Dr Jim Bentley has more than 20 years’ experience in the infrastructure sector, much of it in water and wastewater.
He is currently the Managing Director of Hunter Water, a State Owned Corporation providing drinking water, wastewater, recycled water and some stormwater services to a population approaching 600,000 people in homes and businesses across the Lower Hunter.
Prior to this role Jim had a wealth of international experience, including with Thames Water, Watercare Services, Metrowater and the University of Auckland.
His leadership style has been shaped throughout his career, by the circumstances he has found himself in.
- Tell us a little bit about your career path?
My career path is not a straight line. I thought I was going to be an academic, so I went to university and got my PhD and I did a year in postdoctoral research before realising I wasn’t really very good at research. So I probably hadn’t chosen the right path.
I was quite interested in water and the environment, so I started working for Thames Water in the UK. I ended up running big chunks of their commercial business, which was kind of very cool, but not what I expected.
I woke up one day and said, you know, I need to do something different. I need to know that there’s more purpose to what I’m doing. So I completely got out of that and I started working in an economics firm doing development work in developing countries.
Eventually I moved to New Zealand and got back into the water game. After a bit of time in that, I fell back into the academic world. I became a part-time academic. Thinking that was going to be the next phase of my career, I did that for seven years and thought maybe that’d be it. One day someone suggested to me that I apply at Hunter Water, so I did.
- What motivates and drives you?
Probably two fundamental things. The first is I love working with people and helping them to understand what they can become. The opportunity to help people be everything they can really excites me.
The other thing is the fact that everything we do – the money, the assets and everything I run and look after – isn’t mine and I want to do the great return, whether that’s to the owner or to the customer. I just want them to get a great return on what they did.
Both of those things are really motivating.
- What has shaped your leadership style?
The biggest fundamental thing would be from 1999 when I was working in Turkey running a big water project for a business and a massive earthquake struck the area; 15,000 people were killed, including a few of my staff. That taught me that there has to be a real purpose to what I do and if I’m going to inspire people and lead people, they need to see that purpose.
That’s probably the biggest single thing that’s shaped my leadership style. I always try and make sure that if people can connect with a purpose and if I can really understand the purpose and articulate that, we’ve got a much better chance of people choosing to follow.
- What is one actionable task you ensure you incorporate into your diary each week?
It’s not very exciting, but every week I try and make sure I’ve checked in with some of the people I’m working with to say is our message getting through.
- What local business person do you find inspiring?
I’ve got three; one’s Terry Lawler who I know well because he’s my Chairman. The thing that inspires me about Terry is he always gives time to things that really matter and things that he cares about.
Another is Jeff Ether; Jeff’s incredibly successful, but the most approachable and warm, and human leader that I know.
The third is Caroline McMillan who excites me every time I hear her talking about what she’s trying to achieve. I think this person really wants to achieve something great.