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A Defining Choice… Phil Walton's Story

Recently during a quarterly rig managers meeting, I found myself pleasantly amused and drawn into knowing more about the backstory of an HSE manager that I have come to learn some valuable lessons from. The way Phil directed and persuaded our group on an impromptu speech had me curious as to where he gained his experience in life. With ease, Phil could blend historic events and attributes that the likes of Mussolini had attained into a speech directed at rig managers. I knew that in doing an interview with him I would not only learn something valuable for myself but be able to share an interesting story as well. This article will briefly explain what’s important to Phil and what should cross our minds when challenged with making some of life’s most important decisions.

Starting out Phil grew up in the United Kingdom where he studied Chemistry. When he finished his Bachelor’s, he found the market was flooded with grad’s so he decided to gain the upper hand and stick out his Master’s. After he was done school, he began working in a job for a hazardous chemical company. He was dealing with a variety of high risk chemicals and found himself drawn to the HSE side of the industry. From there, he joined an HSE consultancy agency however, during this time it was tough to get jobs in this field in the U.K. so his boss directed him to Australia. Phil was single and not tied down to anything at the time so he decided to take the leap and purchased himself a one-way ticket on a gut instinct that this move would be the right one.

When Phil arrived in Australia he began looking for work by searching the web at an internet café in Brisbane. It was around 2005 so these things would have been booming at the time. Phil visited the café so much that they offered him a job and since he hadn’t quite landed on his feet yet he couldn’t decline. A noble point here is that to most who have completed a master’s degree in anything, a job at an internet café would seem beneath them. Phil told me that sometimes you need to speculate to accumulate. Keep the end goal in mind and know that by shovelling shit for a little bit you will not only gain experience and meet interesting people, but you will appreciate things better as well. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Phil to find himself working double shifts on Christmas day and to him, it was all just part of the journey.

Once he landed on his feet, Phil acquired a job at a consultancy where he dealt with Asbestos in the work place. After being there a while he ran into an old friend and the opportunity to move into Oil & Gas presented itself. To Phil this seemed like a step in the right direction to where he wanted to go in his career. he began his role as an HSE advisor for a company called QGC (Queensland Gas Company). Within a couple years he had become an HSE Team Lead and then moved onto the company where I met him, Savanna Energy Services Corporation, Australia.

I didn’t meet Phil until further down the road of his journey at Savanna and by the time we met, he was an HSE director. Until recently I haven’t had much of a chance to work with him as I deal directly with his HSE advisors. What he teaches them, particularly one advisor who speaks the world of Phil, is a great deal of not only HSE related information but also business and process development skills. Phil knows how to properly manage and coach teams to execute projects that make the company stand out better than the competition but also allow them to continuously learn and expand as individuals.

This array of leadership, business sense and delegation will surely be missed within the company. As I write this Phil is succession planning and is moving onto a new chapter in his life. This is where the point of the article will begin to come into view. The rig manager meeting that I mentioned at the start of this article was one of many where I heard Phil speak. It was during this meeting that I found out our company was losing Phil. After the meeting I had the chance to speak with him about his next move and furthermore schedule the interview with him.

Phil is leaving us for a job in construction in another state of Australia. One of his old friends confronted him with the opportunity. His role will be a bit different but being that he has the correct foundation for success and a proven track record to back it up he doesn’t seem at all stressed. He mentioned that it’s easy to step out of your comfort zone when you have built the right foundation. If you’ve read my other articles, I wrote about a friend of mine having the correct foundation with Mantis Kung Fu. This is translatable in the sense that once you have acquired these assets you can relate them to anything new that you do. For Phil, the players, actors and the script will be the same in this new job. Safety and efficiency is an outcome of running a business correctly, so success will follow if he sticks to his principles.

His most important principle though isn’t work related. This one blindsided me as it was at the end of the interview and although we only spoke about it briefly it resonates with me as a father and husband. The main reason for Phil’s departure from our company wasn’t money, bigger responsibility or a challenge. It was to properly itemize his values as a father and husband. This new move would allow him to be with his family a lot more.

A couple years ago our company had closed its Brisbane office and relocated staff to a city outside of Brisbane approximately 2 hours away. This was the headquarters of our company. As Phil didn’t relocate and his family was very young, he found himself commuting a lot. So much so, that it was taxing his family time and his quality of life. The decision to move to Melbourne and change his family’s way of life was purely made on a value’s based opportunity. He didn’t want his career to put a strain on his family down the track and since his kids were still young, this was a perfect time to make the right decision to be the role model he needed to be for his family.

For Phil this decision was the true north on his compass. Not only did he have an opportunity arise to work with old friends and face new challenges, but he was able to make a strategic long term move with benefits for his legacies. He will now be able to tell his kids when they ask why they moved to Melbourne, that it was because of his love for them. It was because he wants to be a father figure that isn’t just focused on his career but more importantly be the man chasing a family dream.

He ended the interview by quoting “failure is the best tutor”. However, in my opinion, if you fail at parenting there’s no coming back from that. The imprint could be the outcome of your child. I know it’s a team effort between parents but for a person to watch their kids grow while their away, one can only wonder what valuable life lessons and experiences are being missed while we are stuck in the rat race. On this note I will conclude by tipping my hat off to Phil for his decision to follow through with making a step in the right direction for his family…

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