Archive for January, 2011

the dignity of man

It is a while since I blogged and I understand the need for regularity – so please accept my apologies. Here is the first in an eclectic series for 2011.

Occasionally, we intersect with special people in our lives. I had the privilege of working on the Board of one of the few remaining Australian manufacturing companies with such a person for four years. He has a wonderful human touch that seems to accompany respectful people who have that precious ability to listen.

There is no need for this man to be humble, but like many great leaders he is.  He ran Mitsubishi in Australia for seven years and knows more about lean manufacturing than anyone outside Japan. He received the Centenary of Federation Medal for services to the automobile industry. He also ran GNB Batteries and Pacific Dunlop in the USA and mixed it with people like Hilary Clinton and Sam Walton. Some of his stories about Sam are both instructive and amusing.

His name is Graham Spurling – a giant of a man with a unique ability to give “tough love” in the work environment and gentle love in the personal sphere. Graham was a champion of environmental and community responsibility long before they sat on board checklists. As we walked the factory floor, Graham taught us the principles of eliminating hard work, of the dignity of men (and women) in factories and the importance of evaluating change programs through the eyes of the worker. He is the only Director I have ever seen put on a pair of gloves and lift a piece of steel to check how much the workers were being asked to lift. Graham, I salute you, just as many others did when you were a respected Major in the Australian Army Reserve.

Graham, like many good scientists, engineers and leaders, showed us the value of a planned approach and of rigorous analysis to solve problems. His creativity and lateral thinking also surfaced, as they did in his recent proposal to the Government to have one car manufacturing plant in Australia. The logic was compelling (and still is), but the challenge was too hard politically, going the same way as many other value adding  mid to long term projects at State and Commonwealth level. Populism and opportunism prevail!

Today, Graham chairs the prospective junior miner, Phoenix Copper. He is also a much admired figure in his home town of Adelaide where he is tireless in making contributions to society as a mentor, visionary and philanthropist. If you are travelling in the southern Flinders Ranges near Melrose, you might find Graham at his North Star Hotel or at his Bundaleer winery, extolling the virtues of his sparkling shiraz, or discussing an issue of the day with one of the customers. Ask him about the car industry or about the dignity of man. You might get a twenty first century version of the famous fifteenth century Pico della Mirandola oration.