If you are there – be there.
From Brisbane diesel fitter to WesTrac Chief Executive Officer, Jim Walker FAIM GAICD has learnt to apply this sentiment to many facets of his work .
A man who has consistently reinvented himself in the face of a transforming resources sector, Mr Walker has walked the talk for a career spanning more than fourand-a-half decades.
Working as WA State Training Board Chairman, Programmed Maintenance Services Group and RAC Holdings (WA) Non-Executive Director, Macmahon Holdings Non-Executive Chairman, Seven Group Holdings Director and Australian Institute of Management National President, change has always been on the horizon.
Addressing an AIM WA Inspirational Leader Series event in May, Mr Walker shared anecdotes about inspirational figures and stories of his steady rise through the ranks over his leadership journey.
Commencing as WesTrac CEO and Managing Director in 2000, Mr Walker finished up in 2013, leaving a legacy Seven Group Holdings Executive Chairman Kerry Stokes AC described as “extraordinary”.
Mr Stokes was responsible for Mr Walker’s appointment at the company, and together they took risks and set forward to achieve their visions.
Having worked for many bosses and industries since leaving school at 14, including sheering sheep and working in real estate, Mr Walker described Mr Stokes as “one of the best bosses” he’d ever had.
“Kerry’s vision is second to none," he said. “While we are here talking about what’s going on today, he is completely way out there carrying out his vision.
“He has been so successful because he has taken risks, but he knew those risks and we worked very hard to manage them going through.”
Leading WesTrac’s significant development in industrial services in Australia and China, Mr Walker’s tenure saw the company become the first single-lab dealership in the world to test more than 300,000 machine oil samples in one year.
In 2009, the company had more than 3000 employees and was Australia’s largest nongovernment employer of apprentices.
By upholding a genuine passion for advancing others' careers, consistently sharing his technical experience and positive rapport with others, identifying opportunities to invest in the future and driving the next generation of leaders forward, Mr Walker has always remained true to his younger self.
From a speech impediment growing up, to being unable to play rugby, a young Mr Walker always uncovered a way through, taking speech therapy lessons and playing the drums for his school’s bugle band.
An unlikely choice at just over 5 foot, he was made drum major.
“We would practice, practice, practice,” he said. “It taught me you don’t get ahead in life unless you work very hard.
“It was hard to do that sort of a job when people couldn’t hear me, since it’s hard to have a loud voice when you’re 15 and your voice is cracking. I had to use my diaphragm to get noise across and it taught me how to be very competitive.
"It gave me a fair bit of discipline. Being out there at the front, you’re in charge and you have to know what you’re doing, you’ve got to lead the group.”
With his mother a “great believer in tea leaves and crystal balls” and his father in the earthmoving industry, both of Mr Walker’s parents played a key role in his development.
His mother was the first to predict he’d be heavily involved in the mining industry, a prediction he initially laughed off.
With religion playing a key role in his life, Mr Walker always attended church and today finds it fascinating that his birth date – December 4 – happens to fall on the same feast day as the patron saint of mining, Saint Barbara.
A motor mechanic at heart, Mr Walker began his career as an apprentice with Hastings Deering. It was here he met a man named Ron Miller.
“One of the first things I remember he said when we started work on January 27, 1970 was, ‘if we’re doing business in 12 months the same as we are doing today, then we’ll go broke and out of business’,” Mr Walker said.
“You’ve got to accept change and Ron actually did this in his work with Hastings.”
Mr Walker also met a man named Tony who had “all the time in the world”.
“One of the things he taught me there was how to relate to people,” Mr Walker said. “The customer was the most important person Tony could talk to and no-one else mattered. Tony didn’t just care about the work side of it; he also cared about the person.
“One of the other things Tony and I spoke about was when you’re going from A to B, make sure you stop, celebrate and actually enjoy getting there before you start going from B to C.
“He also spoke about going the extra mile – you don’t get a job just by running 400m; you better run 400m and 1cm.
"It’s the same in business. If you are going into work and you want a promotion and to be a leader, you’ve got to do that little bit extra.