Gabby Costigan - CEO, BAE Systems Australia
I was delighted to be asked to join you here today, not only to share my experience of leadership, but to also share some of the ways BAE Systems is leading change and growth in Indigenous businesses.
I lead Australia’s largest defence and security company where we make everything from missile systems through to warships.
It’s a job I really love. Both because of the truly cool stuff we do and the people who develop some of these world leading technologies.
My company - BAE Systems Australia - has an incredible workforce.
It’s made up of predominantly engineers using their intellect and skills to create new technologies that is the kind of stuff you see in the movies and that most people probably don’t think even exists.
And they are supported in their pursuit of new technologies by functional business specialists in such areas as finance, law, communications, procurement, safety, human resources… needless to say I’m surrounded by amazingly talented people who are incredibly passionate about the work they do.
Many of our employees are particularly passionate about how the work they do supports the men and women of the Australian Defence Force… especially our role in making sure that the equipment and technologies needed by the Australian Defence Force are both available and capable for any mission at any time.
Such as recent examples of the evacuation of bushfire victims by defence force ships and aircraft in the south east of NSW and Victoria.
I love the challenges that every day brings. And, being the chief executive has many, many challenges.
It’s an incredibly tough job that requires a lot of sacrifices.
International travel for example sounds great to begin with but I rack up many thousands of kilometres every year attending meetings and events overseas.
That’s time away from my family and the people that I love. I have two young children and a husband and family who do an amazing job supporting me and my career.
As CEO, one minute you’re celebrating success and the next you’re trying to manage an issue in the workplace… but every day is rewarding.
And, I especially love opportunities to talk to people like you - future leaders of industry who are at the very start of your careers.
Over the next few years, my business is going to grow by several thousand jobs. These are new, high paying jobs right across Australia.
There are so many opportunities for people of all ages now and in the future.
We need a lot of people to help us fulfil our contracts with the Australian Defence Force and we need a wide and diverse range of highly skilled professionals.
I also want to talk a little about my career and how I came to lead Australia’s biggest defence company.
I’d like to pass on some tips to you - a couple of things that have helped me during my career and which could help you as you start in your careers.
The Defence industry is something that I recommend keeping on your radar throughout your career.
In the immediate future, we’re going to need to fill hundreds of jobs right across the country.
I’d like to spend a bit of time now talking to you a bit more about some of the projects and opportunities at BAE Systems Australia.
We are part of a global business – the 3rd largest Defence Company in the world and the most diverse in the products and capability that we provide.
BAE Systems has over 80,000 people delivering capability to around 80 countries. Australia is one of four key or home markets, along with the UK, the USA and Saudi Arabia.
Australia is a bit of a microcosm of our global business.
In this market we operate across all domains, delivering work for the Australian Defence Force across more than 200 contracts.
These domains include Air, Sea, Multi-domain Battlespace and Cyber.
While I don’t have time to cover all of these domains in detail today, I’d like to share with you some of the key programs that are driving growth and opportunity for our company.
Currently, we have around 4,200 people working across 40 sites around Australia – with a presence in almost every state and territory.
We employ some of the most skilled people in our country and they are dedicated to working on defence solutions that produce some of the world’s most advanced technologies.
And as I said we are going to need a lot more people to help us and the Australian Defence Force deliver the contracts that we are working on over the next few decades as we seek to deliver unique systems and find solutions to solve complex problems.
Our flagship program in the Sea domain and one that you may have heard of is the Hunter Class Frigate program. We are developing and constructing nine of the world’s most advanced anti-submarine warships for the Australian Navy.
This program will transform the Australian shipbuilding industry and support the workforce for generations to come.
At its peak in 2028, the program will support 6,300 jobs and contribute $1 billion to Australia’s economy.
I’ll talk to you more about some of the exciting opportunities that Hunter will bring later on in my presentation.
One of our key products I’d like to share with you is the Nulka. It’s one of those amazing pieces of technology that you have to see to believe! Luckily, I have a video here today that shows you what it does.
Along with the Hunter Class Frigates, an upgrade of our Jindalee Operational Radar Network, or JORN, means huge growth for our company.
JORN is a wide area high frequency surveillance network that ‘watches’ our northern approaches for the Air Force and is our first line of defence. We’ve been refining the radar technology for the past 35 years.
More than 500 of our highly skilled technicians and engineers will deliver the $1 billion JORN upgrade, and our regional footprint of more than 120 people will provide 24-hour on-site support to the radars at Alice Springs, Longreach and Laverton.
I mentioned our Cyber domain earlier. The future for Cyber is leading edge and very exciting. Our Applied Intelligence team provides data intelligence solutions which enable governments and commercial organisations to defend against national-scale threats, and protect their networks and data against sophisticated attacks.
We’ve recently identified two exciting Indigenous Australian owned cyber companies. These businesses are run by ex-defence people and are doing exceptionally well as the need for cyber technology and skills continues to grow. These are just two examples of businesses that are demonstrating leadership and innovation in emerging technologies and are ahead of the curb.
As we started growing our Indigenous Capability plans, we noticed that at times, there is a limited perception of the types of Indigenous Australian businesses, such as construction, corporate supplies, catering, etc.
BAE Systems has started challenging such perceptions with our original equipment manufacturers, Australian suppliers and other networks as part of our strategy to help develop Indigenous Australian capability.
That’s why we’re working with Defence Materials Technology Centre to present an Indigenous Australian ‘pitching session’ and trade stand at their event in March, which will attract up to 300 people. We have companies doing demonstrations in cyber, 3 and 4D scanning and software design and consulting that are all Indigenous owned.
Establishing connections like this are just the start though and I recognise that my organisation also needs to build much stronger relationships with the communities in which we operate.
We are currently working on our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan to build on the work we started in our first Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan.
This has caused us to pause and reflect, and ask ourselves, “are we doing enough?”
“are our actions doing enough to pull the right levers to make the systemic changes needed to help close the gap for Indigenous Australian people?”
While we are doing well to support the establishment of new Indigenous businesses, we’ve recognised we can do a lot more to attract, recruit and retain skilled and talented Indigenous Australian people to our organisation, especially as a large company with such growth ahead of us.
The Hunter Class Frigate Program is a legacy opportunity – one of those rare nation building programs that has opportunity for generations to come.
With a 30 year timeframe, we have the chance to create real change for all Australians.
So far we have committed to a target of developing and creating new Indigenous Australian businesses in our supply chain under the Hunter contract.
This has been a learning curve for our company, so we’re seeking to engage with organisations like Supply Nation and the Indigenous businesses to learn how to support new businesses.
It can be daunting for any business to enter into the defence industry, so we have employed an Industry Capability Development Manager to partner with Indigenous businesses through the process.
Not only do we want to add to our increasingly diverse workforce, we believe that a diverse supply chain benefits everyone, as it’s a key contributor to innovation in the sector.
Our target is to develop 15 to 20 new Indigenous Australian businesses in Hunter and there are good reasons for this.
We recognise that engaging with Indigenous suppliers has benefits for the wider community.
We’re partnering with the Indigenous Defence and Infrastructure Consortium and Supply Nation to work towards meeting this target in a number of ways:
- By developing our first Indigenous Procurement Policy to help existing Indigenous business scale up and build capability. Our own spend with Indigenous suppliers has increased over a 200 percent since we started measuring this in 2015.
- Introducing businesses to encourage partnerships to build capability and scale up to be ready for opportunities in the Hunter program
- Providing Indigenous briefings and discussions to encourage our suppliers to join us. Pictured here is our Industry Capability Development Manager for Hunter, Esther Roberts with Kristal Kinsela-Christie, Managing Director of IPS, an Indigenous services business at our Pacific Maritime briefing. Esther is engaged full-time on Indigenous capability building and regularly invites Indigenous businesses to join her on our roadshows.
- From an employment perspective, the Indigenous Capability Strategy for Hunter will help provide different opportunities for people to work in businesses that suit them. Whether that is a large organisation like us, or an Indigenous owned small to medium enterprise.
As I said earlier, one of the key areas we really need to focus more in is recruiting and retaining the pipeline of talented people from diverse backgrounds.
We recognise that the workforce participation of Australia’s Indigenous people is younger than the national average. With the Hunter Class Frigate Program being a 30 year opportunity, we’re raising awareness of the amazing careers this creates.
This picture is of one of our employees and a graduate at the Career Walk Day at “Garna" Plains School, a predominately Indigenous Australian school in South Australia.
Our 10 by 10 partnership with CareerTrackers commits to placing up to 10 Indigenous Australian interns each year over the next 10 years.
Can I ask the BAE Systems interns who are here today to stand up?
Thanks Rebekah Taylor, Ella-Mae Hampton and Tahlia Forster. I’m sure they’d be happy to answer any questions you have about their experience with the program at BAE Systems.
There are potential opportunities at BAE Systems beyond CareerTrackers as well. So far three of our interns have gone on to join us as graduates following their internships.
All up this year about 70 graduates will begin work with us.
We have a really solid development program that has been designed specifically for graduates.
During their two years with us graduates rotate into different roles across the business.
The program supports them to step up and take on special projects and supports their continued learning and development.
And working for a global business means that there are international opportunities for those who wish to pursue these later on in their career.
But don’t take it from me. Here’s a few of our graduates who can speak for themselves.
Are you sure you don’t want to re-consider a career in the defence industry?
Many of our employees come into the company with well established careers. So if not now, then perhaps later on?
By now, you’ve probably gathered that I am not your typical CEO!
I have been a CEO for six years now, heading up two very large businesses and my path to CEO has been anything but traditional.
I am often asked how did I become a CEO.
When asked this question I often wonder if it’s because I am a women and so people imagine that I had some kind of ‘magical moment’ or a fairy godmother granted my wish and turned me into a CEO.
Whilst I experienced my own challenges, I was fortunate to be born into a position where I was able to take every advantage of the opportunities available to me. In saying this, I truly understand that many others unfortunately do not share this same privilege.
Throughout my career there were obstacles and challenges. Taking risks was probably the hardest challenge.
Some of you may be one of the first in your family to pursue university study whilst also providing support to your family and community.
Drawing on your networks and the community around you is vital to getting the support to help you take such chances.
Having a sounding board, someone you can trust to give advice is invaluable. But I’ll cover more on that later.
I want to briefly share my personal journey with you, because I haven’t followed the path to executive leadership that many (mostly) male CEOs have.
I am one of five girls. None of my sisters was interested in the Army. But I always knew that was destined for an Army career.
I was inspired by my Dad who was in the Army.
To me he always seemed to be doing really cool stuff with weapons and vehicles and travelling and I was just fascinated with the work he did.
As I got older, I decided that I really wanted to serve my country. And, I really wanted to fly helicopters. But unfortunately women weren’t able to do that at the time.
So I thought that if I couldn’t fly them, I would fix them and I did my engineering degree.
I have worked in the design side of engineering, in systems engineering, project engineering - so I have got to do some really amazing things.
There were also some really big challenges during my time in the Army. I had a brilliant career in the military which included several deployments and assignments in the Middle East.
It taught me so much. The discipline, structure, leadership skills, decision making under pressure – I spent just over 20 years in the Army.
My career turning point was after achieving the rank of Colonel and being at the end of an international assignment.
It was a cross road for me – do I return to Australia and continue with the Army or do I leave at this high point in my Army career and go and start a new one?
And so in mid-2012, I seized an opportunity and made the move to the US to take on a role as Vice President Military Programs with a company called VAS Aero Services, ahead of joining Linfox in 2014 – an international family business established by Australian icon Lindsay Fox where I worked across 10 countries based in Bangkok.
Both roles built on and further developed the skills that I gained in the Army. Particularly focused on logistics, leading big teams, supply chain, and business development.
Together with the two decades in the Army, these roles prepared me for the role I now have leading BAE Systems Australia. I am proud to be both the first woman to lead the business and also the first Australian born CEO.
The company now has around 4500 employees – up from around 3500 when I started – and is poised for massive growth following two major contract wins in the past couple of years.
These are two of the projects I mentioned earlier - the Hunter Class Frigate Program and an upgrade of the Jindalee Operational Radar Network.
This is a really exciting time for the company and for me personally as CEO.
As a company leader, nothing is more satisfying than being in a growth phase. However, growth is not without its challenges. Every day, there are successes and challenges.
This role was something I worked really hard to achieve. However, there is no question that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support and advice from some key individuals throughout my career.
I was very fortunate to have the opportunities that I did, and I helped myself a lot by working hard to make the best of every opportunity that came my way.
And I continue to work hard, because I have many more goals that I have not yet achieved.
However, unfortunately working hard is not enough to succeed if you aspire to leadership.
You need a network of allies and advocates to help you.
Hard work is a given if you want to realise your ambitions. You’re all here today because of the work you’ve put in to your studies. But it will not alone set you apart amongst your peers.
The best talent does not – unfortunately, as we know – always win.
My career has benefited from the investment of a few phenomenal leaders, and in turn, I have invested in some exceptional up and coming leaders.
In my experience, mentoring can play a really important role in supporting aspiring women, particularly when you are starting out in your career.
I’ve mentored several very talented individuals and I really enjoy the engagement and you get a real buzz seeing people progress and achieve their goals.
A good mentor can enable you to achieve or exceed your life's goals and aspirations... a mentor can be a role model, coach, sounding board, voice of reason, emotional support, counsellor, and a trusted resource.
As First Nations people, mentorship is an integral part of your culture and central to how you share and pass down knowledge and wisdom in your communities.
Many of you probably already have informal mentoring relationships, women who help guide you and provide you with advice and support.
You may find it helpful to have more than one mentor.
A professional mentor can help you navigate the landscape of a new organisation or help you understand what is required in a new role.
A cultural mentor may be someone who has laid the path for those behind them and may have faced similar challenges to you.
So how do you go about finding a professional mentor?
Some organisations have formal mentoring programs which you can tap into.
Or there may be someone outside of the organisation you connect with, perhaps working in your field or industry, who you can build a relationship with.
I’d also like to introduce you to the concept of a sponsor today, because I’ve found sponsorship has been a key part to helping me get to where I have today.
Sponsors play more of an advocacy role.
Would-be sponsors in large organisations are ideally at a senior level who have line of sight to your role; in smaller companies they might be the founder of the business or are part of his or her inner circle.
They will have a powerful contacts they can introduce you to… and they will recommend a range of stretch assignments required to advance your career.
There are far too many women who have great potential and would be leaders if they just had the support of trusted mentors and influential sponsors.
More women providing our businesses and organisations with different ideas, different experiences, and different ways of thinking.
If we could achieve this balance and diversity, companies will perform better, driving more opportunities for economic growth in this country.
And that means more jobs and more opportunities for our talented future leaders… like you.
And when you get there. When you achieve what you have set out to do. Be bold. Help create opportunities for other women. Be the mentor or the sponsor that you needed.
Again, I am so pleased that I could attend today. Thank you so much for inviting me.
As I said at the start, I love speaking to groups of emerging talent such as all of you, and I hope that I have provided you with some food for thought that will help you throughout your careers.
Perhaps I have even convinced a few of you to consider a career in the defence industry? I hope so. If not now, maybe in the future.
If you’re interested in knowing more about careers at BAE Systems, there are postcards at back of the room, along with a memento to remember us by.
More importantly I hope I have imparted some knowledge and wisdom that you’re able to draw from as you continue to build your careers, and help positively shape your communities for the future.
All the best with your future careers. I wish you every success.