Dr Kirsten Molloy is Chief Executive Officer of the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator (HVCCC), an industry-funded entity that leads collaboration and innovates across organisations participating in the Hunter Valley Coal Chain to deliver the most efficient and effective logistics outcomes for the industry.
Kirsten is passionate about leadership and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) diversity and equity, and over the years has implemented and supported a range of initiatives to support these areas – developing a Women in Leadership program in a previous role, cofounding the Equal Futures Project in the Hunter region and the Hunter Valley Diversity Awards.
- What path led to your current role?
If I wind back to the beginning, I studied Science as that is what I wanted to do from school so I studied that at University and did a PhD in Chemistry, but decided I would prefer probably to be in industry rather than pursuing a more academic career so I joined Orica as an R&D Development Chemist. I worked in their research and development area for about three years. But I had decided that I wanted to be out of the lab being a Chemist within five years and the industry was in downturn and the organisation actually had gone through a lot of change.
Having a broader skill set and transferable skills across industry seemed to be something that was important as well as interesting at the time so I moved into a Marketing role. So sort of a sideways move into Marketing from the technical stream and that sort of kicked off my career in a far more commercial direction. I had a series of different commercial roles over the years in Marketing, Sales, Executive Sales and I did an MBA as well during that time and my last role at Orica after 16 years there was running their south east Australia business unit for mining services.
That is when I moved into the role I am in now which is the CEO of HVCCC and I was motivated to do that because over the course of my career I’d dealt with lots of complex problems, I had been in the mining and commodity business for a long time, so I knew a fair bit about it. I had a lot of exposure to supply chain, leading change, collaboration working across cultures and organisations, and I thought they were skills that I could take with me in the role at HVCCC.
- What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?
Leadership for me is about influencing positive change at its highest and simplest level and I have a very collaborative and participative leadership style and I always have.
I think your leadership style is underwritten by your values which is where the consistency comes from because the environment around you changes all the time so you need to adapt to that at times.
But essentially I start out with a fairly collaborative viewpoint and I really enjoy talking to people, engaging people and getting their ideas and I truly believe if people are able to be creative and innovative and put their thoughts out there freely that you will get better outcomes than just one person having all the answers and directing everybody else.
I think tapping into people and their knowledge and their ideas and their background is absolutely the way to go. It can take longer, it can take a lot more energy, it can seem that as you explore those ideas are you setting enough direction, but I think I go into things with a purpose and a vision so you have an idea about where you want to land, but how you do it, I am pretty open to lots of participation in that.
- What do you believe makes business unique in the Hunter?
The Hunter is a really important region, certainly economically in Australia. There are obviously bigger cities but it really has economic importance and it comes with a fabulous lifestyle as well. I actually think it is large enough to offer a lot of diversity of different types of industry and education and health and there a lot of things going on in Newcastle and the Hunter. So I think it is actually big enough to be world class in a range of areas and to be an innovative and exciting and challenging place to work, as well as a great place to live.
I think there are some really interesting examples because we are big enough but we are also small enough that you can really get across sectors, or get intensities within sectors, of focus that really will mean that we are punching above our weight and I think there some great examples. HMRI is one – it is a fantastic collaboration between Hunter New England Health and the University which is very much supported by the community and it is quite unique in its construct and speaking to people in academia from places like Melbourne were admiring the fact that we have something like this in Newcastle. So it really does start to enable us to set ourselves apart.
Hunter Research Foundation is another, HVCCC is a phenomenal industry collaboration to ensure global competitiveness. It’s a really amazing construct that the coal industry has bought about to improve their own industry. We’ve got the University of Newcastle and as a single institution can then enable a real focus on the type of education that we need for this region so that we can have an exciting and I guess innovative and creative work environment and workforce in such an incredible place to live.
- What you have learnt about leadership in your career?
I think I have learnt a reasonable amount. I think there is lots more, it just never ends and there is always more to learn. Again I believe that ability to influence positive change sounds really simple but it actually is really, really hard and as you move into more senior roles a lot of the decisions aren’t black and white – they can be very ambiguous and it can be very difficult to know the right answer, and sometimes there is no right answer and it just has to be a compromise. And again at the end of the day it comes back to your values and being consistent in applying those in every situation.
But there is no checklist either. You see a lot of those things – these are the five things that great leaders do – and they may well be but just doing those things won’t necessarily make you a great leader. So there are loads of checklists out there – it depends a bit on the circumstances. I’ve talked about being highly collaborative and highly participative but in a crisis you need to move into a different mode. You need to be more directive, you need to be micro manage which certainly isn’t my style, but in certain situations you have to do it so it is definitely situation dependent and situations change constantly.
- What local businessperson do you find inspiring?
There’s obviously quite a few around but I think Eileen Doyle is someone who I’ve got a lot of respect for. She’s had a really amazing career and she did it in a time when there were even less women around. I think Eileen earlier in her career would have been incredibly rare but she forged a fantastic career in heavy industry, she chaired PWCS, she was one of the visionaries that has led to the creation of HVCCC for example, and she sits on a range of boards in quite senior positions so I think she is an excellent example of a local Newcastle person who has had a really impressive career and she is certainly someone to admire.