Date posted: 10/10/2017 3 min read

Learning, leadership and lessons from Olympic sport

Rob Scott CA, new CEO of conglomerate Wesfarmers and Olympic rowing silver medallist, shares his insights into leadership learned through business and elite sport.

In Brief

  • Leaders are not born - anyone who is willing to learn can improve skills.
  • Self-awareness is an important part of leadership.
  • Teamwork and resilience are key learnings for Scott from sport.

Being a leader is not about having all the answers and it’s liberating once you realise this. For me it’s about building the best team around you and creating an environment that brings out the best in your team and your business. A leader must articulate a compelling vision and be a role model for the organisation’s values.

There is a risk that populism drives regulatory and tax outcomes that put Australian businesses at a competitive disadvantage. This will result in less investment, fewer jobs and fewer opportunities for Australia. There is an opportunity for large companies like Wesfarmers to engage the community and explain how encouraging investment, productivity and innovation will benefit all Australians.

There are lessons from high-performance sport that have helped me in my business career.
Rob Scott CA CEO of Wesfarmers

Wesfarmers doesn’t change CEOs often, so it’s a big big challenge and responsibility to become just the eighth person to hold that role. It has been really valuable to have a ten-month transition period with predecessor Richard Goyder to get to know the job and the businesses better. Every decade of Wesfarmers’ 103-year history has seen remarkable change in our businesses as we adapted to changing markets and seized opportunities in new sectors and regions. I hope to continue this legacy and maintain my predecessors’ strong focus on shareholder returns and corporate reputation.

Regarding our upcoming milestones, supermarket chain Coles is about to celebrate reaching population parity on indigenous employment. This means the proportion of indigenous employees at Coles is on par with the proportion of indigenous people in the Australian population. This is a very meaningful milestone in a business with around 100,000 employees – at around 3,000 jobs.

If you are not daunted by the nature of your new job, it probably isn’t challenging enough. This has been the case most of my career. I really enjoyed working offshore and this broadened my perspectives. New jobs and experiences are great but stick at roles long enough to build relationships and have an impact.

I am not a believer in “born leaders”. Anyone who is willing to learn can improve their leadership skills by working at it. An important element of leadership is self-awareness, how you manage yourself and the demands of the role and being aware of the impact you have on others. 

There are lessons from high-performance sport that have helped me in my business career. Teamwork and resilience were key learnings, together with surrounding yourself with people who are prepared to take on the world.

Related: Blazing a trail

From corporate boardrooms to Bell Shakespeare and the PwC leadership team, Anne Loveridge FCA says giving back has been important on her journey.