When Gus McLachlan joined Boral Australia early this year as the new Executive General Manager, People, he brought with him almost 40 years of experience in the Australian Army.
Four weeks after taking on the role, Gus found himself in the middle of the company’s response to COVID-19, drawing on his experience as a commander in Afghanistan and his time seconded to the Pentagon, in Washington DC, on this new and very different mission.
Tell us about your career before you joined Boral?
I joined the Army straight from school, thinking I would do just a few years to help my single Mum by paying my own way through university. I finished an amazing career 37 years later!
During my time in the Army, I headed Forces Command, which is the area responsible for training, as well as being Head of Army Modernisation, where I worked closely with industry to kick off a major recapitalisation of Army equipment and systems network.
I was also Chief of Staff to the Chief of the Defence Force and was selected to represent Australia on placement in the Pentagon where I worked on the first Defence Review by the Obama Administration.
Much more challenging at a personal level was a 12-month tour in Afghanistan where I was responsible for planning and executing the draw-down of Coalition forces while maintaining security and transitioning authority to the Afghan Army.
I loved serving my country.
Having spent time working leaders such as Barrack Obama, John Howard and Julia Gillard, what attracted you to the role at Boral?
It might sound corny, but I wanted to work for an organisation that shared my values. Boral is an important, Australian company that is helping build Australia, contributing to our growth, to regional and rural areas, and that cares about its people.
What do you think the military taught you that applies to your role with Boral?
The ability to help unlock the potential – the discretionary effort – of our people. Most of us give about 80 percent of our effort in most roles, which is usually enough to do a reasonable job.
But we keep the other 20 percent - our discretionary effort - to be applied where we choose. The best way to unlock that 20 per cent and have people apply all of their creativity and their capacity, whether it is in the Army or at Boral, is through good leadership.
What were your first impressions about Boral’s culture?
I knew I had made the right decision to join the Boral team when I saw the way the company responded to the bush fire emergency. For example, the immediate decision Boral took to extend paid leave to volunteer firefighters . Or the provision of water to firefighters and the access to our properties for wildlife recovery. This all confirmed I was joining a company with the right values.
How has Boral adapted to the new COVID 19 reality?
We came together early as a company, even when we did not have all the information we needed about the virus – no one did. But this meant we could move quickly and efficiently, and some weeks down the road, the planning we did back then has held up well.
Importantly, we got good, trustworthy information to our people in the middle of a lot of noise and confusion. And our focus on the basics - hygiene and physical distancing - helped ensure our industry retained the confidence of the various governments, which means we have been able to continue to operate.
We have been open and honest with our people throughout the pandemic response, doing all we can to preserve work opportunities.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
My boss when I was a young leader told me to get off my backside and propose to my now wife. It showed he cared more about me than just on the work level. I have been happily married for 30 years!
And what advice would you give a young colleague just starting their career at Boral?
Do the best you can on every task, every day. Your efforts will be recognised.
Do you have any personal heroes, or people who have inspired you?
I was lucky enough to meet President Obama, Prime Ministers John Howard and Julia Gillard and military leaders like Peter Cosgrove and David Hurley. All inspired me and taught me something about leadership.
But at a more personal level my sister is a cancer doctor and I am in awe of her strength and compassion. And I will always appreciate what my wife contributed to our family and our nation as a military spouse.
How do you spend your spare time?
I am a bit of a nerdy science fiction reader. I love innovation and creativity and am involved with some start-up technology companies. I still try and keep fit, so I swim and paddle a surf ski when I can. And I’m happy to confess I love yoga as a way to stretch and be mindful.