Episode 53 – Stef Loader | Passionate about rural NSW, company director, geologist and former mining executive

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Stef Loader is a company director, geologist and former mining executive. Stef’s career has seen her work in seven countries, but now calls Orange, NSW home.

In this episode Stef and I chat about a range of different topics including the effects of the drought in central west NSW, how geology contains storytelling and engagement, and why we need human-centred design when it comes to technology.

Leadership also comes into play in this episode, as Stef showcases how her Positivity® strength is at the core of her leadership role. Your skills, abilities and capabilities as a leader don’t just develop when you’re leading people but they develop throughout your whole journey – including how they interplay with who you are as a human.

Key episode highlights include:

  • Why we need to listen to those intuitive gut feelings especially when it comes to our roles at work – where are you glossing over things? Be confident to question things.
  • You don’t have to be liked by everyone. Ask yourself, would you rather be liked or respected?
  • It’s not about the years of experience, it’s about the complexity of experience.

You can connect further with Stef on LinkedIn. And as the drought’s effect on both Central West NSW residents and tourism continues to create tough times, you can check out ways to help below:
Buy From the Bush
Buy a Bale
Rural Aid
Aussie Helpers

Listen in your favourite app


Murray Guest  00:01

Welcome, Steph to the podcast. I’m so looking forward to chatting with you today how you been?


Stef Loader  00:07

And well, thanks, Murray, thanks for having me. It’s been a long time in the planning hasn’t it


Murray Guest  00:11

it has been a long time in the planning. I’ve known you for a number of years. And I’ve always loved chatting with you and catching up and working with you, of course in the past. And you’re right, it has been a long time coming. But certainly something I’m really looking forward to tell me what’s going on in your world at the moment.


Stef Loader  00:31

Well, I’m at home, which is just outside of orange, and we live on a small farm, and it’s dry. So I want to remind everybody out there that the drought hasn’t broken out here in the Central West. So a lot of my I guess I spent a lot of time thinking about rain and weather forecasting and where the water is going to come from and, and when we might be able to productively use land. So that’s a preoccupation. But other than that, I am focused on a number of things locally, about contributing to my local regional economy, and and a couple of roles that I have in the mining industry and how I continue to contribute there as a director. So that’s what’s going on in my life.


Murray Guest  01:16

Yeah. Well, I’m looking forward to talking about those roles and the work you do these days. But for those people that don’t know, orange, would you say is three hours west of Sydney, New South Wales?


Stef Loader  01:27

Pretty much. exactly three hours directly west of Sydney. Yeah. So so it’s a long weekend or a weekend trip away?


Murray Guest  01:34

And it’s known for its wine and a few other things as well, isn’t it?


Stef Loader  01:38

wine, food, natural locations, heritage, both Aboriginal heritage and a long has a long history of occupation, but both from back in from Aboriginal settlements all the way through to, you know, pioneers coming over the mountains and settling over here. So lots to offer.


Murray Guest  01:58

Yeah, well, my memory of oranges is a beautiful town has that history. Unfortunately, my memory of orange is sitting in the car one, my wife had morning sickness and was throwing up in the toilets at the visitor center or somewhere. So not the best memory. So it means I need to get back out there. We need people to go out to regional user files anyway. But I definitely need to get


Stef Loader  02:20

Yes. So now you could sit in a really nice cafe in the town square while your wife was well, and have some lovely coffee.


Murray Guest  02:32

So you raise a good point, though, that we can quite often forget about the things that aren’t directly in front of us. So where we’ve had rain on the East Coast, and for those international listeners, you’ve all seen the fires we’ve had drought for, you’d say a good two years easy in Australia. And the war, we’ve had rain on the east coast of Australia in different parts, it’s still a real issue over the over the mountains, west of the mountains. what’s the what’s the feeling like in the community at the moment? How are people reacting at the moment to what the conditions are like?


Stef Loader  03:10

So I can answer that from a couple of perspectives. So you’re right, it’s it’s over the mountain side, the other side of the Blue Mountains in really the Central West District of New South Wales, which is continues to be drive. So I sit on the orange 360, which is the Tourism Development Board. And we met this morning and we were talking about the impact of not only the fires, which prevented people from crossing the mountains and coming out here over the normally relatively busy summer season. That you know, that impact alone is, you know, somewhere between 20 and 65%. People’s sales are down cellar door, sales down visits, visitation numbers are down. But we also have the added travel restrictions. So while we, the tourist economy, while we have a lot of domestic tourist economy, we also have an international tourist economy. And that’s sort of a double whammy. So the tourism sector is very worried because we’ve had a number of years now we’ve had about five years of almost double digit, I think it’s it is kind of double digit each year, if not close to double digit growth of visitor numbers into the orange region. And that’s, you know, sort of the broader region. And so that we’re looking at that and say, Well, maybe that isn’t going to continue. And that underpins, you know, that there’s there’s all the ancillary businesses, which that underpins, and these are mostly small businesses, right? Yes, you’re worried. So the, you know, there’s there’s that the sort of direct impact on the small businesses, but there’s the things the other things we were talking about is how does the health service respond? And that is consciously being talked about, because there will be small businesses that will go under or will come up against quite difficult times. There needs to be mental health. Services ready to to be there for people, we need to be referring people to those services. So the community is kind of responding in a whole raft of different ways. And what I really like is, you know, the enthusiasm that was there for the buy from the Bush campaign. So a lot of people in Australia would know that, that the hashtag buy from the bush, which really highlighted do your Christmas shopping from regional centers and regional businesses, you know, we really need to somehow keep that campaign going. Because, you know, we need those regional businesses to continue to thrive, and now we’ve got the hashtag stay in the bush, you know, mdscs stuff that they are really important. For not, it’s not just the economy, but it’s for, you know, for the well being of the community and how they feel about that, how we feel about ourselves.


Murray Guest  05:49

I can imagine the flowing effect, as there are people in the streets, there are vehicles in the streets, the small business owners in the community, seeing more people out there that even just lift people’s spirits as well.


Stef Loader  06:01

That’s right. So if you hear the story, Where have you come from? I’ve come from x, y, Zed, and I brought my SK, and I’m doing that that sort of thing. But the other perspective I probably want to raise is the is the farming perspective. So I live in, you know, I’ve got neighbors who are farmers, and that is their primary income. Now, it’s not my primary income. So whether we have stock on our ground is is No, it’s not. It’s, it’s, it’s, you know, if you think about it, but it doesn’t damage our livelihood, long term, but you know, I’ve got neighbors who, who that’s what their livelihood is. And, you know, the conversations that you have around the decisions that the really difficult decisions that they’re having to make, the milestones they put in place. Well, if we don’t have rain by this date, then I’m going to have to make this decision. And those things are really, really difficult. In fact, I was having a coffee with my neighbor yesterday. And he he was even at the point of I just I just don’t know, if I’ll continue, I might give up now. Yeah. And that’s an awful conversation for somebody to have. Yeah.


Murray Guest  07:01

Is there a solution around pumping water from the East Coast over to the Central West? And I’ve, I’d say a very big question. But I hear people say I’m talking about how we manage water as a country. And I certainly don’t have the answer. But I wonder if people talk about that. And is there a bigger long term infrastructure solution that helps to deal with climate change? And how we get water to the areas that need it?


Stef Loader  07:27

So I don’t know the answer to that either. I’m not sure it’s about pumping water. I mean, there will be aspects to that, look, there’s there’s been an I have the benefit of having a fortune in I’m on the board of a company that actually looks at water, right. So I guess I have just won’t disclose that. So you know, part of what I say will also be, you know, from the position of being a director on a water focused or a water treatment company, but there is definitely investments that can be made around water loss in the water infrastructure system. So I know that the local councils here are using grants that they have at the moment, whereas water moving between different water bodies, dams, or whatever it might be open channels, now they’re replacing those with pipelines, that makes a huge amount of sense, because you reduce water losses. The The other thing is, is investing in water reuse infrastructure, because water is scarce, right? So this single use of water mentality that we have had in the past in some towns, because it’s been plentiful, you know, potentially, there’s a there’s a lot that can be done with water reuse. And so some very progressive councils, flatpacks, Shire Council have put in water treatment plants ahead of you know, not when when it wasn’t urgent, you know, and they are, and they, they have the benefits of that now. So I think there is there is definitely water treatment technology out there. And I think that’s where some investment needs to go as well as building up the infrastructure, so that we’re more resilient, because we know that we’re going to have more frequent and potentially longer duration droughts, that the past is no longer a key to the future. So we really just need to start planning for, you know, more frequent drought years and maybe longer duration droughts as well. And we can do that I think we’ve got the technology yet does require investment. We need to value water. Yeah. I sometimes think that the value of water, the amount we pay for water per liter, or per kilo later, is just doesn’t represent the importance that it has. So I know that we would, as a society, say water is an essential service, we’ve got to have a water provision into our household or whatever it is, and it shouldn’t cost us very much. But if it doesn’t cost very much, there’s no price signaling for how valuable that commodity is and how scarce it is.


Murray Guest  09:55

You raise it is an interesting thing and I actually hadn’t thought of this before, but there’s been lots of talk over the years about how the price of electricity has been going up in the country and Australia’s price of electricity per kilowatt versus other countries, you know, is the cost of living here, you know, higher because of that, but, and I can’t rattle off the the numbers around water and the cost of water and where we sit with that and what we pay. And if we did pay more a would we respect that water more and appreciate it and be how that extra levy could be used? For the treatment infrastructure we’re talking about?


Stef Loader  10:32

Well, I think there somehow needs to be a Connect action between them, right? So, you know, I recently we got to the point where we’re not on a water grid, we got to the point where we needed to have water delivered, the cost of the water in the truck was tiny. In fact, we didn’t even get charged for it, we just paid for the truck to bring it. So that’s the sort of differential but I do think there needs to be a better link between water infrastructure costs and the cost of maintaining the infrastructure to deliver the water to you. And to treat the water and all that stuff. And and the price we pay for it. If there’s a complete disconnect, I think we don’t know i, i market, the market signaling and the pricing, I think, I think that that that is an important component of how we value things.


Murray Guest  11:20

I’m gonna change the subject a little stiff. 


Stef Loader  11:25

We’re gonna start talking about water economics. 


Murray Guest  11:28

But what I’m thinking about is Who would you have thought 25 years ago when you were studying geology and working as a geologist would you have been sitting here now talking about the passion you have for water? So I actually would love for you to share your journey of how you got to be where you are now and the work you’ve done. Because you’ve had an amazing journey worked in some really interesting places around the world.


Stef Loader  11:54

Yeah, okay. Why would I worry about water and what economics? Okay, so you’re right. I’m a geologist, and I grew up largely in wv. And so I studied at university. In fact, it’s probably worth mentioning that I didn’t intend to study geology when I went to university. I intend to intended to study maths and chemistry. And so


Murray Guest  12:18

what was the transition? How did that happen?


Stef Loader  12:20

Well, I am I was fortunate to have a scholarship with one of Rio Tinto is what’s now called Rio Tinto elementium companies, it was called melco. Back then, and they had instituted a scholarship for women in science, which was extremely helpful for me and go to university, not only from a financial perspective, but also because I got to work for basically four months of the year from the moment that my exam finished until the sometimes after the first test supposed to be back at uni, in businesses around the CRA group as it was. And the first job I had was at Boyne smelters in Queensland. And it was as a chemist, and the project involved working alongside a geologist who took all the samples outside environmental samples. And I had to stay in the lab. And I realized that a chemist spends most of their time in the lab. Yeah, wasn’t gonna suit me at all. So I went back to uni and thought, thank goodness, I did this extra subject that fit into my, into my timetable of geology, and I really enjoyed it. And the other side, I really I changed my focus. I did chemistry and geology. And and I don’t think I did any max beyond first year, I don’t think so. I changed my focus and I got I got Kemal COVID changed the scope of this, because it’s a science of good, yeah. And and so I continued on and you know, I was able to work, as you know, go and work and do my vacation work as a geologist, which gave me that exposure, and it was absolutely the right thing to do.


Murray Guest  13:57

So I happen to so we’ve got similar background, because I worked also at Tomago Aluminium, which is part of the group buying is a lot are they the largest or second largest aluminium smelter, I think in the, in the northern, sorry, the southern hemisphere, I believe.


Stef Loader  14:13

I don’t know, I couldn’t tell you that anymore. But at the time, they were very new. It was early days of boring. So they were one of the most advanced in terms of using technology. You know, they were one of the newest smelters


Murray Guest  14:27

Do you remember what do you remember what it felt like? Or how you how you felt actually when you first walked onto that smelter, and you saw the technology and what was happening in that sort of facility.


Stef Loader  14:40

So for context, my contrast was Bell Bay. So I’d been to Bell Bay, you know, that would have to be one of the oldest smelters in Australia. I don’t know. But it’s it’s old, 


Murray Guest  14:50

Down in Tasmania,


Stef Loader  14:52

down in Tasmania. So going from Belle Bay, which was probably 50 I’m guessing I don’t know, up to boy Boy was a dramatic difference just in, you know, just in the, in the, you know, you kind of think about it, bell Bay was kind of like what you see on old movies is, you know, being chains everywhere and you know that sort of dark and you know, it’s harsh and all that stuff that’s not really hot down there in, in Tasmania. But that’s the vision I have in my mind is big old sheds that are sort of rusted and colored. And whereas you go to boyan, and it’s a beautiful layout, and there’s, you know, it’s not big chains and things, there’s overhead cranes, and, you know, it just looks newer, and sparkly. And everybody was wearing uniform. And you know, there was just so many aspects to it that were it just felt like it was high tech. Yeah. And I think it’s always been, there was always really well, maybe I’m making this up now, because that, you know, in hindsight, you always remember the good things. But there’s always been an improvement culture at Boeing smelters. So there was always an improvement, there was a focus on continuous improvement in its various forms. And so that certainly was very, I felt that when I was there, and part of the project, what I was doing was investigating whether there was a more efficient and cheaper way of doing a particular type of analysis that they were doing in the, in the lab. So you know, it was if it was focused on improvement, so yeah, it was a great place to be.


Murray Guest  16:24

So when you finished your degree, and you’re a geologist, where did you head off to then.


Stef Loader  16:30

So I started my career with CRA in the goldfields in the, in the western or the Murchison goldfields NWA. So, to the, to the west of the, you know, more well known Eastern Gulf hills, which is cat where Kalgoorlie and boulder said, and really, I spent two years you know, most of it in the bush, most of us running as a to yc, to the project geologist, running the programs in the field, you know, chasing around drill rigs, and, you know, planning your programs and managing your contractors and talking to farmers and, you know, making sure that we will be using their land and, you know, basically working remotely, and I loved it, I absolutely loved it. Most of the time outside very little time in the office. But you know, the time in the office was high value, we had a really great bunch of geologists, who were very interested in talking about the geology. And so really, the the, you know, one of the attractions of geology is that, you know, the rocks will never tell you how they formed. And they were formed a long time ago. Yes. So you, you’re, you know, you you’re unpicking it, you’re picking up all the pieces of information. And you’re putting together the story of why the gold might be here, there or somewhere else and why you might drill it. So it’s constantly about taking information, looking at it from a first principles perspective, and telling a story. And then in the case of expression, you need to get somebody to buy into that story so that they’ll give you the funds to drill holes or do whatever works.


Murray Guest  18:02

So I , thank you for that insight, because I’ve never thought of it having a story. And I love the way that you describe the story of the rocks and the story of how it got there and where we’re going to go next and then engaging people in that story.


Stef Loader  18:18

Yep. And that’s really, I think, what I loved about and why I continue to be fascinated by that. Because even when it comes to it moves on from exploration to resource definition, so when you found something and you need to, you know, convince people that the model that you’ve put together make sense, and it really is all going to be there. Again, that’s the story, right? You’re telling the story of how that mineralization got there, and you put it in context of, you know, this is the environment that we’re in, you know, we’re in this belt or whatever, and this belt was formed in so you can go down from a very large sort of continental style, or country scale or terrain scale story all the way down to how this deposit got there. And, you know, one of the things and I reflected on this, I was telling somebody else recently about my interest in and how I came to be interested in geology. But one of the things I recognized in that conversation is a lot of I spent a lot of time reading papers and just if I, if, you know, I was involved in a discovery in Wales, I was part of a team that that converted what was an interesting bit of copper that everybody was interested in, but we we put a story together so that we could get the funding and we actually drilled it out. And that became the basis for the step on mine which is now which has been developed and changed hands a number of times now but you know, quite a significant copper deposit up in Laos and you know, to a lot of the things that I realized is your I read everything I could get my hands on about that style of deposit. I think I used to drive the people who were in the CRA library, a bit mad although I think I secretly loved it. Because I would read the most, I’d find the most obscure references, like I found master’s thesis from 1968, or something that was about the middle energy of chakras that I said, you got to find me this. And they went and found it, you know, they went and found it and sent it to me, you know, so are these to love that, you know, I’d be in Laos, and we get this package once a week from from Melbourne, and I rip it open, they’d be my interoffice envelope, and they’d have all these photocopies of papers that I just devour, and then come up with stories, you know, and sometimes I got told off for being a big fan. But you know, a couple times I was right, so you know, um, but yeah, so that’s that. So you want me to continue on?


Murray Guest  20:47

Now I’m just thinking about the beauty of what I’m feeling in that process of taking the theory, the thesis, the research that people have done, and then the practical boots on the ground work that you’re doing, and bring that together to tell a story about what you’re finding? And the role of doing that?


Stef Loader  21:08

That’s right. And, you know, to be, I’ll just be, you know, something that I’ve learned about myself is, and that is that I actually do i do that relatively well, is I actually saw a note from someone, I don’t know why I read it again. But you know, someone said to me, you know, the the text was you talk, you’ve taken technical issues and take complex technical ideas, and helps me understand them, even though I don’t have a technical background. And I think that’s probably something that I’ve been doing that geology has taught me to do, because most of the time the people you’re asking for the money from aren’t necessarily as embedded in this strategy. And I do recall a bit later in my career, when I was so you know, from there, I got involved in I got very interested in statistics. And I was working at a mine in Canada. And I was doing, I was an analyst. So really, it was all about the data. And looking at the data, everything from data about the ore body all the way through to the diamonds that we sold, and the value that was placed on it by customers. And I remember doing a presentation from one of the senior executives in Rio Tinto and talking through that whole what I had learned about where we were, and I do remember, really, I don’t know exactly what he said, but he said something along the lines of I’ve been working in this stuff, or I’ve been listening to this stuff for a long time. And and I thought I really understood it. And now I really do you know, you’ve given me that extra level of understanding. And I you know, it’s only when you think back on that you think Yeah, that’s pretty good.


Murray Guest  22:45

It’s good. Yeah. 


Stef Loader  22:47

Be happy about that skill. So 


Murray Guest  22:50

And what I, from my experience working with you when you’re at northparkes mind, which we’ll talk about in a minute, the, the need and the ability to also translate that technical knowledge down through an organization as well. So people get the strategy, that organization where we’re going, why are we going there? And what does it mean for them? So I can, what I experienced from you is it’s not just doing it as that technical expert, but also from a leadership expert. And Alicia position is just so important as well.


Stef Loader  23:21

Yes. And I would extend that to Yeah, so as a leader, I think one of the key things is being able to engage people in the story, you know, the future of whatever it is you’re leading, help them to find their place in it, which is about tailoring the story to them. And I think it extends to hate the word stakeholders, but it is a good collective word for those outside your organization. So whether it be government, whether it be regulators, whether it be just your community leaders, engaging those people, and also being able to tell them that story, and in a way that they understand and that well, that, you know, that means something to them, and they can find their place in it.


Murray Guest  24:03

I heard that marketing expression a couple of years ago, and you just reminded me and it was something along the lines of how people are going to have this story anyway. But it’s better for them to have the story you want them to have than the story they’re making up?


Stef Loader  24:18

That’s right. Yes. You want to insert the story into their head.


Murray Guest  24:23

So you’re in Perth. So what was the journey? Because then you mentioned Canada.


Stef Loader  24:30

Ah, so I left I left Australia at the end of 1995, beginning of 96. And I didn’t come back until 2012. Okay, there’s quite a lot of hops along the way. So I went for four years I went to Wales. Yeah. So all of that was with Rio Tinto and the precursor CRA. So I was working in xpreshan mile so talked about that. We made a discovery, copper discovery, but we’re working on a gold project as well. I then went From there over to Chile and spent two years in Chile doing greenfields exploration, so that’s sort of very conceptual, where you’re, you’re saying, okay, you know, I want to explore here because I think that maybe what I’ve seen over there might be repeated over here or something along those gotcha. So real greenfields stuff, and I did a couple of years of that. And then well, partly because the opportunity opened up, but also because the person I was about to marry was living in Peru, I moved to Peru. And so we were able to get married and live together. And I worked in Peru for a couple of years. But that was a that was back back down at the at the at the deposit scale. So we had, we actually had a mineralized system, and we were defining it. And that actually is still, you know, I think it’s been developed into a mine. It’s taken a while because it’s relatively small, but it’s taking a while. And that’s, that’s quite exciting to know that that’s been developed. And then I went to Canada. And that was the first time I’d worked actually on a mine. So really, for the first decade of my career, maybe even Yeah, pretty much a decade, I was on exploration. And you know, the mining side, I’d worked on a mine site as in vacation work, but I really didn’t appreciate the mining aspect of it. So then I really it was, it was a really great experience, because I understood that metallurgy was important and how the rocks were going to behave as they went through a plant, but really going to mindsight. You thought yeah, okay, I really get this. And I had a really fantastic role, because I got to work with the resource geologists, the metallurgist, and processing engineers and maintenance engineers on the plant on all the way through the people who sorted the diamonds and sold the diamonds. So I really worked with the whole value chain, and was able to understand, you know, what was important? Where were the constraints, where were the Where were the bottlenecks in the process, where were all our data bottlenecks. I haven’t worked with auditors because it was when the Sox regime was coming in. So we had these internal auditors trying to get us ready for Sox audits. So you know, really wide ranging and very database, data focused statistics focused roles. Yeah, fantastic exposure to the whole mining value chain.


Murray Guest  27:25

When you look back and reflect on those different places you lived as part of those different operations. Do you have more fun memories of living in one space more than the other? Like, because I think about Peru or Chile, or Laos or camp? Like? What what one, do you say? I just, you know, had some great moments of living in that sort of country in that space. All of them? Oh, excellent. No, I can’t I can’t tell you what I prefer. That’s like asking what’s your favorite child? I know, come on.


Stef Loader  27:58

I know. It’s like asking, what’s your favorite ice cream? All of them. No, all genuinely all of them. Yeah. You know, I think I think I’m a good expert, right. I’m not an expert, that pines from my home country, I get in there. And I get, I just love where I am and make the most of it. And you know, it’s always easy to look back and say, oh, but you didn’t have this. And you didn’t have that. And you know that I’ve lived in India, right? We might talk about that. You know, India is a very, very different way of life than it is in orange. Yes, Central West views as well. So, but no, I absolutely loved every part of living in all of those places, and would go back and live there again. And I love going back to visit because you see how much it’s changed. And you have all this nostalgia.


Murray Guest  28:45

Yes. I also, I mean, it just shows you the opportunities that are out there for people. When you follow your passion for what you love doing. And then part of a large organization. We don’t have to be part of a large organization, but there’s just these opportunities out there to go and see the world. Follow your passion. And as you said, and learn in the process as well.


Stef Loader  29:08

Yeah, and embrace your environment, right? embrace the constraints, you know, there’s always going to be constraints about what you can and can’t do when you’re not living in your native culture, so to speak, where you grew up. So just embrace the constraints. You know, and I think we’ll get we’ll get maybe this rabbit hole. But, you know, I see, you know, I’ve lived in a lot of places and been part of expatriate communities, and I always feel slightly sad, although I can understand where they’re coming from, when when there’s people who, who kind of butting their head head up against those constraints. You know, they’re constantly wanting to push them out of the way and you think you know, that society is bigger than you, you’re gonna move it on your own, embrace it, you know, or try to find a compromise or a way of living within those constraints. So,


Murray Guest  29:53

You have done your strengths assessment some time ago, and we have talked about your strengths before And I know positivity is up there. And this is shining through right now. 


Stef Loader  30:04

Yes, it is. 


Murray Guest  30:07

And that positivity, I’ve always loved that you bring to your leadership around. Okay, how can we make this work? What does it look like and bringing that energy? And I guess the belief that it’s going to work out within the environment and the constraints we have?


Stef Loader  30:22

That’s right. Yeah. And that’s, you know, there’s a, there’s a dark side to that, of course, as well, which is, you know, not being able to see the, you know, the rough the rough pattern on the path. But definitely, that’s been something that has served me well, because I will know people often say you always see the bright side, you’ll always see the positive. I have had to work hard in my current role as a director where it is sometimes advantageous to be skeptical. So I’m alert. I’m constantly challenging myself about being skeptical. And, and the task, the trick that well, the trigger that I use is if there’s something I’m just makes me doubletake, and I want to, I think, Oh, I could go over that. But now I won’t, because my role is not to allow myself to gloss over that I might have glossed over that in the past. But my role now requires me to understand that a bit more, why am I uncomfortable? You know,


Murray Guest  31:25

So can I ask in that moment? Is that a feeling in your body? Like, is it a gut feeling type of intuitive type feeling? 


Stef Loader  31:32

Yes. It’s a physical feeling of that’s not quite right. You know, it’s it’s kind of, it’s almost like a physical phrasing. It’s a mental phrasing, actually, it’s your brain, my brain, I can feel myself mentally freezing at that point, and not being able to move on to the next thought. So I kind of have to go, Okay, I know, there’s something I need to look into there and ask some more questions. And what I’ve learned over time, is sometimes I haven’t had the confidence or known how to ask the question, so I haven’t. And I’ve often regretted, because it’s come out later that that was actually something that needed to be questioned. And I thought, you know, I had that feeling. I knew that, why didn’t I do. So I’ve kind of taught myself to pay attention, to do something about it. Not everything turns out to be of substance. But you know, a lot of the time there is something that actually does need to be, you know, sort of uncovered or investigated at least or too fast.


Murray Guest  32:29

And I think that is such as a leadership lesson that I’ve learned. And I’ve heard other people talk about around listening to your body, listen to that reaction, that instinct that’s coming up and pausing. The pause might be very short. But there’s power in that pause and saying, Well, what do I do with this? Instead of just pushing through?


Stef Loader  32:49

Yes. And what am I really feeling? Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. I think that’s, you know, the physical is actually interesting, you say that, because that, that reaction, that bodily reaction can actually also happen, I recognize to, to a person to something that comes from a person. And that’s actually more challenging, because if you’ve had, I try to truly believe that most people are capable, and they’re not actually deliberately trying to deceive you, right? Most people are actually quite good at what they do. And they’re not really trying to deceive you. But if I have, somehow have a trust deficit with somebody, I will have that reaction to, and it’s really important to separate the trust deficit from Is this really a problem? So that’s something and that’s hard. That’s really hard, because I do have that same response with you know, I and I find myself thinking, I betcha that such and such who I have a trust deficit with. And I think well, hang on, hang on, hang on, nothing to do with the person put the person aside. Let’s pretend that idea came from somebody else. Now, you know, so yeah,


Murray Guest  33:55

I think that what what in my language that’s testing our assumptions, or going back to our bit earlier around the stories we create, and the stories that we we use to influence other people, we’re also creating our stories internally anyway, around situations and people and validating that story? And is that going to help me in this moment or not? to kind of get in my way. But, again, I think it comes back to that pause, and how often in life and in leadership roles of all the business, we’re not pausing to actually go, Well, what does that mean? What does that tell me? Am I going to pause I’ll just keep pushing through. 


Stef Loader  34:32

Yes. And when you’re in an operational environment where there’s, you know, the, the day to day sort of churn, I don’t know if that’s the right word. But you know, the day to day constant constant, it’s constant activity. And it’s hard to pause, because there’s always the next thing, you know, the next meeting to go to or the next thing to read or the next person who wants to talk to you or whatever it might be time to pause.


Murray Guest  34:58

So I’m gonna ask Kennedy geologists make decisions based on their gut instinct. Of course, I think everybody in the technical realm of things I’m just wondering is that the challenge right now needs to be data based?


Stef Loader  35:11

No, no, I think that’s the beauty of geology. As I said, you know, the rocks won’t pop up and tell you, you’re wrong. Yeah. So and, you know, no one has been there when these rocks were formed, unless you’re looking at very recent stuff. So. So yes, you can, right. I think I think it’s legitimate to based on your experience, I might have said, I’ve seen this before. And when you get that feeling, you know, I just have this feeling, that’s what I’m going to find, or that’s how it’s going to turn out. And I think it’s absolutely should be, you know, I actually think most people should sometimes make decisions based on that, because that’s what we, where we are. I don’t like making the analogy between humans and computers, but we we collect experiences and information. And that is, that is our brain, or our person telling us that, you know, there’s something that I’ve collected together all the information that are processed in the background that you may don’t even consciously process. That’s, that’s our brain telling us. Hey, I found an answer for you. Yeah, yeah. Based on the experiences and data that you have up here. always worth testing.


Murray Guest  36:24

Yes. So looking back on your career, where, as you said, you’re overseas until 2012. I think he said 12. Yep. And then when you move back to Australia, you are then the leader of northparkes, golden copper mine. Okay. When you reflect on your journey, what, what’s been some of the leadership lessons that stand out to you? And my listeners, this is a curveball when you just throw someone?


Stef Loader  37:03

Um, okay. Leadership lessons from northparkes are from the whole journey.


Murray Guest  37:10

Well, I’m happy for either, because I know that both are going to be valuable that went because you were the angle leader in different titles over what was it five, six years at northparkes?


Stef Loader  37:24

Yeah, pretty much one title, I changed for myself, um, in between time, when I felt that the business was getting a bit small within a large organization. Okay, so possibly, but I have learned is that I don’t know how to express this. But I didn’t recognize how much people leadership exposure I had had, I find it much easier now to look back and talk about the things that I have done and talk to other people about how I’ve learned from them. Whereas when I was in the moment, I didn’t really recognize those things as being formative.


Murray Guest  38:09



Stef Loader  38:10

Okay. So that’s probably being able to recognize where my experiences come from, and why I have particular beliefs, I suppose, or I have particular tendencies. As a leader, I can look back on my career now. And I can see some of those things that I’ve learned along the way.


Murray Guest  38:27

So what I think what I hear from that is your skills ability capability, as a leader don’t just develop when you’re leading people, but through your whole journey. And that’s right. Whether that’s influencing other people, managing stakeholders, as you said, selling a story, getting people to understand some information or that lead you to that leadership role. When you’re actually leading people, let’s just say,


Stef Loader  38:54

That’s right. And and you the experiences that you have, where you may be not didn’t have formal leadership. accountabilities, you know, they really have actually taught you a lot about when you do take on the formal leadership accountabilities. So, I think I’ve learnt to be more humble, though, over time. So I sometimes shudder to some of the arrogance that I think I my memory tells me that I would have displayed in the past both technical arrogance and arrogance around what others were thinking. So I actually catch myself now, you know, I really try to while I try to put myself in the position of others, and in the past, I would have said, I know what they’re thinking and I would have been quite sure about how they would think about things. Now I I try to be much more cautious. Yeah. Because, you know, people are all different And trying to I mean, the most common place that I find myself responding to this is when you’re recruiting somebody, and you look at their profile, and you look at their history, and somebody might come up in that in that in that panel, and they might say, oh, but you know, they will. And they’ll make this assumption. Yes. But But this, you know, that won’t be important to them. And I find myself saying, well, hang on, actually, how do we know that there’s nothing here that tells us that that’s a fact about them. Let’s not make that assumption. Because I think that’s the dangerous thing about assuming somebody else’s attitude or opinion on something, or what might be important to them, when you’re trying to give them a job offer, you know, and make it appealing to them. Don’t. It’s very dangerous to make assumptions about individuals, it’s safer to make assumptions about groups, because groups are therefore, you know, they’re made up of a collective of individuals, and the group may behave in a way that is much more predictable that, you know, you’ve learned because all studies that show millennials, right, would they’ll tell you that it’s really important that millennials, as a group, really care about the social responsibility aspects of a company before they, before they join them. That doesn’t however, mean that every millennial


Murray Guest  41:13

No, that’s true.


Stef Loader  41:14

Yes. And so, and they might have a completely different view, and what they value might be completely different to the other person that you’re recruiting. So if you repeat, if you want to attract a group of people, you know, a generalized group of people, yes. But if you’re within that group, and how you talk to them, and how you attract them, within that group may actually be quite different. So I don’t know if that analogy has worked very well. But you know, you know what I mean?


Murray Guest  41:37

Yeah, I get what you mean. And the holding assumptions loosely, takes focus or takes attention. But I think it actually also prevent making errors and mistakes. And as you said, in a recruitment process could actually be tuning you in to pick up stuff, because you were trying to have that confirmation bias and say, that’s, that’s what I’m thinking it’s there. But actually stepping back and going being open to what is ahead of you. And that is really powerful. I think that’s just a good general leadership lesson for everybody to consider about how much are they doing that, as opposed to just running off their assumptions they’re making, because it’s a natural human tendency to save energy and make those assumptions but they can get in our way?


Stef Loader  42:23

Yeah, that’s right. So the other leadership lesson that’s come to mind is that you don’t have to be liked by everybody. Like, you don’t have to please, everyone. Yeah, I think that I spent a fair bit of time, even up until, you know, when I left northparkes. Now, maybe, maybe I’ve kind of started on a scale of going down. But I spent a lot of time as a leader wanting to be liked or wanting to please everyone, not just within the organization, but all stakeholders. So there’s some positive aspects to that, you know, and that is that, you know, you when you’ve got lots of when I first came to northparkes, there was some competing stakeholder sort of views. You know, we had an internal strong culture at northparkes, which was very much about northparkes, we are northparkes, we’re independent, you know, we don’t care too much about Rio Tinto, we’ve got our own culture, and this is the way we do things. So it was a very strong pride in northparkes as a as a, as a entity as a brand as a, as a, as a as an existence, you know, yes, loyalty to your class. But then, you know, Rio Tinto really wanted to have northparkes within the fold, is it own off parts for quite some time, never really felt that it had been integrated into the systems and all that sort of stuff. So that was good. That was a way of positively using that attribute that I have that wanting to play is because I was looking at ways of Okay, how do we, how do we do both? Right, how do we value the local, but also value the global and or valleys a national approach to something and how do we make it all come together and make it work? So that was a positive way of, of I thought, I thought, you know, applying in retrospect, now I look back. Good that I wanted to please, because had I been, you know, about? It’s all about me, it’s all about us? I could have really got very engaged in that. You know, we’re okay, go away. Yes. Yeah. Which is not helpful wouldn’t have wouldn’t have been helpful in that case. So, so positive aspects to wanting to please everybody. But I do think that, you know, I wasn’t as decisive as I could have been, because I was spent too much time considering how could I make everybody happy in this particular circumstance, rather than doing what was probably best for the majority?


Murray Guest  44:44

Yeah, yeah. And I think I can totally associate with that. I understand that from my own journey as well. And lots leaders I in a workshop this week was talking to some leaders and I said, Would you rather be liked or respected and there was a resounding yes respected. And so what does that look like? And sometimes that’s some of the tough conversations and some of the tough decisions. But I think it’s a lesson that does come with experience.


Stef Loader  45:13

Yes, it does. And you kind of wish that you could accelerate the experience, experience my daughter, because she’s kind of she has this trait, too. She wants to please everybody. And make sure everybody’s happy to her own detriment. Unfortunately, that’s what she goes. But you know, she’s just hanging in there. She’s quite resilient. So yes, it’s a it’s an important leadership lesson. So that’s probably the one.


Murray Guest  45:39

Yeah, great. So in your role now, as a director on a number of companies, and different sort of format around non executive director, ship, what’s that feel like being in a director role versus leading an organization?


Stef Loader  45:55

It’s very different. And it’s been, it’s been a transition, right. And each company in a director role at each company is slightly different to right. So smaller companies, you know, a director can get quite involved in some of the day to day activities and management. You know, I want to say, I’m going to do the positive, it’s quite liberating, right, because, as I referred to, before, there’s the day to day activity, there’s the intensity of day to day activity, which actually lots of really urgent things that aren’t necessarily important to us that language. So there’s lots and lots and lots of urgency, and there’s lots of things. And there’s always a surprise every morning when you wake up sort of thing. That to be free of that. And to be able to spend time, pretty much exclusively focused on long term questions. Yeah, and long term risks, is liberating. Yeah. Now, the downside of that is that you don’t have that day to day interaction with people, you don’t have that day to day when that day to day, you know, sort of, now we’ve we’ve, we’ve sorted that out. And yeah, that, you know, and, and in particularly the interaction with people and the opportunity to work with people on a day to day basis, that’s the kind of downside of that. So that’s the way it’s really dramatically different is your principally focused, really, you can list on the one hand, the three or four or five things which are really important to that company, at that point in time, and they usually won’t change that much over the course of the year. And you know, what it is, you know, I find that I’m constantly thinking about so one of the big issues. To give you an example, one of the big issues from for all of the companies I’m on the board are really up for the mind, I think is coming through for the mining industry is there’s just a lack of expertise and people in the in the mining professions, like the mining related professions, and we know that, but what I might tell me the risk is, it’s not just about the lack of people, it’s actually meaning that we’ve got much lower quality decision making and in some of our operations that are quite technically difficult, and that really need really good decision making. Now, for me, the implications are not tomorrow or next day, they’re three years down the track. So the mind design decisions that should be made now will have implications three years down the track. I’m really, really concerned that we’ve got we haven’t we’re making decisions now. But because of the status of the industry that we are going to find only here this three or four years down the track. And so that’s a problem statement. But I don’t know, if it’s a risk.


Murray Guest  48:45

Do you think there’s part of that risk? Is the talent attraction and retention in mining, as it being a desirable career path from what it used to be?


Stef Loader  48:57

is part of it is that yes, part of it is that part of it is the the career trajectories that we’re offering people within the industry. I think, and this will be a bit controversial, but I think there’s too much acceptance of giving people probably haven’t raised this correctly, but we’re having people who’ve got you know, they’ve worked on one mine, maybe two, not very drastically different. And then they go into a consultancy role expert role. Yeah, actually, I don’t actually think we should be allowing that to happen. Now. They have oversight from people who’ve got 3040 years experience and it’s not about the years of experience, it’s actually about the complexity of experience. So that’s what I was taught from somebody who’s worked on lots of different things. But I don’t think that we are providing career paths or or really emphasizing because it doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t you don’t have to spend years and years but you do need to get exposure and get get in and solve some really meaty problems in an number of different environments or a number of different challenges in order to then be able to use that experience, and and do it. So I’m afraid that we’re really somewhat, you know, we’re putting a bit too much confidence in people who really, or don’t have the breadth of experience that we are assuming they do. Yeah, I think that’s a problem. So and that’s partly to do with attraction and retention, but it’s also to do with career development pathway.


Murray Guest  50:29

Yeah. And in a director role, then, like, you’re saying there’s a top two or three things, three or four things you’re working on, at the board level, where you’re thinking about, okay, what’s the strategy for us to make sure that we’ve got the right people in the right positions with the right skill sets experiences down the track in that future?


Stef Loader  50:50

That’s right. Yes. And, you know, we’re positioning ourselves appropriately for what our future might look like, you know, we, we we have the I mean, just one company I was thinking about recently, you know, will it have the capacity to actually raise capital in the future? You know, given all these things that are happening, you know, will they be able to raise capital into the future? And what will they do about that? So, you know, these are all you know, longer term, it’s not, it’s not an issue now, but it might be an issue for this particular company. I’m not on board of this company, but it might be an issue for this particular company in five years time.


Murray Guest  51:26

Yeah, gotcha. This has been so awesome chatting with you. I’ve loved I know you quite well, Steph, and I’ve known you for a while but to stay here. And to celebrate and to reflect on your journey to this point. It’s been awesome, I really appreciate it. No problem, it’s been fun to talk to you tomorrow. I do know, something you did raise with me in the past was about the role of technology in the future of work. And that’s something that you are thinking about and considering is, when I say that, what’s the first thing that comes to mind.


Stef Loader  52:06

So I feel like a bit of a broken record on this. But I do think the future of technology and work is, I think starts with defining the role of the human versus technology. And I think that so many times, and maybe maybe the conversation has changed, and I haven’t got with the program, but the conversation is so much about the technology and what the technology can do. And and I really think that the key, my view is the way, the way to think about this is to start with the human at the center, and really understand in with respect to your business, what part does the human play? What’s the competitive advantage that a human has over everything else, basically. And then if you start with that human at the center, then you can determine where you might be able to where does the human machine or human technology interface belong to your particular life for your particular context?


Murray Guest  53:03

So from my understanding that sounds like human centered design, which I think is in contrast, unfortunately, what I hear on the other side often is, okay, what’s the latest, greatest new way of technology? And then how do we fit the people around that? Yeah, which we want to turn that around,


Stef Loader  53:21

we want to turn that around. And we also need to be very clear that it’s got with so many things, actually, the context of the organization and the social context matter. So the context of the organization and the the culture of the organization and how things are done in that cup in urine Coke, definitely drink culture, the way things we do around here, do we do things around here, but also within a company, there will also be local cultures, which is social have a social context. And I think that is so many times lost, when, especially in big companies, because it’s all we’re all the same. You know, I mean, everything from you know, I think, Mary, probably something that we can, all we can both relate to is the safety, the site, what we do about safety. So what you do around getting people to live and breathe safety and think about their safety and the safety of others at one site is not going to be the same as what you do on the other side of the country. You know, and to make a very clear example, you know, most people live next door to the mind site, you know, their families, sort of, they have constant connection and touch points with the organization like at northparkes. You know, everyone’s in the community, you play sport with people. Everyone knows somebody else from the mind. So there’s a very community based, you can have a very community based safety culture. Yeah. Whereas if you’re on a flying flight mine, you know, it’s a very different social context.


Murray Guest  54:45

That’s a good point. And whether it’s its safety, it’s continuous improvement, it’s innovation, it’s technology, it’s customer service, you know, we could go on, but being mindful of the culture at the local level, And not made, again, making assumptions, let’s just roll it all out, because that’s the way we do it in other parts of our business or what other companies have done it, let’s just do what they do, because it won’t work or won’t stick.


Stef Loader  55:10

It won’t stick. So I am about to have my reading list because the wg EA have just released it, the University of Queensland has done best practice when it comes to gender equality. I can’t wait to read that, because it’ll be interesting to see whether that is recognized. Because there will be best practices that work beautifully in some organizations, but don’t work in others. And I think we’re getting to that point. I mean, there’s some basic hygiene stuff. And we often talk about that there’s some hygiene stuff that you that you need to do, or that all organizations can do, which is usually about creating a construct. But you know, the the difficulty with all these things is the social and the organizational context is what like you say what works in one organization won’t necessarily work in the same way.


Murray Guest  55:55

Because the point, the point that that organization’s at right now, is different to the journey that another organization has been on to get to that point. That’s right. Yep. And the trajectory is going to be different as well. That’s right. Yep. skews, excuse me, Steph, I just got a couple of last questions. And one is reflecting on all of the things we’ve been talking about today, what some that you’re proud of, in your journey.


Stef Loader  56:28

Okay, I’m so enormously proud of, of northparkes. And we’re at seats and its reputation. You know, I built on a reputation that was already there, when I arrived, you know, northparkes had a good reputation, I think I built on that helped cement it, you know, we did a little repositioning of the brand, but I’m really proud of that has been maintained that that the way that northparkes, the brand, the the positioning, the image that it presents to the outside world really is a continuation of the of what it was like under my leadership, which says to me that it wasn’t the identity, there was not links to me, it was actually truly links to the strength of the organization and the people in the organization. And that that’s given it longevity. So it’s three years have been gone. And that still continues, you know, I’m really proud of that. So I look back on that. And, and I’m really proud of, of, of when or proxies, and we’re more parts continues to be and how it’s it’s perceived by a bunch of stakeholders and its own employees and the community


Murray Guest  57:39

And from the perception locally, nationally, or internationally. That reputation is in a great position. And I think you should be proud of that for how you built on what was there and continue that through your tenure and to where it is now. And also throughout their time implemented and supported and led some major cultural change as well.


Stef Loader  58:05

Yeah, and through and through changes in ownership to right. So going from being part of a Rio Tinto to being part of Sema, which is not known, there was an unknown quantity to mine. And I think I’ll say that I am. I hope I’m I think I am proud of making what, in hindsight really was a quite bold decision to to try this director career thing out. And, you know, it has it’s not it’s still working progress. So I’m not, you know, I don’t feel completely comfortable that I’ve made the transition yet. But I do think I have been told, you know, I’ve talked to a lot of people about the process, and I’m in a mentoring program at the moment. And I have been told through that mentoring program, one of the pieces of feedback I have got is, you know, maybe you adjust one role too early, maybe you should have done another CEO type role first, and then jumped out, and, you know, that kind of thing, or it gets me down a bit. But, you know, I’m here, and I’m doing it just thought that I’ve actually potentially got over the hurdle. So to be, you know, considered, and I, you know, I have to give myself a little bit of credit, you know, the companies that talk to me, who are, you know, potentially considering whether I might be applicable to their board, the fact that they’re actually considering me says, Well, you know, I’m, I have some reputation, or there’s some credibility there for that. So I’m kind of proud of myself for doing that. For backing myself to do it. Although it took a great deal of strength at the time.


Murray Guest  59:46

I’m sure it wasn’t, and I know it wasn’t a split decision one afternoon. I’m just going to do this because that’s not how it happens. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, I understand that. Thank you for sharing your journey, your leadership. expertise and knowledge and experience also insights into your technical knowledge and experience and your journey. I feel like we could talk for a lot longer. But I’m also mindful we getting towards the end. So thank you. It’s been absolutely wonderful idea. Mary, I do want to ask you, Steph, what is your definition of inspired energy?


Stef Loader  1:00:24

Well, it’s really easy. I know, you asked that of all your podcast guests. Inspired energy, to me is the energy that you draw from others. That’s what it means to me. When you say inspired energy, it’s the energy I draw, I should talk about me, it’s the energy I draw from my interaction with others, whether that be you know, in the workplace, or whether it be in the community, or whether it be in my local supermarket shop, you know. Alright, that’s my inspired energy.


Murray Guest  1:00:54

I love it. And I totally aligned with that and agree with that, from my own personal experience as well. So thank you.


Stef Loader  1:01:02

Thank you for your inspired energy give me some.


Murray Guest  1:01:05

Awesome, thanks, Steph. I also want to make sure we don’t forget some of those fantastic initiatives. You mentioned earlier around, buy from the boys visiting the boys going with your MTS key, spending time in areas that need it. So in the show notes, going to make sure we’ve got links to all of those, because that’s really important, whether that’s across Australia, but honestly, around the world, if you can get out of the cities and go and visit rural areas and support the people that live and work there. That makes a huge difference. But we’ll make sure I’ve got the links across for the New South Wales ones, because there’s quite a number of those that want to make sure we support. Also, if there’s anything that you found really interesting and inspiring in my wonderful chat with Steph, please share it online. Use the hashtag inspired energy. And if you want to find out more about Steph and the awesome work she does, you can find her on LinkedIn and I’ll make sure there’s a link to that as well. So Steph, thanks again. It’s been absolutely awesome. And I look forward to chatting to you again soon.


Stef Loader  1:02:13

Yes, thanks, Murray. And thanks for your energy. Yeah,


Murray Guest  1:02:16

thank you. Bye 


Stef Loader  1:02:18



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