This episode features Lydia Gentle – Engineering Manager at BHP. She has been awarded the Order of Australia medal for her service to engineering, has worked on various projects internationally and is a successful mentor and leader in her field. In this podcast she discusses her experiences from getting started as an engineer, to her progression as a leader in the largest mining company in the world. She shares her philosophies on leadership, mindset as well as the future of engineering and how aspiring engineers can best prepare themselves and learn about entering the industry.
Rewind back to when you were 17, I understand you had a pretty pivotal conversation with your teacher that set all this in play?
Yes I did! Growing up in north Queensland where you’re exposed to the farming industry and agriculture, I was talking to my teacher and he mentioned I should be an engineer and honestly, I had no idea of what engineers even did. It was a pivotal time for me, I was absolutely in awe of my maths teacher and I always enjoyed maths, it was that simple correct or incorrect answer which I liked. He explained the profession and said I had the perfect maths brain for it and that I should apply for it at Uni, and that’s exactly what I did!
You’ve worked in a variety of capacities, as a graduate working on design in industrial projects, and then on to London working on high-rises. You’ve worked on smaller family owned companies and large-scale oil and gas projects and mining construction projects, for large construction companies and now you head up large cap-ex projects for the biggest mining company in the world in BHP. The question is, was that deliberate in gaining various experience in building your career or was that just you figuring out maybe where you wanted to be?
A lot of that comes down to never saying no to an opportunity. I grew up in a small country town, went to university in Townsville and had never really left the state. I thought if I got a job closer to Brisbane it might at least get me over the border every now and then. I was lucky enough to get a job with GHD and then really enjoying my time with them I really wanted to broaden my horizons, so I went to England as many Australians do which was phenomenal. I was thrown into the deep end as a structural engineer working on some of the oldest buildings in the world and I am really grateful for that experience and the opportunity to rise to that challenge. We then spent 6 months travelling around Europe and I was sitting in Venice having a coffee when a gentleman I had worked for before sat next to me and he worked for a contracting company in Australia. He said to give him a call when I went back to Aus, which is exactly what I did and that’s how I ended up working in construction. So I think just saying yes to these opportunities has what lead me to these places in my career, then with BHP they’ve got a phenomenal history and when I saw an opportunity come up for an engineering manager it was just one that really suited my skillset, I wasn’t looking for a role it was just one that popped up on LinkedIn and I thought ‘Why not?’. I was looking for a change and I’ve been blown away by the opportunities that I’ve had since so its just saying yes when an opportunity presents.
Talk to us about that transition about being a competent engineer and performing well to taking that step to leading other people to being a manager and leading other people with different values different skillsets?
I think the important thing is you never stop learning. So when it looked like I was getting close to my career to when I would start leading a group of people, I did a lot of research on different leadership styles and what works for other people and look at those that had inspired me. I think its just understanding that, it’s like anything in life if you do your research and prepare for it it will set you up for success. You can have a fantastic group of engineers but if you can’t build the culture of a team, you’ll never be successful. It’s important to understand that people react differently in different situations and they have different motivations in life. If you can key into that you can key in to their why, then you can sell the strategy and you can be a great leader.
You’ve been in a position where you’ve had to stand out amongst other candidates for a job. What tips can you offer to others about this?
I think it’s really important that you never stop learning. If you look at my CV I won’t just have one qualification on there. I’ve got my masters, I became a welding inspector when that was a requirement, I became a heavy lift designer when that was a requirement. I’ve just stepped out and when I found something that interested me I just pursued it. I think it’s important to stand out that you don’t just have that very narrow career, that you have broadened your horizons. Even if they’re activities that you’ve taken on in that extracurricular space. I think that really shows you are a lot more focused if you are involved in the community. Those are the type of people I really look for when I’m reviewing resumes.
Tell us about the intersection between intelligence and mindset, and how you’ve grown your own mindset to sort of intersect with that level of intellect?
Mindset will account for about 80% of your success in life I believe, and its understanding that sometimes you find yourself in situations and its often not so much a direct attribute of yourself as a person but more that of the situation. So it’s having that positive mindset and that growth mindset to understand what are the steps you are going to take, to then move on. I attended a motivational session with Chris Helder and what really resonated with me was the philosophy of 10 seconds of guilt then move on. Everyone makes mistakes but you don’t need to dwell on them forever, allow yourself the 10 seconds of guilt then move on! And I think that also comes down to your mindset as well, which is rising above all the issues and challenges that you have. We all have those and its about putting those next steps into place about how can I move on? What useful believe that I can have that will then get me out of this situation? What’s the first step that I must take to turn this into a positive?