As Chief Executive Officer of Ronald McDonald House Northern NSW, Newcastle born and bred Ross Bingham is passionate about improving the world for kids.
He has close links with McDonald’s, having worked for 17 years as a Restaurant Manager and later in Marketing.
He volunteered at Ronald McDonald House when it opened in 1991 only to be appointed as Executive Officer in 1996 and then CEO of Ronald McDonald House Northern NSW.
- Could you tell us a little about your career path?
Back when I was 18 I finished school and I got a part-time job at McDonald’s. My intention was to have a gap year and then to go to University the following year. I wanted to do aeronautical design and it was something you had to do at Sydney University hence the 12 months off.
But by the end of the year they offered me a traineeship as a McDonald’s Manager. I worked for a licensee for 17 years from then running several McDonald’s Restaurants in Newcastle as a manager and a bit of marketing across those three or four restaurants.
During that time we raised quite a bit of money to build a Ronald McDonald House at the John Hunter Children’s Hospital – with the fact that there was a brand new hospital being built it was an opportunity for us to put a Ronald McDonald house there. So I was involved in fund raising for the House and then I was there at the very first sod turning (which Craig Johnston actually did) and then when it opened I was there on opening day and then my wife and I volunteered from scratch as part of the volunteer force at the House.
- What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?
Those original 17 years with McDonalds – there were a lot of processes, particularly there were ‘to do’ lists – there were checklists for everything and I think that is something I have become accustomed to and that I expect to have in an organisation. It is something that I have developed in Ronald McDonald House over that time.
As a leader I feel like I am very much like a person who is part of a team and I expect my organisation to pick up their responsibilities and work with me. As such I don’t really feel like the top end leader position where I make all the decisions. I certainly rely on my people to make decisions that I have allowed them to be accountable for.
- Do you believe being a leader in a Not for Profit (NFP) space is different to the for profit space?
I think being a leader in NFP sometime ago was quite different. It was very cottage industry and you were expected to operate at a fairly low level . You accepted that you could make mistakes and just do your best and that was what it was all about.
But in the more recent times I would say – the last 10+ years – there has been significant change in leading a NFP to the level now I feel like there is very little difference between NFP and for profit when it comes to leading an organisation. We have the same responsibilities – we are audited, transparent in everything we do, we have accountabilities across every area from WHS through to HR and I think it is more and more about being a professional leader and leading people and running a high quality organisation.
- How do you define the difference between a manager and a leader?
When I think of manager and leader they both do work together in some ways but a manager I feel is very process driven, it’s about ticking boxes and achieving KPIs and all of those very obvious transactions that happen in business.
Whereas being a leader I feel is much more of a lifestyle, it is how your personal standards, your moral standards, what you expect from yourself, and transferring that across to your organisation.
I feel like leading is all about you, all about your attitude and your responsibilities and your life ambitions and who you’d like to be, what you’d like to make a difference on in the world, and then transferring that same quality back to your constituents whether they be program leaders or senior leaders or volunteers.
Everyone has the responsibility to lead and I think some of the best leaders are family so when it comes to running a family if you’re a good family leader I think that shows the qualities of what a good leader would be in business life. So compartmentalising family one way and your business another way, I don’t think that is the best thing. I think that attitude you have at home about how you lead your family and children, your own personal ambitions should also transfer to your business and have that same attitude.
- What local businessperson do you find inspiring?
There are a number of people in Newcastle that are inspiring. Neil Slater, I really like his progressive attitude, and the fact that he likes really high quality. Look at Scratchleys Restaurant and how it operates – when you go there you know what you are going to get and you know what to expectand I have never been disappointed at what I have had there. I like that he wants to further Newcastle and he has a philanthropic heart as well and his whole attitude to ‘never say die’ – ‘I’d like a restaurant on top of Nobbys, I’d like a restaurant on top of the hill, why can’t we do these things’ and all of us in Newcastle I think are thinking the same thing. Why can’t Newcastle have an iconic restaurant or be an iconic place and for that I think Neil is a great role model and someone I would like to emulate in those ways.
Another gentleman, Chris Boswell, who runs Strategic Group and he is a great supporter of charities and local and he was there at the start of Ronald McDonald house providing us with computers and every sort of connection and IT thoughts that he had, at no charge. Then more recently with his Cloud program which is called the Vault. He has opened that out to charities and we have certainly embraced that and across Ronald McDonald Houses national and even global, our cloud program or off site system is equal to anywhere else in the world and people are coming and asking me about how we do it because it works so well and we have very few problems. His team is very professional and they are available any time, 24 hours a day, and they work hard to keep things going. I love that whole attitude and plus he is a family man so he has involved his family in his work and so developed a great leader out of Mark coming through in the business.
Someone else who really inspires me is Kurt Fearnley who inspires me in everything he does. I recently read his book completely as I had previously started his book and then got sidetracked on other things. Then one of my program leaders was going to do the Track over in New Guinea and I knew that Kurt had done that and I read more into that and I heard him interviewed on a local podcast and I was inspired again to pick up the book and read it right through. And his whole attitude challenged me in how I look at disability and how you think disability means having to cope with a different level of life and sometimes you get that attitude of how lucky am I to have what I have or how unfortunate for that person to have that disability. I guess Kurt’s book is all about ability and what you can do with what you have. He doesn’t want to be seen as someone with a disability he wants to be seen as someone with every opportunity that we have and he has embraced that and he’s made something of his life which is incredible. I think probably in Newcastle he is one of the most inspiring people that I know.