Talk Business - Bruce Hayman

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Joining me now on Talking Business is leadership consultant, former CEO of Australian Rugby Union, Bruce Hayman. Fifteen years ago Bruce had a quadruple bypass following a heart attack, but in 2005 led a group of fellow bypass patients across the Kokoda Track to prove that heart disease does not mean the end of an active life. He’s now developed the NRMA Kokoda Project with NRMA Motoring and Services, and today we’ll discuss what makes a great leader and how to develop strong leadership skills in your staff. Welcome to Talking Business Bruce.

BH Thank you very much Peter. Nice to be with you.

PS Now mate, you had the job that most Australians who love rugby would love to do. How did you get it?

BH Well, it’s very interesting Peter. I’d spent a number of years overseas in Chief Executive and General Management roles, and in 1992 Segrum managed to sponsor the Australian International Series, the Severus Regal Series. I’d been born and breed to play rugby, my late father had played for New South Wales, and I love the game and knew all the people. We had a great series, Wallabys won, they were the world champions and it was great, it worked extremely well for Segrum and it worked well for rugby. The next year the then Chief Executive, Bob Fordum, moved on, and by this stage of the game I’d had a quadruple bypass and thought that perhaps running around the world as a Chief Executive was probably something, at the age of 50, that I’d done more than enough of, and I was asked if I would like to join. I thought, what a wonderful idea, I’m going to make my passion my job, and I learnt a very interesting lesson out of it actually, I spent two years there and it was a very hectic time. We took the game professionally, we did the deal with Murdock, setup Super 12 (which is now Super 14), Tri-nations, they were wonderful, wonderful, times.

PS Well, change management time wasn’t it?

BH Absolute change management, but it also taught me that if you make your passion your job, you need to find another passion, you really do need to find another outlet. I found, because it was so busy (I had a wonderful time, but it was unbelievably busy) wherever you went everybody wanted to talk to you about your job, and you’d go out to dinner and people would say, ‘Bruce, now what’s happening with...?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t want to talk about that. I’m here socially, we’re going to have fun.’ And so it was a really interesting period, but getting through, it was a tough time, it was World Rugby Corporation time, they were trying to take the players away from us and we got through it. A wonderful team of people that I was working with, and it was time to make sure I didn’t get another quadruple bypass, apart from which the change I think was very necessary. We all have a shelf life, I identify my shelf life in that role as five years, but we moved the corporate culture of rugby through that and would have taken in a normal business environment, probably 50 years to ago from the amateur game to the professional game. It was really necessary that somebody else took over.

PS Now, why don’t you tell us about the Kokoda experience, and we’ll talk about leadership after that?

BH I’m Chairman of a group called the Zipper and Stent Group. We’ve all been opened up and zipped back up at the SAN, the Sydney Adventist Hospital at Wahroonga, where I was operated on, and I had the opportunity to join with some people from the SAN in going up to New Guinea. They were going up to a program they call Operation Open Hearted. At the end of it a few of them wanted to do Kokoda, and they said, ‘Bruce, what about bringing some of these Zipper and Stent mates with us?’, and I said that sounds fantastic. But there’s a story in it, and the story really is that bypass or open heart surgery doesn’t have to be the end of the road. If you get your mind around it, like life in general, the first thing you win is any battles in the mind, and the best way to tell a story is make a documentary. They said, ‘fantastic Bruce, how many documentaries have you made?’ And I said, ‘well none, but there’s always a first!’.

PS It couldn’t be too hard could it? [laughter]

BH [laughter] Well, it was interesting. I’ve got a great bunch of people, Scott Higgins is my director and we put it together. Channel 7 was suitably impressed with it, and Kokoda With

Heart was the end result. It’s now been seen by one and a half million people on the 7 Network across the country, and we’ve done DVDs of it... it’s great! It was through that that Tony Stewart, who’s CEO of NRMA Motoring and Services, saw it and said, ‘Bruce, there’s a leadership story that comes out of this which is what I wanted to use it for anyway,’ and that’s what led us to where we are now.

PS We’re talking to Bruce Hayman, and in particular let’s talk about the NRMA Kakoda Project. What precisely is that?

BH Well, NRMA have been through a major change on the Motoring and Services side, and with the acquisitions of various companies, Tony was keen to start to bring them together rather than have them operating solo, and wanted to obviously be able to identify a leadership program that would enable people to emerge through that. He saw Kokoda as being a part of it, which certainly is something that I had learnt myself, because if you want to learn then take yourself out of the comfort zone.

PS And there’s certainly a discomfort zone, isn’t there?

BH There ain’t a lot of comfort up there, I can assure you of that. And so we put the program together, spoke to large numbers of staff members across the organisation, and from that I called for expressions of interested from people who wanted to be a part of the program which would include goal setting, both personal and business goals, of course health, and a training program, and their understanding of Kokoda, what Kokoda meant to Australia, did they have family connecting to Kokoda, etc. I was amazed to fi nd that 122 people across the group said they wanted to be in it, and we had to bring that down to 15 who would eventually do the 10 day trek across Kokoda. So I interviewed all of those people, we set their goals, and then I had to whittle it down from 122 to 40, and then from 40 we took it down to, in fact, 20 people that we took across the track.

PS Is it ongoing or was it one off?

BH It was initially a pilot program and where we’re sitting at the moment is that we’re looking to try and expand it to offer it to more people but over a longer period.

PS And also outside of NRMA?

BH I’m happy to do it outside of NRMA. My company actually developed the program and Tony contracted Chartwell to actually run the program within.

PS So you’re going to become Mr Kokoda?

BH I don’t know if I’ll be Mr Kokoda, but I have an unbelievable belief in the importance of Kokoda to Australia, and I think that what you get out of it... I mean, nobody does Kokoda and comes back the same as they were. It’s hard, especially if you’ve had a quadruple bypass, you need to get yourself fit, but even if you’re fi t it’s still hard. Peter Fitzsimons, who will tell everybody that he’s very fit…

PS Oh bull! He’s a liar! [laughter]

BH [laughter] Well, we know that in Fitzy, but he said that it’s the hardest thing he’s ever done. You don’t do Kokoda to prove your fitness, you do Kokoda, in my mind, to prove your mental ability, to drive yourself through hard, out of comfort zone, activities. And hey, in a business sense, who today is sitting in the same comfort zone as in 2009?

PS One last question as we are running short of time. Do you think leadership can be taught? Because some people think that it’s a natural born thing, but do you think it can be taught?

BH I like what I once read, the three E’s of leadership. Education, Example and Experience. The mix of that is Education 10%, Example 20%, and Experience 70%, and I think that’s true. Certainly you can learn about the principles of leadership, then look around, and if you really want to be a leader you’ve got to look to examples, like who are good leaders and why. And then of course you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to experience it. The thing that a lot of people miss is that leadership happens in any organisation, at all levels in the organisation, and I think the services are the best example of that. Whether you’re the lance corporal who is the leader of the section, or the field marshal who’s the leader of the army, all the way through you have leaders and I think that’s where many, many, companies miss out. They think of leadership only as their executive leadership team or whatever, and they don’t treat the whole organisation as being required to have leaders within it.

PS Because, in a sense, what you’re saying is that a good leader is creating other leaders below him or her, and that ultimately creates a great opportunity for the business going forward as well?

BH Without doubt. I remember when I was about 12 years old my maths master at school actually wasn’t teaching us maths one day, we mustn’t have been paying attention, but he taught us a huge amount about life, and one of the things he said that has stuck with me forever is if you want to go on and become leaders, you need to remember to surround yourself with brilliance, and working yourself out of a job team is what makes good leaders, and good leaders motivate teams.

PS And I guess if you want to go back to the Wallabys example, Dean’s a leader, Sterling’s a leader, and George Smith’s a leader.

BH All of that.

PS Fantastic. Mate, if people want to learn more about what you’re doing, where do they go to?

BH The website is My own email is, and I’d be more than happy to talk with people.

PS Okay, thanks for joining us on Talking Business mate.

BH Thank you Peter.

Work on your business, not in it. To learn how, book a complimentary business assessment today with a Switzer Business Coach.

Important information:This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


Published: Wednesday, September 09, 2009

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