14 Aug 2023
Murray Robertson FEngNZ IntPE(NZ) has enjoyed 15 years with Downer, which is integrating its Australia and New Zealand functions, creating five integrated trans-Tasman business units. He says this transforms how Downer does business, bringing together the best people and technical solutions. Transitioning from being Downer NZ CEO to Chief Operating Officer – Transport and Infrastructure, he’s focused on creating a high-performing team driven to providing world-leading infrastructure solutions.
What attributes make you a good leader?
To me, it’s important to also remain a good follower. By that I mean I enjoy learning from others and believe listening is key. I’ve found that the loudest person in the room is rarely the smartest! I also make sure I’m never far from a work site, as staying hands-on is a priority. And I make sure we celebrate success – we work hard and I’ll always take the time to recognise people’s efforts.
At the end of each day, what tells you whether you’ve been successful?
Success is simple – it’s meeting or beating a target. It feels good and it’s what drives us contractors – we like to get things done, whether it be X many metres trenched, X many metres of steel erected or concrete poured, X tonnes of asphalt laid, or X many graduates trained. If you give it 100 percent, put your heart and soul into it and treat your people the way you want to be treated, then you will be successful.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
My Dad. He always encouraged me to give everything a shot and to seek a career where I was contributing to something practical and real. I was always fascinated by construction and am slightly obsessive.
Who opened a key door for you?
Steve Killeen, Downer NZ’s former CEO. Early on he saw potential in me and drove me hard to broaden my experience, better develop my emotional intelligence and be a more progressive, balanced leader. He was also open to new ideas, allowing me to challenge the status quo.
How do you connect your work with a sense of greater good?
I find this connection comes naturally. When I go to a work site and hear from our people. I’m quickly reminded of the real challenges facing our communities, and the hard-working people that give it everything day in day out. Across New Zealand and Australia we have more 7,000 people in the Transport and Infrastructure business, and then three times as many subcontractors working alongside us. We’re all building and maintaining the communities we live in. This is an important, yet humbling responsibility.
What mistake have you learned the most from?
Early on, I once spent hours devising an overly complex construction methodology without consulting the supervisor. When I shared it with him, he smiled at me, shook his head and said, “Bro you’re dreaming”. In about 10 minutes, he ripped my elaborate plan apart. His solution was significantly better than mine and I could’ve saved hours had I spoken to him first.
How do you approach a difficult conversation with someone you lead?
I am honest, upfront and compassionate. Life is too short for games and there is too much work around to not be straight with people.
Who is a leader in New Zealand you admire?
I’m a staunch Blues fan and I have always been a fan of Sir Michael Jones KNZM. He typifies great leadership by remaining true to his morals. He was always the hardest working player on the field, driven yet fair. He supported his captains yet led with conviction (this is important to me). Most of all, he was genuine and humble.
What questions have you been asking yourself lately?
What do I need to do to improve and be a better leader? What do I need to do to make way for my successor? How do I ensure I remain happy, and that I find time to be with my young family, and perhaps even learn the rules of AFL!