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Brooke Miller (Castrol, BP)

10 June 2021

Exploring the Future of Work

Exploring the future of work with PwC Australia - conversation with Brooke Miller (Castrol, BP)

In this episode with Brooke Miller from Castrol, BP, we discuss women in leadership and her personal journey, leading through various crises across multiple countries, and using collaboration to design the future of work. 


Episode transcript

Ben Hamer: We've gone from one crisis to the next with fires and floods through to COVID-19. For the companies that are on the front line, this puts huge amounts of pressure not only on the workforce that the people leading them. Someone who knows this all too well is Brooke Miller, Vice President of BP, who heads up their Castrol business. In this podcast, Brooke and I cover off a whole range of topics, including women in leadership, where Brooke openly shares her own personal experiences, the challenges of leading multiple crises across multiple countries and transforming an organisation from fossil fuels to renewables and what this means for the workforce of the future. My name is Ben Hamer, and you're listening to season two of exploring the future of work with PwC Australia. Brooke, welcome to our podcast family.

Brooke Miller: Thanks for having me.

Ben Hamer: Well, given we are family now, I feel like I should get to know you a little bit better. And I'm keen to start off with a bit of a reflection around your career because and I hope you don't mind me saying I understand you've been at BP for over twenty years now and stuff must have changed. So can you talk a little bit about how the organisation itself and work more broadly has evolved over this time?

Brooke Miller: When you say twenty years, it sounds like a bad thing, but it's gone very, very quickly. And the rate of change that we've seen, I think maybe in the last five years has certainly exceeded the change in the previous fifteen. So when I started, we had computers and email was in place and we thought we were quite digital. But of course, now we are completely digital, very agile. The thought of flexible work was only a new concept back then. And while there were senior women in the workplace, there were not a lot of them. There were not a lot of role models, so I think I've really been privileged to be part of a wholesale change of the Australian workforce. And I see that changing rapidly today. And I think next year and the next five years will be completely different as well.

Ben Hamer: And I want to just go a little bit more into that, because you've previously spoken about how lucky you were to grow up around the influence of females and quite senior professional roles. And you've now found yourself in one in what was traditionally seen as a more male dominated industry. So how has that upbringing influenced you and what are your views on the current state of women in leadership?

Brooke Miller: When I was young, I was incredibly fortunate that both my mother and my aunt and their mothers had had careers and significant careers in large organisations. And so I could go home to the dinner table and have conversations or sit at the conversations when I was at school and listen to their day and the goods and the bads. I guess the light and the dark of careers and how they evolve and some of the things to celebrate and some of the troubles that might occur along the way. And now I look back at that time and it was like a masterclass for life, actually. And I think at that time that was very unusual. So what I hope now is just so many more women in senior roles in many different industries. I hope that mentoring is much more accessible because everybody needs a mentor. Everybody needs a mate. That they can go and ask questions. What do I do next? How do I get through this? What do you think of the situation? Actually, I'm not sure what to do commercially, can you give me some advice? Those conversations, I think, for many men had happened for actually centuries. But for women, I think it's a far more recent event. And I know that I was really lucky to have that coaching, mentoring and encouragement. It meant that the bad days were certainly shared and the celebrations were definitely celebrated.

Ben Hamer: And I know that this is something that you're really passionate about. And if I think back to International Women's Day in 2021 this year, there was the campaign that was put out using some World Economic Forum data that said we're going to be closing the gender gap in Australia in about 100 years time. How do you react to something like that?

Brooke Miller: Horribly depressing, isn't it? I remember my great great great grandmother signed the petition to get women the vote and in the late 1880s. And I think she would be turning in her grave to be hearing those statistics. I think back to early in my career and actually when I was going into the General Manager of Bitumen role, which was a national manufacturing and sales and marketing business. And when I think back to that, at the time, BP had very clear stated ambitions about increasing the number of women in operations. So I have no doubt at all that a part of the reason that I was selected for that role was because I was a woman. And in fact, I have no doubt because I was told that by quite a number of people at the time that the only reason you got that job was because you're a woman. And since then, I have led the BP solar business in Asia Pacific. I've been the CFO for BP in AsPac. I have run the sales and marketing business and now I'm the leader of Castrol in Asia Pacific. And if I hadn't been given that first chance, that first opportunity to step into that operational role, then none of the rest of that latter would have happened. And so for me, giving that opportunity, creating that opportunity and getting women into those opportunities, the first time that is the key. The second, third, fourth times, they will look after themselves. But creating those opportunities, I think everybody has an obligation, actually, to do that. It's not a question of diversity for me, it's a question of humanity and making sure that everyone has the same socioeconomic opportunities to step into a role and to see how it goes.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, well said. Now, I want to change tack slightly because it's safe to say that you would be fairly adept at leading through a crisis. There are things like oil shortages, massive supply and logistics disruptions, and then that little ol’ thing called COVID-19 coming along. How do you effectively manage and lead through a crisis, including across regions and remotely given your international footprint?

Brooke Miller: I've got teams all across Asia, so 10 different countries, and we actually service many more within those 10. And one of the key lessons I've had over the past 12 months is that you need to meet people where they stand. Their circumstances are very different. At any one time, one country may be coming out of lockdown as another country is going into lockdown. The requirements around how they operate are different. People's mindset and mental wellbeing are at very different places at any given time. And I'm very conscious of that when we go into team meetings. I'm extremely conscious of that when I'm talking to teams. And actually we now start a lot of our meetings just by saying, how are you? Where are you at? What's going on where you are? And it's interesting to see the responses. People may well be right in the game. You know what's going on today from a commercial perspective and other people are actually trying to work out actually, do I need to keep everybody at home today or do I need to change the way we're operating? And it changes so rapidly. So being aware of that, being very open to meeting people where they stand and being supportive, asking ‘how can I help you?’ rather than being a leader who has all the answers. Because actually the people in those markets, they are the very best people to assess the situation. And what I can do as a leader is support them where they need support.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, and it's an interesting answer and one that I find quite empowering and inspiring, because if I go back to some of the theory behind all of this, we hear that in times of crisis, it's all about top down leadership. That's the time when that really directive, hierarchical command and control type leadership kicks in and kicks in effectively. But I'm hearing from you that your experience is actually it's more effective to think about trusting and devolving accountability.

Brooke Miller: The balance of both, to be honest, is there does need to be clear decision making and people need to stand behind the decisions because as many decisions are right, as will be wrong in a crisis. So that decision making needs to be very clear. However, the people who have the expertise to help you make the right decision are going to be all over the organisation. And in many cases, you might be running multiple crises at the one time and having really clear expertise, really clear communication and open communication is absolutely the key criteria.

Ben Hamer: Yeah, and speaking of that very last point that you've just mentioned close to home, we've had our own crises around bushfires and floods. Can you talk a little bit about the role that your organisation played within that and what it meant for your workforce?

Brooke Miller: Sure, I think 2020 was the year that kept on giving. We started, actually the end of 2019, November 2019 and going into 2020 with unprecedented bushfires across Australia. And in those times, BP and Castrol actually really become part of the emergency services in Australia. And what that means is supporting fire, ambulance, police, but also the communities who find themselves in these situations. That is quite a privilege, actually. And I certainly recall taking phone calls directly from community members asking for help to get fuel into communities so they could evacuate. Now, those types of questions, they are well past every day operations. And you are considering the safety of multiple parties, actually multiple people in the supply chain - our logistics providers, our own teams and those end customers. I think that is where that cross-functional team and expertise and clear decision making becomes really important. At one point in 2020, I realised that we had had teams in place, emergency teams in place, for sixty three weeks in a row, and we had had bushfires, two cyclones, floods and of course the pandemic. But being able to support Australia being able to step into that place, it really is a privilege and something I am immensely proud of our teams for.

Ben Hamer: And just listening to you talk, I'm already exhausted thinking about going from crisis to crisis and the impact that that also has on the wellbeing of your workforce and people as well. How has that sort of played out and what are some of the things that you are doing around that at BP?

Brooke Miller: What a great question. I think during any prolonged period of crisis, making sure you really clear on your purpose is something that is very sustaining for everybody. And that's why I think that linked to being an essential service, that's very important for a lot of our team to understand that we're not just about providing fuel from point A to point B. We're actually really about the health and prosperity of the community, Australian community that we are within. Having said that, keeping an eye on each other and recognising that you are in extraordinary times and perhaps sometimes individuals aren't the best people to assess their own level of fatigue. So making sure that there's a very open conversation in teams that allow those situations that mental wellbeing, physical wellbeing to bubble up. You can certainly have all the rules around work hours etc, but you also need to have a very open dialogue and help that people can really access. And that doesn't necessarily mean, you know, a phone number on a wall. It might mean the colleague sitting next to you. It might mean having a time out in the meeting. It might mean making sure everyone actually just downs tools and walks away for a while. I think we've all learned a lot about each other and we probably have a much better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses and where our points of exhaustion or needing assistance really sit. I know we've talked about that in the past but the last 24 months have really shown me that we are very clear as a team about how to support each other and when to support each other. We haven't nailed it. You know, as the pandemic continues, I think the whole world is actually experiencing this ongoing fatigue. And so this is a conversation that we need to get better and better at and make sure as a company that we've got the right interventions. That is, people that we've got the right conversations going on that can identify when some of those forms of assistance or interventions really need to happen.

Ben Hamer: One of the other things I want to now talk about is a different kind of disruption. It's an economic disruption. And I want to talk about the whole access to talent debate with the impact of border closures and the skilled migration program, particularly when it comes to some of those more technical and niche skills. Are you seeing this play out in your work and organisation at all?

Brooke Miller: I think at BP and Castrol, we're incredibly lucky that we are a truly global organisation and we were highly connected from a technical sense and digital sense before. So that's probably gone on steroids since the pandemic. And I’ll use some examples. Some of our site checks and site reviews, peer reviews, for example, are now done on a site fully digitally. So we're using the video component, which it's not, it doesn't truly replicate being face to face, but it comes very close. So we can still access the technical skills and capabilities of our team wherever they lie globally. I think a real challenge for businesses that may not be connected globally or may not or may still be on that journey of connecting digitally is very much how do you access how do you meet the right people? How do you bring them into your community and your business? The opportunities for those more casual interactions have gone. And so now being more planned at the very start of a project to say who might we need to speak to and how might we reach out to them? It's quite hard to bump into somebody on Zoom. You know, you need to be very planned about that. So thinking at the very start, who could I learn from? Who's an expert? Who could I engage? Where are they? And how can I knock on their door digitally and have a conversation? It's certainly a conversation we're having in my Castrol team right now in all the countries that we operate in to say, OK how do we reach out and connect to people that we might not be connecting with in other ways at the moment.

Ben Hamer: And that's such a great takeaway around how we can try and overcome some of the challenges that might be presented around the skilled migration agenda at the moment. I'm keen to move onto the topic of sustainability now and as younger generations enter the workforce, there's this greater expectation around social responsibility. And at the same time, we're seeing more of a focus around things like ESG reporting. This all lines up quite nicely with BP’s strategy around moving from fossil fuels to renewables, right?

Brooke Miller: It certainly does. I think in February 2020, BP announced this really bold new vision to be a net zero company by 2050 or sooner and to help the world get there. Now, to be fair to say that in February 2020, the entire pathway to get there wasn't entirely clear. The reason we have an ambition to get to net zero is because that is what is required to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and that is what is required for humanity and the future of the planet. We set out on that ambition in August of 2020, then we announced that actually we had a plan to get there. And that really involves moving from an international oil company to an integrated energy company, which simply means that hydrocarbons will be a part of our future. But we will have a much more diverse range of connected energy options, not just oil and gas. I'll give you an example. I used to run a solar business, and BP now has objectives around renewable energy in future. And to give you a sense of the scale there, around two and a half million solar rooftops in Australia at the moment, that's around 40,000, oh sorry 40 million solar panels and they produce around 10 gigawatts of energy. Our aim is for about five times that amount. Now, we're not starting from scratch, we've got businesses in wind and biomass, biopower. But the future is very different and our investments will be different. Our focus will be different and we will be a very different kind of company by 2050.

Ben Hamer: And with a different kind of company would come a different kind of workforce. So how do you see that start to evolve over time, the kind of workers and skills that you’ll need moving into the future to deliver on that ambition?

Brooke Miller: The future workforce clearly has many more digital capabilities. We've seen that in the last twenty four months. But in future, I think that's just going to continue - far more agile as well. I think asking those questions, what problem are we solving? And then does this create value for the community, for the customer, for the company? Those questions are much more integrated now. Partnerships, I think, would be far more important and collaboration across partnerships to bring together new expertise to solve new problems. This is not a problem that the world has solved before. BP wants to be a part of that. But we know we're going to need to be very different and probably so is everyone else.

Ben Hamer: Let's also talk about the different kind of roles that you have in your organisation, because you have a fair amount of customer service roles on the front line, including traveling sales managers and technicians who are on the road. How do you go about meeting the needs of customers when the work of your people moves from a physical to a virtual environment?

Brooke Miller: Over the last six months particularly, I think we've seen this challenge of how do we work in a world where across Asia Pacific right now, there are different forms of lockdowns in different countries and it is literally changing every day. So previously our sales force would go out very much face to face and spend time with our customers face to face in their environment. Of course, now customers actually may not want you to visit or may not be able to visit at all. So having a digital connection is really important. I'd say we I think sometimes we overthink digital. The fact that a medium is different does not mean the basics in the foundations of creating connection are different. It is all about, you know, asking curious questions, making sure you listen really attentively to understand what is the challenge this customer is facing and how can I help them. What's the problem we are trying to solve and who do we need to solve and how do we solve it best that creates value for this customer and also for the company? Those questions are really still the fundamental question. So I'd say the basics of great relationship building remain exactly the same. The medium might be different.

Ben Hamer: So, Brooke, one of the things that we reported on in our Changing Places report was that three quarters of people, predominantly office workers, want to work in a hybrid way across multiple places and spaces, predominantly the home in the office, while at the same time there are a lot of organisations being reported in the media who are talking about how do I get people back into my workplace? And it seems to be this tension that's playing out. Are you seeing that tension play out?

Brooke Miller: I think the tension is very clear across a whole variety of sectors at the moment, actually. And I think that actually as leaders and as employees, we've got a real opportunity to flip that question and say this is actually the single greatest opportunity that companies and employees have to form a new collaboration to actually design the way we want to work together in future. And that requires a sitting down together and talking about what will actually help you really perform at your best, what will help the company perform at its best, and how can we actually design that environment? We're trying to answer a very, very different question now then they workplaces have largely been designed for. And it is you know, I do think this is the single greatest opportunity for collaboration we see in the workforce today.

Ben Hamer: Well Brooke to finish off. I have a series of quick fire questions for you, which are the same questions that we ask all of our guests. Are you ready for the challenge?

Brooke Miller: I'm ready.

Ben Hamer: Good oh, well let's get straight into it to start off with Brooke. When you hear the term future of work, what one word springs to mind?

Brooke Miller: Exciting. 

Ben Hamer: If you could make one change to today's workforce, what would it be?

Brooke Miller: More diverse.

Ben Hamer: What's the biggest opportunity for your organisation and industry over the next five years when it comes to the future of work?

Brooke Miller: Reinventing ourselves to meet customer needs.

Ben Hamer: What's the biggest lesson you've learned as a leader from the COVID-19 period? 

Brooke Miller: Agility.

Ben Hamer: Yes or no, is the office dead

Brooke Miller:  No.

Ben Hamer: Well, Brooke, that's all we have time for today. But thank you so much for taking the time and joining us on the podcast.

Brooke Miller: Thank you very much.

Ben Hamer: Thanks for joining us and listening to this episode head on over to where you find our latest report, Changing Places How Hybrid Working is Rewriting the Rulebook. This podcast miniseries uncovers insights from industry experts so that together we can design a future of work that works for everyone. To make sure you don't miss a single episode, subscribe to this podcast series via Apple, podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcast from. My name is Ben Hamer and you've been listening to Exploring the Future of Work with PwC Australia. Thanks for joining us and goodbye for now.

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Dr Ben Hamer

Lead, Future of Work, PwC Australia

Tel: +61 437 159 517

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