a lot of the stuff, we only own the planning and the bit around the wheel motors. It was more when I went to Brisbane. One of the first jobs I got because we were only a very small team, was doing the equipment forecast for all of the pits that were tied up with this company. It was quite a few at the time.

I started learning what these yellow things were. Doing the forecasting for equipment replacement and chasing sites, making sure they get their capital, all those things but then, looking also at component forecasting which was the next step.

Gerard: Okay. I’ll get into a few of these other questions. Tell us about the first time you became a maintenance manager or production manager. Let’s call it an asset manager. What were your thoughts at the time and your aspirations?

Tom: As I was talking about before, my first senior role was actually a production role in a coal plant. From an asset management point of view, it was one of the bigger learnings of my career I think. When I had been at that hard rock mine earlier when I was a production foreman, that was also very good. When you go into the next level, you got to worry about what all the teams are doing and how they’re treating that piece of plant, it was a real learning for me from both sides. The guys were all either tradesmen or semi-skilled, the operators. There was a mix, so we could do bits of maintenance ourselves. What our fan and thinking about it then was, “Well, these guys, they’re pretty good but they react to things, hey, can we do it a bit better?” I actually bought infrared guns for each of the crews in their lockers and little vibration sensors. They’re only rough but they gave them an idea. It was just to give them some guidance. Rather than, “Oh, that’s hot. Hey, it’s 85 degrees and it shouldn’t be any more than ideal 70 so there’s something going on here.”

Then you can do that bit of trending when you had a problem better than where you’re running, maybe a hose on the way around it, you go down, just right up on the board they were, “Boys, I want you to record the temperature and write it up here.”

Gerard: You’re starting to get up that PF curve a bit.

Tom: Exactly. The operators, they’re your first response, they’re your first aiders. They can hear what’s going on, they know the machine and if it’s doing something different to normal, they should know. Then it’s about coaching them in the O for R operate for reliability, whatever you want to call it, but instead of just walking around there, they’re guys, look for this, look for that.

We got very good at patching and that’s not in a bad sense of things. If you want to plan to go till it’s next scheduled downtime, there’s some really good gear available to magnetic patches on shoots, fiberglass bandages on pipes and things that will last you quite a while. If you know that you’ve got an event coming up, and the operations guys with a little bit of hindsight, little bit of thinking, right now let’s just get that fixed, raise the notification, make sure you do it properly.

It’s all those key things about reporting clearly, giving really good reporting on the downtime system, because we had to enter all the detail making sure that that was clear, they got the times right. All those things you can give maintenance a hand with. I was really lucky because I worked with two different maintenance superintendents over that period, there wasn’t like us and them, we really worked together well.

We planned their budgets together. All that sort of stuff was done without any of that adversarial stuff that you see around quite a lot.

Gerard: Yes, great. Your aspirations for that role, did you realize that or?

Tom: I think so. If I think about why I took the role on, I was looking to develop myself but also to do something a bit different. When you have been in the planning role or whatever for a number of years, there comes a, “I want to do something different, I want a bit of a challenge.” The production side was a really good challenge. During that period, we went from five days a week while I was in the role, it might have been a year after I went into the role, we went from five days a week to seven days a week.

Five million tonnes to over seven million tonnes throughput. Put new teams on, hired guys and I say guys because we didn’t have any girls in our teams and we had a girl process engineer who was really good. All through that five years or so, I was there we had no LTIs. I sit back and think about how did we go, I think we did really well as a team and then personally, it was a big development thing for me.

The other part of the production learning, I guess, was looking at how maintenance impacts on you as well as how you impact on them. You run the plant in order consistently, you don’t try and overload it, do all those good operating practices, then you still see– We had open discussions about this, things like after a damn day you’d have poor commissioning and something that improved a lot but start a pump up.

I’d bind or belts would slip, grubby slip-on belts then I had to go and talk to the customer over the road in power station about why did this lump of steel end up in your domain over here, guys? You saw those sides of things too and realize, “Hey, that’s not good practice.” We can talk to the maintenance guys about that and learning for myself.

Gerard: I love that about working together as one team doing your budgets together and not having this us and them type of culture. Can you tell us about a time when you had the best outcomes from your assets, how you measured success and what you believed were the site three, whatever key elements to achieving the outcome?

Tom: When I was in a corporate role, which was unusual to have a big success, we talked about earlier. About 2013, I had a couple of regional teams I looked after, plus a central group here in Brisbane. Things went really bad in the mining world around that period and so the consultants were called in, McKinsey was called in. All of the sites were given these what they call breathtaking targets and they were breathtaking.

From a maintenance perspective across all of the five pits at the time, there was a 20% reduction. They were told, “You will reduce your maintenance costs by 20%.” Now, me being in a central tactics reliability, long term planning type role, I was tasked with coordinating the reduction in the PM side of thing, the primary maintenance. I actually worked very closely with a guy who now works for Bluefield, who was a manager on one of the sites at the time.

He was the leading light in leading a lot of this work and getting the sites on board. We had a couple of initial workshops with a couple of managers and key people. Righto, what are we going to do in this world of primary maintenance to cut down the cost? You guys can look at other bits and pieces around efficiency and whatever else but what are we going to do? Centrally, we can standardize and get this to all your sites.

There were three key areas. These aren’t the elements for success, this is just the areas. We only looked at the high-cost items. We did some workaround where are we spending all their dollars? In mobile, we didn’t do the coal plants, we did a bit of work there I might talk about it later maybe not, but in the mobile world, trucks, diggers, and dozers run. We didn’t worry about draglines and electric shovels.

We did the hydraulic excavators, trucks, and dozers. That where all their big dollars were. The first thing was to get rid of what we called gold plating. In those days, the good old days the truck had come in from a midlife or whatever, did some work. They’d paint the cad, replace all of the hydraulic hoses, do the whole shipment I should say rather, all that’s out. There is no more gold plating. We do what we have to do. We don’t have to paint trays when they come and get repaired like we used to.

The gold plating is gone, the service intervals and we really push the boundaries here, 250 hours to 750 and all of it we push to counter base. For a couple of reasons, it was around getting the routine but also you could get ownership of certain fleets with certain crews. They’d come in when they are on day shift or whatever. There was some method for that.

What was happening at the same time because obviously the mining guys were under the pump too, we were getting at a couple of the mines, our utilization for going through the roof for us in the ’70s and that was unheard of. We’re doing more hours straight away and then we’re pushing these things out. Servicing went wire, and that’s changing oils, and the whole servicing piece.

We kept the sampling though at the 250 hour because we didn’t want to rush in and then start destroying their fleets. Then the third thing was the CBC, we came up with a new name for condition-based change here. In mobile guys, all they’ve ever been is component changes. “I think it’s going to last till 10,000 hours, I’ll change it anyhow, I don’t care.” Except for some of the critical drive train components, which we left on a fixed time, but extended their intervals.

We determined the critical ones that had to be changed at a fixed time because historically, we know that…

Gerard: In terms of those components, you were looking at all the components? You didn’t say okay, we’re just going to focus on final drives and engines or something like that or did you have a particular focus on those components but then include all the other smaller things as well?

Tom: We had a workshop that looked at what were the high risk if you did have a fail if you move them from fixed time, and that’s how we come up with a number of things, mainly mechanical, like wheel motors and things you can keep an eye on them. That was workshop with reliability engineers and I’ll get to the workshop in a bit too, but the OEM is really bought in.

I was really pleased when OEM we had a bit of trouble with, but in general, they were really keen to be involved because they knew what was going on in the industry, even though they will lose a lot of money because they have equipment forecast, man oh man.

Tom: Our component focus really changed. We had these initial workshops to decide some of that stuff. Every site then sent to a series of workshops, we had to actually look at the components and what we were going to do and what we’re actually going to do physically.

There were REs from every site, key supervisors, superintendents, and even the managers became involved. Then we got all of the key OEMs. We had a workshop on 793797 the kept guys that Hastings guys would be in there. We went through and reviewed every component, what were the risks. Every component then got an estimated life. You got to have a starting point.

It destroys your set BB. You’re budgeting becomes much harder. The budgets had to get built a lot more based on an estimate. Once we had all these workshops, made final decisions on what was gold plating, what we’re just going to let go, what’s going to run to failure, then because I looked after the central group, the BREs and the guys who built the maintenance plans and all that sort of stuff.

From a central point of view, we then took all that information, built new sheets, built new maintenance plans with the new frequencies. Centrally, we built those tools, built common instructions and maintenance plans. That I think was part of the payout too instead of every site doing what they wanted, run around. We had this agreement because we had all these guys from the site.

Gerard: Well, that’s what I was going to ask. You’re doing this work centrally but to deploy that you had the sites owning it in terms of deployment and stuff.

Tom: Yes. One of the questions there was how do we know we’re doing well? Well, because it’s the management consultant-driven thing and they’ve got all of the very senior leaders on board so we’re under the pump here. We had to build value trackers and say, we’re looking very closely at what was going on. A team in another part of the asset management world in town looked at the lifecycle plans and those sorts of things. You could imagine that the first year after we did it, cost plummeted. Now talking about 20% and I don’t think I mentioned the value. Across these five pits, we cut probably minus only $56 million a year, annually, year-on-year from the budget. They had to find other money.

Gerard: What percentage was that?

Tom: They had to get 20%. That was over 10%.

Gerard: Basically, $56 million year-on-year you’ve reduced it from what a $500 million or so spend–

Tom: Primary maintenance spend yeah.

Gerard: You’ve taken that down bit over to 10%.

Tom: Because you can imagine there’s a lot more in corrective and whatever.

Gerard: For sure.

Tom: From a value tracking point of view, we were forced into it. What I was getting to earlier is we knew we’d see a big dial because we pushed a lot of components back. They’re going to reappear. They don’t go forever, and we knew that they’d be this cyclical thing. I’ll get to what happened later because things were in a bad way. Not too long after that our team got decimated, but anyhow, the three key elements I think to why it was successful. One it was a burning platform. You understand the business, boys, get your ass into gear.

Two was we engaged sites and the OEMs. That engagement I think was critical. There’s still a big piece of work change management missing there. We had all of the like REs, planners and those roles. They’re superintendents. We didn’t have the tradesmen again so big piece of change management work for sites and we put together chain communication packs. I don’t know how well that went out there. This was a revolution, not evolution. They had to change their mind thinking from I’m going to change that component to now I’ve got to make sure that component makes it as long as I can. That was the second thing. The third thing I think was we did it quickly, and we did it standardized. Everyone got the same. If you hadn’t tried to do that in the good times, no way known to man.

Gerard: Because people wouldn’t own it.

Tom: You can’t convince them. Sometimes you got to be told.

Gerard: It’s amazing when you’re faced with a business need, how much value you can extract from that area. Some years ago, I did probably three or four sites. Say we took 200 work orders and then we got the guys from that site to review them and say, “Is this a necessary task or are we doing that because something’s not operating correctly, or we didn’t maintain it correctly, or it’s just a task that is being done too frequently, or whatever,” and to categorize them in a certain way. Every time we did that exercise, we decided that 30% of the work could be eliminated through different operating practices. You just didn’t need to do it or if we did our maintenance correctly in the first place. 30% of the whole workload that we did we can eliminate. It’s huge.

Tell us about your worst experience as a maintenance manager. How did it occur and what did you do to respond to the situation?

Tom: This one flows directly on from the last one. As I was saying at the end of that one about how the team not too much longer after that disappeared. That, to me, was my worst experience. I don’t know how many days I spent giving redundancies to people. Some went well, some didn’t. As an experience as a maintenance manager, that was probably the worst one I got tangled up with. It prompted me to do a bit of thinking, a bit of evaluation of it. When I think about what happened, I think we got too big too quick. We went from a team of six to a team of 86. I can understand that we probably got too big, and some of the areas we had could have been reduced, but in the end, they just cut the whole lot out.

The only response that we really had was to try and make sure that a lot of the good standards and procedures we’d put together weren’t lost. That was helped by key people like long-term planners and others, engineering and whatever, who went back into sites because we’d strip the sites of those roles to form the central teams. A lot of those guys went back to site. It was a real revolution that stuff. Talking to guys since then, they’ve refined some of that but it’s still in those big games that we might have still there. I find that really satisfying. I think that it was work that really worked. We challenged and it was successful.

Gerard: We all have times when the GM wants more for less, or when the GM is not satisfied with maintenance. Can you describe your most difficult time with the GM and how you went about making sure you deliver the business bottom line outcomes or what they were really after?

Tom: I can’t think of a time when in a maintenance role I had an issue with a GM really putting the claims on or cutting costs. When I was in an interesting and health safety and training role so I digress again, but it’s the learnings are still there.

Gerard: That’s right. It’s the same.

Tom: I had a general manager. I reported directly to him. He wouldn’t make decisions after a couple of times along taking everything possible solutions, all of the data, but he’d still want to consult with others and do this. In the end, I started making decisions myself and outside of my probably limits of accountability quite often. If you don’t make a decision, you become paralyzed. I guess it made me think more about what can really go wrong because if it really goes wrong, I’m going to be in big trouble. It made me do contingency thinking and it’s easy when someone else ticks a box. When you got to go in there and put this thing in like if you’re a GM yourself or whatever at a higher level, like yourself and owning a business, you’re going to make a decision and you’re going to think about what might go wrong.

One of the learnings from me there was, think possible solutions and what’s the best one. Also, use your people. I had a great little team there. They were really good then I had, “Righto Tom. this is how we’re going to do it”.

Gerard: You got to make a decision and you are taking the responsibility for that decision and what it produces or what it does. You’ve really thought through all of the different scenarios and then you make the decision itself. I suppose that’s a better outcome for the GM because you don’t have to make it. Tell us about your views on work quality. How do you ensure the quality of the work is great and rework is minimized, talking about maintenance perspective I suppose?

Tom: Quality comes from the guys doing the work and the girls doing the work. I would say you can have the best work instructions, the best tools, all of those things, great torque wrenches, but if no one picks it up, even though it’s in calibration, it’s no good to you. Really it’s about getting to the people on the floor. It’s about explaining, “Right. This is what’s going on. We’ve got to focus on quality. Now, what are the issues?” “We don’t have enough time and we’re always under the pump. They come in and the operators are doing this”. Well “Righto, what are we going to do about that?”

It’s about making sure they’ve got time to do a good job, making sure that if there are things wrong with it, we fix it before it goes out. Now you can get into some arguments with the theorists around you should then put it into next week’s plan. That’s fine if you think it’s going to last but too often we do it and it goes out and there’s a leak and they say, “Fix the thing properly, make sure they’ve got the time that they know they can do that. They’re not taking the mickey.”

Gerard: Also, I suppose if there is something you have to fix on that service because it’s not going to last to the next one. Then you’ve got to ask yourself, why are you just finding it then? Why didn’t you pick it up earlier?

Tom: Well, that’s true too. In a fixed plan, that sort of thing is reasonably easy. Your operators are walking around, maintainers walking around, you can see it. When you’re on above-ground equipment, you can have equipment inspectors or whatever roles you got who they’re rolling them through fueling or whatever. Underground, it’s a bit harder. That’s not an excuse to do that regular checking.

Gerard: If you can’t get to those regular inspections, then you have to allow for that time in your schedule downtime because there’s going to be some things you find that you weren’t aware of.

Tom: Similarly when I talked about when was in that coal plant role, I think I did. Commissioning. You’ve got to allow proper commissioning time and a proper hand back process. That’s missing a lot. The guy’s rushing, “I got to get this done. I got to get it done by 5:00 PM. Got to hand it back.” They do, but I didn’t check steering or they didn’t do whatever. You allow the time for them to fix it properly, and then allow the time to take it out if you got the same pit. If it’s my ball gear, properly test it.

If you’re sending it back down underground, it’s a big job to get that thing back to the workshop. Make sure it’s like you want people to do anything. You set expectations, you’re monitoring, you reinforce what’s going on. You got to go out in the job when so you’ve set these things here. We’re going to give you the time we do. Go ahead and talk to them. How are you going? Do you find that any better? Most of the time, the majority of people want to do the right thing. You give them a chance to do the right thing, they will really want to do it.

Gerard: That is a good statement. You give them a chance to do the right thing and they really want to do it. I love that. Mate, I agree. If you give them a chance as a leader to do the right thing they will do it because they do what’s right.

Tom: As well as that, have some sort of simple measure, start with the behavior you want to drive and then, “Hey, you’re doing really good” or “What’s going on?” In general, once you’ve done that convincing, you get the ownership. It’ll improve but tell him. Like celebrate success.

Gerard: This is a bit of a scenario for you. If you went into a reactive workplace tomorrow as the manager for maintenance and you reviewed the plant performance and checked all the key aspects of managing assets and maintenance including equipment, strategy, planning, work execution, improvement, people, et cetera and all of this needed improvement but you can only change one thing. What would you change first in order to have the most impact on equipment reliability?

Tom: If you’re going to change something and things are in disarray, you want to be able to get the word quality right. Even if the planning and the instructions aren’t the best and if you’ve got people who are keen to do the right thing and are doing a quality execution job, then you’ll start to turn that gear around. Focus on quality, don’t promise people the world. Don’t say I’m going to get planning fixed and I’m going to get parts all done.

What can we do here, guys?

First, I want you to take ownership and then they’ll start telling you what’s going wrong. You’ll be able to get the red pen out and say planning or parts or whatever’s going on. Start at the very end and that’ll drive you back up the tree one you are under control.

Gerard: Righto, Last one, mate. What advice, broad-ranging, whatever you like, would you give to any new or aspiring maintenance managers?

Tom: I guess firstly, aspiring maintenance managers. I think too often, people want to rush into being a leader. They say we take young people and we actually would destroy them for life in a lot of cases because we put them into high-pressure roles not prepared. For me and probably because it’s been a bit of my journey is I believe, if it’s a trade-based person coming through, it’s going to be different from engineering stream but they basically equate to the same. They need to have supervisory experience. You’ve got to have been there and have to make those decisions, see what people are putting up with.

You need to have planning experience and I believe in that order. If you had the chance, the structure or development for a person, I would go supervisor, then into a planning role and make sure that planning roles got budgeting, accountability in there so that they learn to build a budget but also to track and see how they go and make decisions around what am I going to do? I have to drop that off. I’m going to tell the boss. There needs to be some budgeting in there.

Then if possible and people should ask for it, manage a few projects. It might be you are the planner but there is a shutdown coming up on the dragline that put your hand up, “Hey, listen, I’d like to be able to project manage that thing or part of it.”

Gerard: You’re responsible for the planning and you get out and make sure it gets [crosstalk].

Tom: That’s right. The big events have a different dynamic altogether. It’s a lot longer leading into it, a lot more preparation, you’ve got to track everything really closely. It’s not like a day and day. It does not be- it can be a project where you’re installing something, whatever. If you can get that and then the other thing, if you get the opportunity, go in a production role, you then can see all the different sides of the fence. That’s the aspiring one so now you’ve aspired and all of a sudden you got that big job. So now you’re a new maintenance manager.

You’ve had a good look around, you understand the yins and yangs of maintenance. You know what it’s like for your clients and your suppliers, you know you’re experienced, then it’s let’s presume it’s a new site you haven’t been there before. Don’t go in with preconceived ideas, I’m going to change the world.

Look around for a month or two, guide all the meetings, talk to the people on the floor, talk to your leaders, don’t let some old mate that you know tell you stories about this is what’s wrong with that bloke and this bloke. Form your own opinions because a lot of the time there’ll be disgruntled people for a reason trying to understand what’s going on with those people. Don’t just think this is all crap because–

Gerard: Not the way you did in the last job.

Tom: Yes. That’s a really good point, Gerard. Don’t say we used to do it like this when I worked for so and so and so and so. You’ll get people off-board straightaway. Once you make a decision, you got to be able to really explain to people why you’re making it, what’s in it for– Then it’s all same as I talked about earlier. Set expectations for people, explain to them why you’re doing it, what you expect the CL but what you expect from them and then keep an eye on things and monitor it. How we’re going. You got to be consistent, persistent.

You got to have courage, mate. If you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to make decisions, you got to have courage because there’s going to be people who will make it really hard for you and fairness is a big part of that too.

Gerard: Nice, some really good points you raised there, Tom. Even I can relate to the one about not jumping into those roles too early. I reflect on my experience and I know that I was made a supervisor too early. I shouldn’t have been a supervisor. I should have been in a leading hand taught role for a longer time because jumping in as a supervisor, I certainly made a lot of mistakes in the first year or so as a supervisor.

Great stuff. No worries, mate, that’s it. Thanks a lot for all that sharing your experience there, Tom. I hope that some of that I know that that would be valuable stuff for people out there. I wish that I had the opportunity in my career to listen to someone like yourself a bit more and learn some things from other people’s experiences rather than having to make all the mistakes myself.

Tom: Although failing is not a bad thing.

Gerard: True.

Tom: You’ve got to have some failures. It’s just you and you’re right. Just very briefly, to finish off I think I was the same, I went into roles, and you just set up not purposely but you’re not told about how to deal with difficult people, how to do proper thinking about doing a budget. I had one leader who was really good with me when I was a young superintendent, reasonably young. We’d sit down every week and we’d talk him through and he showed me processes and tools about how to deal with a lot of those. It was really good. I just think that we need to build mentors into our businesses more.

Gerard: Well, we still got you in the industry now but I know we’ll probably only going to have you for another 20 years or so.


Tom: Hopefully.

Gerard: We’ve got to capture everything you’ve got, mate.

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