David Lesmond, Chief Transformation Officer, of Caltex Australia

David is a strategic leader with a background in workforce planning, business transformation and management, with deep industry experience in engineering and petroleum. David recently took on the role of CTO, to lead Caltex through a major transformation of its business. 

I caught up with David recently to see how he has found his new role and his view of transformation in a complex organisation.  

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David, thanks for your time and agreeing to take part in the 5 minute Q&A series with Oceans Group. I have a series of questions I wanted to walk through with you. If you can answer, give some of our customers and peers in the market insight into yourself and your time with Caltex.

What was your first job out of university and how do you feel this shaped your career path?

I trained as a civil engineer. My first job, real job, was with Shell Company of Australia. I was in project management roles from day one.   We worked on fuel terminals and the fuel retail network located around Australia. Project management was still not a defined discipline in the early 90s, and although I had studied construction management at uni, I didn't really know anything about project management principles. Therefore I benefited significantly from the training and work experience that Shell put me through.

 

Great. A question that I consider a lot is, when you look at project management, do you see it as a skill born or a skill made?

I think there are people who are much more suited to being a project manager. For example, the characteristics that makes someone a great salesperson rarely translate in to them being a great project manager - they are often opposing skills. So, yes, generally speaking, I do think people are born with a talent for project management (or not), but that doesn't mean that with the time and experience that they can't learn the skills.

 

With disruption and transformation being everywhere, what are the challenges you see facing your sector right now?

From all I’ve read and heard about transformation and digital, there seem to be many views on what they actually mean. Sometimes it’s hard to discern where the line is drawn between transformation and disruption, as compared with the normal ‘organic’ evolution of your organisation’s offer. Many businesses are questioning how digital is going to transform or disrupt their industry. Whether it be retail, mining, providing health services or us selling fuel and convenience goods, we are all asking ourselves what proportion of our business do we feel is going to be impacted by these changes, these transformations. No one really knows the answer. At Caltex, however, we are taking this seriously, investing time and resources into answering these questions around transformation and digital.

Specifically, the challenge we are focusing on is getting quicker and more effective at what we do, while ensuring we stay closely in touch with the customer. If we see a change coming, we need to be able to react to it quickly. Our transformation office has certainly helped us in relation to this.

Yes, okay. How are you measuring success in your transformation?

Certainly the way you deliver to the bottom line is key - you can't ignore that – otherwise I think you're kidding yourself. This means measuring financial benefit for months after a project is finished, to ensure the value is being realised in a consistent way. Obviously, it’s important to match your transformation activity to your strategy. We also measure our organisation’s cultural growth and have targets and activities which are aimed at building and improving this.

 

Fantastic, You've recently taken on the role of Chief Transformation Officer. How have you found your first ... It's 90 days now, isn't it?

Yes. It's actually been a really interesting time keeping the pace of the transformation high while learning new content across the organisation. We have a refining, crude and fuels sourcing business, an Australian supply chain, and a marketing / sales business. Learning all of those areas and their issues has been pretty challenging. As I’ve been at Caltex for 14 years I know a lot of people, but forming new relationships and learning how to behave in the CTO role has been quite demanding – almost like my own personal transformation. Thankfully I have had really good mentoring from a number of people, including our CEO, Julian Segal, and the senior leadership team in Caltex.

 

Has it been rewarding?

Yes, I've learned a great deal, but still have a lot more to learn.

 

Okay. What's on your agenda as Chief Transformation Officer at Caltex?

Really, it's for me to lead the business transformation. It's to role model the behaviours that the company is after.  It means not taking unnecessary risk, but trying to move the business forward at a faster pace.  Our transformation is named Tabula Rasa, which is Latin for ‘Clean Slate’; or a new way of working. So the agenda for me is to take a fresh approach to our business and that means a number of steps. First, the transformation pipeline is linked to the budgeting cycle. Second, we are about to launch a web-based ideas-gathering and collaboration tool, named The Hatchery. Third, frequent and ongoing communications are key to getting the transformation engagement throughout the 3,000 + employee base.   Lastly, and most importantly, the cycle and rhythm of weekly meetings and review are critical to maintaining the momentum and value delivery.

 

What would your advice be to other leaders who are about to embark on similar journeys of business transformation?

It's absolutely paramount that you're aligned with the senior management team, and that they give you significant support. In particular, you must have access and support of the CEO.  I have had strong support from the Caltex leadership team and we are closely aligned with the corporate strategy.  Also, as outlined before, I have a clear plan for how we will continue to evolve the transformation.

 

I'll ask this final question. More and more businesses exploring new technology and digital. How do you see this impacting your sector?

I think it’s important to know how digital relates to your organisation’s strategy and offer. Then you should be thinking about technology and/or digital as enablers. Don’t be bedazzled by the tool, rather think more about what the customer is looking for and how can you best serve this need.

 

Very good. Thank you very much for your time, David. We really appreciate taking the time to share your insights with us and our network.

 

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