Chancellor’s leadership lessons

October 20, 2016

Stolen cargo ships, going walkabout in the Australian bush and feeling like a rock star.

Murdoch Chancellor David Flanagan

Murdoch Chancellor David Flanagan

Those are just some of the career highlights shared by Murdoch Chancellor David Flanagan at the inaugural Leadership Journeys seminar.

More than 120 guests packed the Kim Beazley Lecture Theatre at Murdoch’s Perth campus last night to hear Mr Flanagan present Learning the Hard Way.

He spoke about his career in the mining industry, founding Atlas Iron Limited in 2004 and growing the company from a $9 million exploration business to an ASX top 200 iron ore exporter.

Mr Flanagan, who was appointed Murdoch Chancellor in 2013, told the audience: “I was told that if you want to learn, go somewhere hard, where everything you do every day matters.

“At Atlas, I felt like a rock star. I’d met all of our Prime Ministers since Bob Hawke. I’d met the Queen, David Cameron and US Vice President Joe Biden.

“You know these big ships of iron ore? We had three of them stolen. Imagine that.”

The event was the first in a new Leadership Journeys series run by Murdoch’s School of Business and Governance.

Leaders from business, not-for-profits and the public sector will share their experiences in leadership, the skills they needed to succeed and how they coped with challenges.

Mr Flanagan was an obvious choice of speaker to start the series.

The Murdoch Chancellor outlined the rules he applies to his professional life. He said: “Know what you don’t know, this is the most important.

“Do the deal: beware the MBA without common sense; find a way to say yes to opportunities; have a plan; take risks, measured long-shots; give – time, treasure and talent; and be disruptive when you want to be."

The University’s Vice Chancellor (VC), Professor Eeva Leinonen, attended the event.

Mr Flanagan, stepped down from his position as managing director at Atlas Iron this year, after steering the company to safety.

He described how during his time at the company, he went from crying in the shower to sharing an amazing spiritual experience with Aboriginal elders.

Mr Flanagan said: “You’d wake up in the morning and you’d feel good for a bit, then you’d realise what was coming at you for the rest of the day.

“I’d go and have a shower and cry. It was just the sustained pressure and the constant barrage.

“This Aboriginal guy rings up and said that the old people would walk with me, telling me 'you’re going to get through this'.

“He took me to places which blew me away. We went to this huge stone rainbow serpent, a few hours outside Perth, and he got me to lie down. He started to chant and a cloud of tiny birds appeared above me. It was an amazing experience.”

Asked what he’d do differently, he said: “If I could go back and speak to my 32-year-old self, I would tell myself to not worry so much about some things.

“Don’t let myself get stressed out by someone who threatens to take your family home or do their best to have you locked up. Letting it get to you can be destructive.”

Asked what leadership advice he would offer those starting out, Mr Flanagan said: “Listening goes a long way, having a lot of diversity of experience, encouraging people to come forward with ideas.”

Mr Flanagan ended his presentation by discussing life after Atlas and delivering a glowing tribute to Murdoch VC Professor Leinonen, sitting just a few feet away.

He added: “What’s next for me? My purpose is to play some sort of role in facilitating other people to achieve their purpose.

“I realised at Atlas that this was the thing I enjoyed doing the most, helping all the people in our team do everything they wanted to do.

“This has to start with my family. After that, I’m involved in one or two key things, one of which is Murdoch. I want Murdoch to be the very best organisation it can be.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help deliver, which started by recruiting a great VC!"


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