Firstly, apologies Josie for taking so long to get through this interview. I've had too many weekend meetings at work to actually find a few hours in a row to finish it. For those who don't know Josie from Picking up the Pieces has sent me five questions and along the way has also interviewed a number of far more interesteing people than I whose replies you will find links to here. So here is Question 3 and my response.
3. You have been involved in some fascinating careers thru the years. What was your original intended career when you came out of college? Which job turned out to be the most fulfilling and why? What do you like/dislike about the position you have now? Where do you see yourself ten years in the future?
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, con a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”
Lazarus Long - "Time Enough for Love" by Robert Heinlein
Throughout High School I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to be. I toyed with the idea of being a doctor when I was really young but found out during High School that I wasn't smart enough at the time to fulfill that ambition. So in deciding I really didn't know what I wanted to be long term it was an easy out to actually take a year off before going to University.
In those days it was easy for a school leaver to pick a career in the public service or a bank, to sit an exam and be one of hundreds chosen postitions vacant with those organisations. So in 1975 I commenced my first job as an Accounts clerk in what was then called the Ministry of Conservation. It was a good place to work with good people but some of them had been there for decades and for a 17 year old the prospect of being in the one place for so long was anathema so after a few months I decided that I would indeed take the place I had deferred in an Arts Degree at Monash University and in 1976 I began my first of four years at that old alma mater.
However, I still didn't have too much of a clue about what I wanted to "be". There was a vague idea of becoming a park ranger and I therefore studied Geography with minors in Psychology and Anthropology. My double major included units in geomorphology, climatology and biogeography and that eventually lead me to an honours year where I studied palynology, which for those who don't know [and it's no shame not to] is the study of fossil pollen grains. In a nutshell I spent a year staring at a microscope counting pollen grains I had taken from a sedimentary core of a bog I called Caledonia Fen on the Snowy Plains near Mt Howitt in Victoria. This gave a climatic record stretching back at least 30,000 years into the last Ice Age and was the basis for my thesis. I think that it is still the oldest continuous highland site studied in Australia.
I studied the same subject matter with three other people, all of whom stayed in Academia and went onto gain Masters and PhD's in the same areas of study. By 1980 I was getting sick of study and decided that it was time to enter the workforce on a full time basis. I had of course held several jobs during my university studies - as a factory worker, storeman and packer, shop assistant, cleaner and part time office clerk. So I started to put in for jobs and found out fairly quickly that a knowledge of climate change didn't really qualify me to be a park ranger. What I really needed to know was how to trap a rabbit or skin a feral cat or how to build a bush dunny.
I ended up working full time for around 18 months at a department store called Waltons and had the job of counting the takings and doing the banking every day with a couple of other companions. But as with the public service job several years earlier I was not convinced that I had a long term future there. So I applied for both the Air Force and the Police Force and the application for the second came through first and within six weeks of applying I found myself in the police academy having had my shoulder length hair and beard shaved off the night before my induction.
I spent 16 years in the police force and loved most of it. I was trained in close personal protection, became a hostage negotiator and the last eight years was a Counter Terrorist specialist. I count myself lucky that I didn't leave the job bitter and twisted like many seem to. There was never a morning when I woke up and thought that I didn't want to go to work. It was always challenging and interesting and I was good at what I did. If there was a trigger for wanting to leave it was disappointment at failing Detective Training School under unusual circumstances which I have detailed here.
Perhaps the first signs of my midlife episode manifested in the itchy feet that lead me to leave the police force and to buy a franchise. We did a lot of homework before taking the plunge into business and I learnt fairly quickly that I actually knew nothing at all about running a business. The pity was that it also became evident that the franchisors were also struggling with the business as well and six months after we bought into it they went into liquidation. Whilst we struggled on for another 18 months we ended up having to follow the same path having lost close to $200k in the failed venture.
Fortunately for me, a former police colleague had set up his own business and he hired me as his Chief Intelligence Analyst and I had three good years working for him back in an area that I had a lot of knowledge in. But the toll of losing the money in the business meant I felt a great deal of pressure to try and recover financially and it wasn't long before I found myself with a second job running the Victorian Basketball League. As it turned out, it wasn't worth the hours I put in and was the beginning of my true neglect of my family. Relationships have to suffer when people work 80 hour weeks and whilst I enjoyed the work I was in some ways oblivious to the slack my wife had to pick up in looking after the family and I certainly wasn't aware of the impact on my kids. It was head down and bum up. The response of a man to mistakes he made and a desire to provide financially for his family but totally unaware of looming problems.
The second job lead directly to my current role as CEO of Knox Basketball here in Melbourne. I count myself lucky to have a full time job in sport and to have turned a hobby into a career. If I was to say what I like best about the role it is the challenge of being able to build an organisation and to have had some input into it being regarded as the best of it's kind in the country. Conversely some of the inherent enjoyment one gets from being involved in an organisation as a volunteer is lost when it becomes a paid position. Or maybe I should say that the nature of the satisfaction changes.
What do I do as CEO - actually a bit of everything, sort out problems, troubleshoot, write and implement business plans, apply strategies to our growth, answer phones, clean dunnys at times, wipe up spew, sweep floors, stack chairs, pick up rubbish, listen to parents, referees, players, coaches and anyone else who has a complaint or suggestion. As Lazarus Long said "Specialisation is for insects!"
As for ten years from now - all I'll say is I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up.