Gavin learned to trust his ability and virtues

From a family farm near Kojonup, Gavin followed the well-worn route of young people in regional Australia  and headed to boarding school. After studying in Perth for years 11 and 12, he continued his academic  pursuits with Agricultural Science at UWA.  

Upon graduating, he worked for the Liebe Group in Dalwallinu, then for the Grain Pool, and CBH Group  before becoming involved in marketing and trading via Plum Grove and then DailyGrain. He returned  

to the CBH fold when it bought DailyGrain, before transferring to a product and service role within CBH.  While CBH’s General Manager of External Relations was on 12 months maternity leave, he filled that role.  On her return, he continued with a role in operations as Kwinana Zone Manager, and then in operations  within the head office. Deciding it was time for a change, he teamed up with former Plum Grove/ DailyGrain colleague to develop Livestock Pricing. In March 2020, just as Covid-19 barrelled into the lives  of Australians, Gavin Bignell joined Fremantle Ports as General Manager Operations.  

In 2012, he was accepted as CBH’s candidate for the ARLP. He applied because he had seen  firsthand changes in other people and heard good things about the program. 

“I was in a leadership role but moving from heading a small team to more of a leader role and was toying with the idea of doing an MBA,” Gavin said. He had seen leaders he respected with many of the traits that he knew the ARLP encouraged. 

As he headed for the Kimberley, he was already emotionally vulnerable. He and his partner had just had their first child, and as the father of a three week-old baby he was subject to all the emotions that go with leaving behind a child. 

“I am a planning person, and there we were: no  IT, no control, out of depth, put in with a bunch of  people we did not know…opinions were formed  quickly and people were put “in boxes”…over time, my view on all of them became very different as  I became aware of their trials and tribulations…I developed more understanding and empathy,”  Gavin said. “I learned that you just do not know  what has happened in people’s lives.” 

“The Kimberley landscape: it is incredible countryside that puts everything into perspective,”  Gavin said.  

“During one experience, when I had a go at being a leader during an overnight activity, I learned  that there are times when you need to lead from the front, and there are times when you need to  lead from behind. You need to prepare others for success: this is a lesson I have learned forever and  is not something read in a textbook,” he said. 

“The feedback from others was confronting, but  it allowed for growth.” The learning experiences  offered by India were a contrast to the Kimberley… but empathy and acceptance were the outcomes  again.

“This is a country facing a lot of complex issues, but I learned that with great leadership, people can  make a difference despite all of that,” Gavin said.  

Other workshops in Australia, including those  involving homeless people, reinforced and refined messages learned.

“I learned a lot about situational leadership, and the effectiveness or otherwise of traditional leadership,” Gavin said.  

“I learned a lot about myself, and the need for empathy and hope. I have been guilty in the past  of being a glass half-empty person…in terms of life: the sun will always come up! I now value the  importance of a positive attitude and how to find  a way to get a good outcome,” he said.

“The ARLP gave me trust in my own capability and knowledge of my limits, as well as my virtues.” 

This trust was something he needed when he started his new job at Fremantle Ports, right as  the Covid 19 impact was being felt by the port, with ships and infected passengers dominating  operations (and the media!). His ARLP experience came to the fore almost immediately with a  decision being made as the situation changed and  requiring him to trust in the ability of those around  him, who had been there longer, to do their jobs. 

“The empathy developed during ARLP was essential at this time, both in terms of working with staff and the situation at large.” Gavin said. 

“It gave me the confidence to know what role I was best to play, and what responsibilities needed to be  taken up by others,” he said. 

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