Strivin & Thrivin Sponsored by The Nudge Group. Ep6. Trent Ovens

Strivin & Thrivin – Sponsored by The Nudge Group – Ep6. Trent Ovens

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Trent’s career story is fascinating: In the space of a decade, he has been through more changes than most people experience in their whole career. Trent is currently the HR manager at MICROMINE. He joined the company several years ago just before mining in Australia took a huge downturn.

He was part of a HR team that was reduced from three to one and was the one that was asked to stick around. He then saw the company switch to a software company and helped take the family-owned business through selling. And Trent has been there for it all. 

Trent shares his experience and talks about the mindset that has allowed him to successfully adapt and grow with the company. 

“I always say yes. So I just go ahead and if someone says, “Okay, can you do this?,” or, “Can we do this?” I always start with, “Yeah, I think we can,” and then work out the details along the way.”

He also shares his struggles. From experiencing imposter syndrome, to working with two very different leaders. 

“They were two very different leaders. Both like to inspire and motivate in their own way.” 

Tune in to this episode to learn from Trent. 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

Laura: I’m your host Laura Johnson. And today, I’m lucky enough to have Steve Grace as my wonderful co-host. And today, we’re thrilled to be joined by Trent Ovens.

Trent, to get us started, can you tell us a bit about your career background and your current role?

Trent: Yeah, sure. So, I’m currently the HR manager at MICROMIME, a global technology provider for the mining sector. So, key players in most markets in the exploration space and also have solutions that cover the mine production, mine scheduling, part of the mining value chain as well.

So, a little bit about me, I started my HR career about 10 years ago now. I actually started up in Darwin in the public sector working for the Department of Chief Minister. So that was a really good landing for me. It was a year long grad program whereby I got some great rotations through different departments around the NCPS. Gave me a really good solid footing in policies and procedures and industrial relations and performance management and recruitment.

And so, I kept pursuing the generalist path. My 12 months was up in Darwin. I got offered a couple of opportunities to stay up there. And whilst the lifestyle was very good, allure of family and friends was a bit too much back in Perth. So, I came home.

I was very fortunate to land an entry level job at MICROMIME, just right at the back end of the last mining boom. And so, the company was going really well and needed an extra set of hands in the HR team. Unfortunately, like most companies, we felt the brunt of pretty significant mining downturn during the following years. And so pretty quickly, I was left to fend for myself. It was a team of three that got reduced to a team of one.

Laura: Wow.

Trent: And I’m not sure why, but they stuck with me and here I am.

Steve: Well, that’s the important thing. That’s the important thing.

Trent: So, I was very lucky over that period of time then to work with different managers, a couple of different CEOs, and we set about really reshaping and refocusing the business to what we do well, which is software. And that proved to be a pretty good move for us.

And so throughout the middle of last decade, we achieved above market year on year growth, which was fantastic and got the business in a position where the family that owned the business who were the majority shareholders could relinquish the business after 30 years of hard work, achieved a really good result for them and their family. And then we partnered with a PE fund, which Steve knows all too well, potential capital.

And so the business has really accelerated from there, and my career has as well. And it’s been fast paced. It’s been a learning curve for sure, but it’s been pretty exciting and I’m very fortunate to be a part of it.

Laura: That’s awesome. I guess going back to it, what made you pick HR in the first place?

Trent: Like most people who get into HR, they say, ‘Well, I like working with people’, and you soon work out that that’s probably the most challenging part of any business.

Yeah. I was always able to build pretty good rapport and relationships with people through my teen years and various sporting teams that I played in. So, I always liked the human side out of it. I’ve done disc profiling and LSI profiling, and all of it says I’m more people focused than task focused. So that’s probably why my natural tendency went that way.

But I actually started my first year of marketing and media and found that most of the students at the time during that course were more interested in watching movies and critiquing movies. And that wasn’t really for me. I just like to watch movies to relax rather than make a living out of it. So pivoted and got into HR.

Steve: I got a question. You’re growing up in Perth. You decided to study HR. How do you end up working for the public sector in Northern territory?

Trent: Yeah, it’s a good question. I’ve got some personal influence. So, actually I just split up with a girlfriend over the back end of 2010 or something. And a friend of mine had just moved up to Darwin and he said, “Why don’t you just get out of Perth for a while?” And so, I did.

My dad was really keen for me to do that as well. Just a bit of a change of scene. And so, I applied for a grad program up there and I got it. And the next 12 months we’re in Darwin, and it was so much fun. It was really good.

Steve: Was it a massive adjustment? I would imagine Darwin is very, I’ve never been to Darwin. I’ve been to Perth many times. But how is it different and how did you cope with that at such a young age, I guess? I’m intrigued by that.

Trent: I was very fortunate. So, I had a friend up there who I moved in with immediately. And another guy moved in with us, and we all became very close very quickly. And my friendship circles have always revolved around my sporting interests as well, so that was very good. And the NTPS were a great organisation to work for. They really looked after me. It’s very transient up there, so they really look after people from the Southern states. They make it very clear that you’re a Southern, though, you’re not a local.

But by and large, most people look after you and they want to just show off how beautiful the Northern territory is. They want to take you fishing and camping and all the cool stuff you do when you’re up there. It was, yeah, like I said, I’d recommend it for any young professional really who’s keen to get a grounding in not just the public sector, but if you wanted to do a year or two working holiday, if you like, or even stay up there, as many people do. It’s a fantastic place to work and live.

Steve: Interesting. Now you’ve been through, in a relatively short time with one business, where a lot of people might not even go through in their lifetime. And the fact that you joined a very fast growing business, you then went through a massive downturn. You then went through another upturn, and then you went through a sale. And now, you’re in private equity, and all that while, turning into a global company. That’s a huge amount of experiences.

And as HR, and obviously the sole HR for some of that period, your responsibility for those people would have been enormous. Tell me what some … maybe a couple of the biggest things that you’ve learned through having gone through all of that in what is a relatively short space of time.

Trent: One thing that’s always held me in good stead is I always say yes. So I just go ahead and if someone says, ‘Okay, can you do this?’, or, ‘Can we do this?’, I always start with, ‘Yeah, I think we can’, and then work out the details along the way. I’m sure that’s led to a few speed bumps along the way, but it’s been the best way for me to learn.

I think sometimes getting thrown in the deep end is the best way to learn. And I’ve had some good mentors along the way as well who have helped me. So yeah, that’s probably the one thing that I think has held me in good stead is that I, my natural tendency is to go, ‘Yeah, I can do that’, and then I work it out later. And I’m a decent problem solver as well, I think. And I enjoy problem solving. So yeah, that’s held me in good stead as well.

Steve: It’s that positive attitude again. Comes out a lot. Now you’ve just done a beautiful segue for us because you mentioned that you’d had a couple of great mentors. I’m intrigued to know where they came from and how they have mentored you differently.

Trent: Yeah. So, the obvious one is Andrew Birch, my current boss, CEO of MICROMINE. Unbelievably experienced person in business and in technology businesses. So, he was the COO at MYOB through a 10-year journey of unbelievable success with that company and, previous to that, had run businesses for Vodafone and Honeywell on a national and apex scale.

So, he’s been fantastic for me just to, I guess coming from a family business to show me what world-class looks like in terms of an HR function, and then giving me the leg rope to go away and apply that at MICROMINE has been really fun. And I’ve got a great team around me that helped me do that.

The other one is Claire, the former CEO of MICROMINE, who was involved when the Tudor family owned the business. She put a lot of faith in me and gave me unbelievable opportunity that most people probably wouldn’t have for someone of my level of experience. And together, we worked things out and we problem solved together. And we had a great working relationship, and we got the business to a point where we could obviously achieve a fantastic result for the family. So that was really satisfying as well.

Steve: Yeah, absolutely.

Laura: That’s great. I guess, just in terms of anyone that’s maybe going into a new mentor relationship, have you got any advice as to how to get the most from that kind of relationship or any of those sessions that you guys had together?

Trent: I’ve never been a part of a formal mentor-mentee program. In fact, I tried one once and it wasn’t all that successful through an organisation, which I can’t remember. So, it was more of an informal kind of relationship, and then just ask questions like, ‘Why did you do it that way? How did you do it?’ And then try and leverage off the people that they know within the industry or have worked with in HR. That’s what I’ve been doing the last few years is just trying to get as many brains as I can really.

Steve: How did you find that transition from a family CEO who you’ve obviously, who’s given you an amazing opportunity and you become very close to, to suddenly then meeting someone like AB who comes in and from a very, very different background and probably a very different viewpoint on a lot of things? How did you? That’s one mentee to another almost. It’s like a passing of the flame, right? How did you find that experience? Was it easy? Was it difficult? Was it actually the core messaging probably the same or was it.

I’m intrigued, because they’re two such different individuals and they’ve obviously had two massive impacts on your life. So, I’m quite intrigued to learn a little bit more about how you found the change, like going from one parent to another almost, and whether the core messaging is the same or that it’s very different.

Trent: It’s incredibly daunting. It was incredibly daunting for me. I’ve read a bit about imposter syndrome and what have you, and there was definitely a bit of that at the back end of well. Sorry, as the transition was occurring, because AB comes in and he knows everything, right? And so, I think from where we were was working things out to someone coming in and he’s like, ‘Well, I know how to do it’.

Yeah. There was definitely a little bit of imposter syndrome kicking in. But fortunately again, he, as I said, mentored me and worked with me and had faith that I would be able to deliver what the vision that he had for the HR function of the business in the first couple of years of his tenure here. And so, we’ve been able to do that. We’ve done some really cool things so far, and we’re just really excited about what’s next.

So, to answer your question, yeah. No. It was a challenge and it’s probably something I still grapple with every day is coming to work and being completely overwhelmed by the caliber of people that I’m sidled up next to. But again, what an opportunity for me. I’m so grateful for that. And I can’t count my blessings enough really.

Steve: Yeah. And was the messaging … was there a lot of similarities in the core things that they were talking to you about? It doesn’t have to be. I don’t imagine that there was, but I’m intrigued I know if there was.

Trent: No. I don’t think there was. I think it was..

Steve: … that answers that question.

Trent: They were two very different leaders. Both like to inspire and motivate in their own way. But AB is very structured, very considered. Whereas, as I said, sometimes Claire and I were just working it out as we went and.

Steve: Yeah.

Trent: Yeah. We achieved some cool stuff. Sometimes we got it wrong.

Steve: Yeah. Well, that’s going to keep happening. Don’t worry.

Laura: Yeah. So, I guess on that then, could you pinpoint the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way, or if there’s a mistake that you’re happy to talk about?

Trent: Yes. I was thinking about this prior to joining the podcast today. Fortunately, there’s been nothing catastrophic that I can put my finger on.

Steve: Good word. That’s a good word.

Trent:  Yeah. So, lessons that I’ve learnt, there’s been times when I could’ve been a stronger leader for sure. People look to HR for guidance and direction from time to time, and especially in my role as a senior leader at MICROMINE. And there’s been times where I probably haven’t understood that as well as I could have. And that’s something that AB is really working with me now on is understand that you are a significant voice in the business and people are looking to you for leadership. So, step up and don’t be shy.

So yeah, that’s probably been something I’ve really learned recently is if there’s change going on and I’m a part of that change, it’s not to be there to support the business. It’s to lead the business. And so that’s a bit of a shift in mindset for me.

Laura:  It’s an interesting transition that I think we brought up a couple of times in different ways, just in terms of that going from being an individual achiever and being great at your job to being a leader. And sometimes, the training around that is often missing and that whole soft skills piece is just missed out from most people or most businesses. And you end up making those big mistakes and, like you’re saying, making it up as you go along almost before you realise it. You’re like, ‘Oh, actually, I do know what I’m doing, and this is okay’. And it does take a while and it does seem to be something that keeps coming up from a lot of people.

Trent:  Yeah, for sure. And when you go from working for a family business to people with unbelievable credentials like AB and the other senior leaders at MICROMINE, yeah, there’s this bit of that imposter syndrome and you feel like, ’Oh, maybe I should take a back seat and watch and learn’. But no, they’re looking for you for guidance as much as I’m looking at them. So that’s been a really good lesson.

Laura:  I guess just on Steve’s point as well, about how much change you’ve coped with in such a short space of time and all this stuff, what do you do to keep up to date and training wise? What do you do around that?

Trent:  Not as much as I’d like, for sure. I like to get to conferences. I like to lean on people within the industry for a chat about all things HR. Yeah, it’s definitely not something I’ve put as much time into, particularly over the last probably two to three years, as I would have liked. At MICROMINE, we’ve just developed a relationship with a couple of other businesses locally to us, which is great. We’re actually invited them into our beautiful brand new office in the city to do a bit of a HR round table powwow in early June. So that’ll be great, just to get together pretty informally, show them some of the programs we’re running, and they can share some information with us as well.

So hopefully, that’s the start of something pretty cool. And we can keep expanding our group. We’ve got two other businesses on board, but we’d love to get associations or relationships with other businesses and just talk about best practice HR.

Laura: That’s awesome. I love that idea.

Steve: He just said two things that really interested me. The first one was they moved into offices in the city, which is great, because they used to be in these offices that no one could get to and they were a nightmare to recruit for. So that’s great. That’s really good news. But secondly.

Trent: Yeah. It’s beautiful. Yeah.

Steve: It looks beautiful as well. Yeah. But secondly, and it’s not something anyone’s brought up today and actually not someone anyone’s brought up in any of my interviews in any of the podcasts or any of the conversations or anything that I’ve been in for ages. And you said the word conferences. Now, conferences, obviously have had a tough time in recent years for obvious health reasons, but people don’t talk about conferences as much as they used to.

Talk to me. That means you’ve obviously been to some conferences and that you get a lot out of them. I’m dying to know what were those conferences that you’ve been to and what did you get out of them? And what do you think perhaps you get out of conferences that you can’t get out of books, online learning, podcasts, training sessions, and round tables like you did? I’m really interested to know more about this, because we don’t talk about conferences very often.

Trent: There was a conference that I went to in Sydney that really sticks out. It was maybe three years ago. I think it was called the ANZ Leadership Summit or HR and Leadership Summit or something like that. In fact, I think they’ve just sent me an invite for their upcoming conference in July, which is now starting to sound like I’m putting in a plug for them.

Laura: That’s a free ticket right there.

Steve: Yeah. That was really incredible.

Trent: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. That was really great because it was about performance management, and it was something that we hadn’t successfully run at MICROMINE before. And all it was two days of other businesses coming in and showing what they’re doing in that space. And you can sit there and go, ‘That’s awesome. We would love to take all the good bits from that’.

And then you’d see the businesses that you think, ‘Gee, that’s just not what we want to implement here at MICROMINE. Maybe it works for them’. So, I just think the knowledge sharing. Sometimes, I think conferences that you attend try to cover too much, too many different topics. And so, I think narrowing the focus of those topics is always helpful, and then just hear from other businesses and learn from it. And then, of course, the networking that goes with that, I think it’s always the informal conversations around a coffee or maybe even a beer afterwards where you learn the most. Isn’t that so?

No. I love going to those events. And yeah, as you say, we haven’t been able to do too many of them over the last year or year and a half. And I’m not sure that online event has the same impact, although I suppose something’s better than nothing.

Laura: Yeah. I think the other thing, I think you’re right, is going back to what you’re saying about just having time, and sometimes a conference and having those two days means you just spend a day or two days, whatever, really learning. So, you’re not then trying to work out how you do it consistently when you’re also trying to do 101 things that you obviously have been over the last few years.

Trent:  Yeah, for sure.

Steve: Yeah. I think that, in fact, I’ll ask you this question. Why do you think that there or what do you think is the difference between, we live in this balanced virtual and real world now, and I don’t think that’s going to go away. Here we are doing podcast in the middle, and you’re in Perth and we’re in Sydney. So that would be difficult. But we do still have a lot of meetings and virtual conferences and things, even with people who are actually within reach of us. And then we also have a lot more things that are coming together in real life as well.

What do you think the differences are? I think the benefits of virtual obviously really timed. You can fit a lot more in because you’re not, there’s no traveling. But what do you think we miss by not having as much face-to-face contact? And I mean this from a perspective of you’ve got a very distributed team. You’re a global business. You’ve got offices in other states as well. Tell me, what do you think is the hardest thing from people in HR perspective to deal with when you’re dealing with people virtually?

Trent: Yeah. A lot of people like working for the human connection, the social connection that comes with work and interacting with other people. Certainly, what I’ve found out through, albeit a very short lockdown in Perth, was I was able to get a lot done and it was very productive. But I missed the one-on-one conversations with my peers. I missed just the corridor conversations that you have with people and the little bits of information that you pick up along the way throughout the workplace.

And so from an HR perspective, we’ve been very cognizant of that around the regions. And it’s very difficult. So yeah, when I say regions, I mean our international offices, because of 11 global offices or whatever we are, only two of them are actually back in the office, Perth and Brisbane. And so yeah, it has been a challenge to try and replicate that for our regional offices for sure. Yeah, it’s just that human connection and the information that you miss, I think.

Steve: Have you guys done a lot of stuff differently or do you do a lot of stuff differently from an HR perspective for those overseas offices than perhaps you might do for a Perth office, I guess?

Trent: Probably not as much as we would’ve liked. We implemented our reward and recognition program. This wasn’t on the back of COVID, but it was on the back of our engagement survey that we did last year. And so that’s been quite good in keeping people together virtually. So, every quarter, we can get together and recognise our peers via an online video. And you get to see all the amazing people at MICROMINE around the world doing really great things and a little bit of a spiel from them. So those kind of things, you can do.

We’re just working out, we did a really great product launch in October last year, which was our first ever virtual product launch. And there’s another one coming up in the next week or so. So those things have been quite successful. A lot of our communications have had to go online, but we were there anyway, being such a globally dispersed business. We’re only 215 people, but spread quite thin across some pretty far flung corners of the world, like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Mongolia. So, we were used to that. I wouldn’t say we’re perfect at it by any stretch. But yeah, when we think global comms and trying to interact with our teams, we’ve always thought about us being quite dispersed anyway.

Steve: Cool. Okay. I want to touch on the mentor giving again, because you said that you joined a structured mentor program which didn’t work out very well now. Not necessarily after the horror stories, but I’m intrigued to know what was it about that mentor program that perhaps didn’t work. And if someone’s looking to go and find a mentor, say they don’t happen to have the benefit like you have of AB or Claire who happened to be running the business at the time, but they want to go and find a mentor, how would they do that?

So, tell me about the program and what made it not successful for you. And tell me about any ideas you might have about how someone can go and find a mentor if that’s something they feel they want to add to their career.

Trent: Yeah. I won’t mention the organisation.

Steve: No, no. Please don’t.

Trent: that was running the program. But I just think we were weren’t quite matched particularly well. I think we were both doing very different parts of HR. The person that I was matched with was running shutdowns for mine sites. So, it was more about resourcing and being able to scale up your resourcing very quickly. And I’m a generalist, so I’m not sure we were particularly well matched there.

And then as it all unfolded, he was interested in my job and said, ‘If ever your job becomes available, keep me in mind’, And I was like, ‘Well, you’re my mentor’.

Steve:  Wow.

Trent:  ‘I should want your job’.

Steve: I did not see that. I did not expect you to say that.

Laura: I can understand why you didn’t really feel that worked out for you. Yeah. Okay.

Trent: But that’s not to say those structured programs aren’t great. I know your other members of my team have been involved with them and had far more positive experiences than I did. I probably just got a bad experience.

Steve: Yeah. Okay. And have you got any ideas on how someone might go? You haven’t had to go out and look for one, I guess. Almost everyone’s presented themselves to you, which is amazing. And you’re extremely lucky. That doesn’t happen to a lot of people. This question I get asked a lot in my job is, ‘How can I find a mentor?’

And I’ll be honest. I struggle to have an answer. So, I’m not necessarily expecting you to have one. I’m just wondering whether you have any ideas that we can maybe flesh out that I might be able to use next time someone asks me.

Trent: Yeah, I’m not sure I’m going to be much help. Well, but definitely you need to find someone who’s got the same industry interests as you. So, as I said before, we were just kind of matched. Whilst we both worked in HR, we were interested in very different things and we were working in very different sectors. And so, his experiences weren’t necessarily aligning with mine. So, that’s why I think neither of us got much out of it.

So, you just need to make sure the alignment’s right. In terms of how to find that person, I guess if you’d know what industry or part of HR you particularly enjoy, then generally reach out to some of the HR organisations that are out there and asked to be paired up with them. You could probably do some LinkedIn searching or, yeah, cold calling or whatever it might be through LinkedIn to find people who you might be interested on. Yeah. People are generally pretty generous with their time, I find. So, if anyone wants to reach out and hear about my experiences further, they’re more than welcome to via LinkedIn. No problem at all.

Steve: That’s awesome. Have you done any mentoring yet outside of?

Trent: No, I haven’t, no. Yeah, not a formal mentoring program. I’ve been fortunate to build a team from the ground up. And so, I’ve actually never employed someone with prior HR experience to my team. And so, I’ve been passing on what I’ve learned that way, but by no means the oracle as well. So yeah, no, I haven’t been informed, been a part of a formal mentoring program there.

Steve: Well, I would say you would have a lot to offer based on what you told us so far and what you’ve been through. So, it was a very generous to you to offer that. I’m sure someone’s going to reach out. Let’s hope it’s just not 25,000 people.

Laura: Yeah. Just looking at time. We’re going to ask you two more questions, and then we’ll let you go. I guess on the advice side of things, if you were talking to someone now that was a year, two years into their HR career, what advice would you give them?

Trent: My advice would be to say yes and just don’t hold yourself back. Yeah. Some of the best experiences are throwing yourself in the deep end and getting out of your comfort zone and working your way through it as you go. Most of the time, the leaders in the business, aren’t going to let you do anything too catastrophically bad anyway. So yeah, I think as long as you understand some of the risks involved with that approach, you’ll be fine. So that’d be my key advice. It’s like just dive in and give it a go and, yeah, and just see how it goes.

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