Mike Schneider, Mental Health First Aid Training

#1 Humble Leadership – Mike Schneider, CEO, Bunnings (s01ep1)

Mar 18, 2020

Mike Schneider is the CEO of Bunnings, Australia's most trusted brand. Mike oversees a workforce of 55,000 people, yet he is very down to earth and humble. Mike explains his 4 H's of leadership, talks about some tough decisions he's had to make and shares his self-care strategies.
"For me, it's Honesty, Humility, Helpfulness and Happiness ... If I can practise these when thinking through decisions inside and outside of work, then, I'm doing okay."
- Mike Schneider


  • The 4 H’s – Honesty, Humility, Helpfulness and Happiness
  • Working through tough decisions
  • Putting people first through self care
  • Mental Health Training


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Mike Schneider

Graeme Cowan  00:02

Hi, everyone, this is Graeme Cowan, and welcome to the caring CEO podcast. We created this podcast because we believe that every leader is number one priority is to build a more caring and resilient team who enjoys growing together. It is my job to interview CEOs and other senior leaders who value building both a culture of care and a culture of high performance. I’m very keen to understand how they do this. And I’m sure there’d be lots of insights and tips for anyone who wants to build a high performing team. I think you really enjoyed this interview with Mike Schneider, it’s a very wide-ranging discussion. But I think one of the things that comes through is just how down to earth and humble he is, which is pretty amazing for someone who oversees a workforce of 55,000 people. Indeed, his approach to leadership is what we call the four H’s and one of those H’s is humility. I think you’ll also be very interested to hear him describe the other three and why they’re also central to his performance. He also outlines why he believes that Bunnings is the number one most trusted corporate brand in Australia, and the role that he’s very diverse workforce plays in that. He also talks about tough things as well, when they had to close down the Bunnings operation in the UK and Ireland, and how he tried to practice care while making a really tough business decision. He’s very, on the front foot about his own self care and taking self care of what he does around that. And he also explains how he keeps tabs on the mental health of all Bunnings workforce, and the role he plays in promoting well-being across that incredibly large group. And during COVID last year, he adopted this thing called #challengeaccepted, and he will share how that sort of rolled out in a big way across the whole Bunnings network. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Mike’s wisdom. I’m delighted today to welcome to the show Mike Schneider. Mike is the CEO of Bunnings who operate 380 trading locations. They also had the distinction of being rated the number one most trusted company brand in Australia by Roy Morgan. Mike has been with Bunnings since 2005, and loves the cut and thrust of a retail operation. He previously worked with other retailers and Westpac in a variety of roles, including human resources and senior regional and operational positions. Last year, Mike interviewed me for Bunnings employees to listen to. So I’m really looking forward to reciprocating today. Welcome, Mike. It’s great to have you on the show.


Mike Schneider  02:51

Graeme, great to see you again and hopefully your 2021 has started really well. It’s certainly busy in the retail world, but yet certainly remains a very interesting time as well.


Graeme Cowan  03:00

That’s an interesting place to start. How would you rate you know, this year compared to the end of last year in terms of the disruptions or the pandemic?


Mike Schneider  03:09

It’s certainly a really, as I said, a really interesting time, you know, for me, there’s a degree of us getting used to sort of some of the unusual things that we had to face into this time, 12 months ago, and it’s time 12 months ago, we were talking about a pandemic, the WHO the “World Health Organization”, it had class at a pandemic, we were thinking about borders, we were hearing lots of different things, and then we had to sort of face into that you’re coming into 2021, there’s a lot more known about the unknown, if you like, and it’s enabled us to sort of be certainly a lot more prepared, and a lot more proactive in our approaches, I think the challenge continues to remain that, you know, rules and regulations change very, very quickly. So the agility that we really ramped up in 2020 is carrying into 2021. And hopefully the vaccines, you know, bring with them the hope of return to something that we’re more familiar with, and I hope that we can travel more easily at least within Australia than perhaps we’ve experienced in the last little while.


Graeme Cowan  04:06

What is carrying that in the workplace mean to Mike?.


Mike Schneider  04:10

It means so many different things. Graeme, I think, you know, the heart of Bunnings culture is all about our team members. You know, we’re fortunate to work with an incredible team, you know, everyone from, you know, young teenagers, 14 years and nine months starting at first retail careers through to men and women in their 70s and 80s. You know, who’ve built the careers with us over many, many decades. And, you know, I think for us, it’s the connection, it’s the engagement and it’s the buy in to our culture. And it is a culture where we’re really focused on helping people grow you know, I often talk about you know, when I want to talk to people about careers or Bunnings or talking about the desire to see them put down roots and grow a career with our organization. Be it in a in our in a store in a support center and a distribution center. There’s so many opportunities. It’s about being aware of what’s going on in our team members lives and you know. When you are leading a big team, you know, there are parallels to the broader population, you know, 55,000 team members, if they’re all together, it’d be a pretty good size, regional town or city. And they’re all the things that go on in a in a regional town or city are going on in the lives of our team members, we’ve got team members battling illnesses, we’ve got team members, you know, starting families, we’ve got team members that have got challenges with loved ones or their own lives. And it’s getting to know the stories of our team members to the extent that they’re comfortable, to share, and to make sure that we provide the support, not only professionally for, you know, development or for learning or for career advancement, but also, you know, emotionally so people feel psychologically safe in the business, but they also feel that they’ve got people that they can they can talk to if things aren’t going okay, you know, that’s an incredible question that, you know, you challenged through the organization, you know, and the RUOK? Day, to sort of pose. And, you know, for us the really important part, and I think you got me to reflect on this last year is what do you do when someone says, No, I’m not okay, and how do you help and, you know, we’ve done a lot of learning in that space. And that sort of now comes through in many of the programs we have, but it also comes through in the interactions we’re having with, with our teammates.


Graeme Cowan  06:11

I notice you refer to teammates rather than employees. Why is that?


Mike Schneider  06:16

It’s certainly the language that the business uses, I think, you know, we are part of a team, you know, every one of us has a role to play, you know, and we all have different roles and responsibilities. But at the end of the day, no one team member is more important than another team member, I think that sort of connection is, is really important. It’s a language that permeates the organization. You know, for me, when I hear other CEOs or other organizations talking about staff or employees, there’s something a little bit, a little bit distant about that, you know, team to me feels closer. And that’s just a personal opinion, everyone will have a perspective on that. But to me, it feels a little bit closer. We are a work family for people. We’re not we’re not a substitute for people’s families. But we’re a work family. And I think that sense of camaraderie, and teamwork, it’s one of our guiding values, teamwork, you know, it really does permeate. And I think it’s appropriate that we refer to each other as team leaders and teammates and friends.


Graeme Cowan  07:12

Yes, and when we spoke previously, you described your four H’s of leadership and how integral that was to the way that you operate. Would you mind explaining what those four H’s stand for and how you apply it?


Mike Schneider  07:26

Yeah, so for me, you know, over the years that I’ve worked in different leadership roles, and certainly the five years that I’ve been leading the team here at Bunnings, you know, I’ve sort of come to reflect on the things that are important to me, and I’ve come up with sort of four key areas that I focus on, and then I guess, a personal mantra for me, they tie to an extent into the company’s strategy and cultural framework. And really, they helped me as a filter for making decisions, you know, the first one is all about honesty. We’ve got to be honest with ourselves, and we’ve got to be honest with our teammates, and two of our, our values are integrity and respect. And, you know, to me, they are the sort of two sides of what you get if you put them together to build trust, and you can’t have that without honesty. And, you know, honesty doesn’t have to be a harsh thing, it can be a caring thing, it can be, you know, helping you connect with someone, but it is at the core of everything. And if you can’t, can’t be honest with yourself, you can’t be honest with your colleagues, you can’t be honest with customers or suppliers, you find yourself trapped in a really difficult position. And as a leader, it becomes really difficult to know, what you stand for. And for others to sort of go, we understand what this leader is standing for. And you know, in 2020, you might have some pretty tough conversations with people around why we needed to be open or, you know, why we needed them to stay home or, or many different things that were going on. And that honesty, you know, it does build that trust, and people know where they stand. One of the things I love about our brand, and you touched on the fact that we’ve got over 300 trading locations across Australia and New Zealand, is exactly that, you know, the vast majority of people who I talked to, when I say work for Bunnings, the first question they asked me is which store do you work in? And I think that connection through the community work, that connection through the proximity of so many Bunnings stores to customers, you know, is really important. And, you know, that sort of speaks to the brand itself. You know, this isn’t a brand that, you know, you go out there and you see billboards or signs or TV ads spruking the things we do in the community, our mindset in the communities to give to give people a hand up rather than then give handouts. And you know that our team members live in their local communities, they send their kids to local schools, they raise their families. They support local charities and local sporting groups. And I think that that humility is really important, which is which is a second and I think I take my responsibilities in leading the Bunnings team incredibly seriously. I take my role as a as a dad incredibly seriously and as a partner incredibly seriously, but what I don’t take seriously is myself. I think inherently in leadership roles, particularly ones that are a bit bigger, or might have a public profile, it can be a little bit easy to sort of fall in, fall in love, if you like with that with that image. And at the end of the day, you know, I’ve got responsibilities here, but they’re to help people build great careers or, or buy great products to make their homes better. And, you know, staying very focused on that means that your feet are firmly planted on the ground. And hopefully, you know, for people that are looking to me to be a role model, I’d see someone who is a positive role model, human and flawed with all the mistakes that we all make. But, you know, I think, you know, humility is really important. Our service strategy sort of informed my thinking on the third area. And that’s all about helpfulness, when we talk about our customer experience being friendly, and helpful, and I think when people come into running store, you know, hopefully in the main, they make team members who are happy to be at work, because they enjoy their job and enjoy the products that we sell in the store environment, and that they can be helped if they don’t know something. But it’s equally important in terms of personal growth and development. I’m not here in this role, because I’m a particularly great leader, or particularly great leader, I’m here because I’ve had a variety of opportunities. But embedded in those opportunities have been people who’ve seen something in the way that I go about what I do, and have taken the chance to give me a go, you know, people that have hired me to join Bunnings, people that gave me opportunities to take on, on more responsibility, you know, right back at the start of my career, you know, the very first store manager in a Target store, he said, You know, there’s something in the way you go about things would you like to do a management, traineeship, you know, all those people, you know, I’m standing on their shoulders, and eternally grateful for that. And, you know, the greatest gift I can give is to pay that forward and help other people and, you know, treat other people the way I want the people in my life who I care about treated, you know, we often say treat other people the way you want to be treated, we all put up with, you know, the vagaries of life we put up with, you know, with customer service, bad customer service, we put up with queues, we put up with people who are having a bad day who speak harshly or honk their horn at us, you know, because we’re human. And the danger is that if you accept that is the standard, you know, occasionally will honk your horn at someone else or, or be rude or do whatever. But if I saw that happening to my partner, or my children, my reaction would be much more defensive. So I have that mindset of treating other people the way I want the people in my life, who I care about treated and, and the last one is all about having a bit of fun and having enjoyment in your life. You know, I think, you know, irrespective of how you sort of see the life and you see what happens when life as we know, it ends. And the thing that’s important to me professionally. And the things important to me personally, is that I don’t get to the other end of whenever that may be and you know, all things being equal, that’s hopefully many years down the track personally and professionally. But I don’t want to get to that point and go, I wish I’d done something, I’d much rather look back and go, gee whiz, I was a bit ambitious in trying for that, or I would have done that differently had I’d have my time over and that’s all about being happy. And, you know, in our lives, we are entitled to be happy. We’re entitled to be around people who make us feel safe, make us feel loved, make us feel important. And we get to do the same things for them. You know, we are entitled to have experiences that challenge us, stretch us, make us more resilient and stronger. But equally, you know, things to laugh about and celebrate and share and, and look back on fondly. I think that’s important. So for me it is it’s Honesty, it’s Humility, its Helpfulness and, and Happiness. And I think, if you can, if you can sort of for me, if I can practice those, you know, in my week and use them for thinking about, you know, decisions I’m making inside and outside of work, then, you know, I’m doing okay,


Graeme Cowan  13:43

Thank you for going through those four H’s. I’ve mentioned them to a few people since we last spoke and everyone writes them down. There is something lovely and simple but also quite profound. I think especially around humility and helpfulness and happiness, you know, we’re not enjoying work, you know, it’s, it makes it a chore it makes the day go really, really long.


Mike Schneider  14:07



Graeme Cowan  14:08

I know that you really played a front foot role on helping to promote employee mental health employee mental resilience. Why have you done that?


Mike Schneider  14:21

A couple of reasons. You know, I think first and foremostly we all battle demons in our life, you know, and there’s people in my life family members and close friends who I’ve seen really, really battle I’ve sadly known people who’ve taken their life you know, and I see the heartbreak it’s caused in the people who love them and clearly, you know, the pain that they must have gone through to get to a point where they felt that that was the only option that was that was viable. And you know, in my own life, there’s been ups and downs, you know, you lose, you lose loved ones. Relationships break down. All sorts of things can happen business ventures go wrong. They all sort of stack up, you know, little bricks on your shoulders over time, I guess. And then you start to sort of, you know, get down on yourself. And I think the importance of whether it’s the four or five people in your life, you can call at any time, you know, they’ll drop everything to support you or to it’s an EAP provider that works is hey, you know, speak to speak to these guys they can help or it’s a psychologist, you know, we have we have coaches for everything, Graeme and I’ve got a coach to help me prepare for a bigger run later in the year, I’ve got a business coach, I’ve got my medical doctor who I guess is my physical coach. Why would I not have you know, a trusted partner in the headspace of having someone who’s helping me build my resilience? And I think it’s, you know, it’s, it’s been a topic people haven’t wanted to talk about in the past, you know, because somehow it’s seen as a weakness, you know, if I leave here today, and I fall down and break my arm, and I’m wearing a plaster cast on my arm, everyone goes, Oh, what happened? You know, hope you get better soon. You know, I think sometimes when we expose those emotional or psychological wounds, people get nervous, because they’re not sure how to how to handle it. And often, it’s just, you know, just saying, Hey, would you like to, would you like to talk for a little while and simply the act of talking things out can be, you know, it can be the first part of the triage to say that, you know, there is there is a way out of this. And I think it’s important that we take the time, and, you know, you started on care, you know, when you care for people, and one of the things that’s important for us, and certainly, for my leadership team at Bunnings, is, you know, we want to know, we know, our closer teams pretty well. So that, you know, if you’re always pretty upbeat, and, you know, always sort of, you know, early at work and you know, engaging in things and then suddenly you become you know, quiet withdrawn and you start missing a bit of time at work. That’s a good indication that maybe something’s not quite right. Maybe it’s something that has happened that sort of damaged the relationship, you know, with you as a colleague, but it could be something that’s going on outside of work and having those having the courage to start the conversation, which is the beauty of asking someone if they’re okay, it’s it is that simplicity, you start a conversation, and I feel a responsibility to make it really okay at Bunnings to talk about how you feel and talk about what’s going on in your life when you need to, and you’re looking for help and support. And I’ve had teammates help me through some pretty tough times. And I’ve had, you know, professionals help me through some pretty tough times. And that’s so incredibly important. Because on the other side of it, when you’ve worked through what’s sort of, you know, eating away in between your ears, you come out of that stronger, more resilient, and you absolutely come out with a desire to help other people as well.


Graeme Cowan  17:35

You have a very large workforce, very dispersed, how do you keep track of employee mood in real time? What do you have any indicators or, or things that you look for?


Mike Schneider  17:47

Yeah, well, you know, you touched on the interview that you were kind enough to do for the Bunnings team and I last year, we broadcast that through our enterprise social media channel, we run a tool called workplace, which is a Facebook product is work jam, there’s Yammer, there’s all sorts of platforms that are no other organizations use, but, you know, we can put content in into that we can live stream. And I know last year, you know, one of the things that I learned at the start of all the lockdowns, you know, that I might have learned some of but I certainly wouldn’t have learned the, the degree of it was just the fee that our team had, you know, we had, we had politicians coming out saying there were border closures, there will walk downs, there was, you know, the media clearly, you know, has a role to play in, in keeping us informed, but I think at times it plays a role in in, you know, maybe scaring us or in the drive for us to click on an article, you know, the headlines become more and more, more and more outrageous, and that that eats into your mind after a while once you start reading a lot of it. And, you know, what if we didn’t have that platform, and I’d ask my senior leaders and their teams, what was going on, you hear that people were nervous, but it is, it’s paraphrased, right? Right. Like when we pass information on, it’s not quite a Chinese whisper, but maybe the anxiety gets taken out, or the energy gets taken out. And, you know, when you’re sitting in a boardroom, you know, when someone’s telling you, it’s very different to reading firsthand what our team is saying. And, you know, we got that really clear window into how the team were feeling. And we had to listen to that we were able to respond, we were able to take their feedback on board. And so many of the things that Bunnings has done through you know, this period of being led by our team have not been led from, you know, it’s been truly, you know, team level, driving that rather than, you know, someone coming in as an expert or an executive and issuing edicts. And I think that’s helped us get fantastic buy in and, you know, trust in leadership from the team, but equally passionate desire from the leadership to really make sure that everyone’s being supported. And I think, however, you’re operating your business, having those very open lines of communication are important. And I think as senior leaders, you can never underestimate just how close to the source you need to go to get information because the most significant risk businesses face is that you know, messages are curated, because they become more palatable for a senior leader to hear or for you to deliver to a senior leader, and you know, bad news has to travel fast, worries have to travel fast, fears have to travel far so that we can, we can care and support. And, you know, that’s been a huge, huge learning for us over the last four months, and we’ve got so much better than we were before. And it’s about, I’m going to say it’s between 45 and 46,000 of our, our Bunnings team are actually on workplace. So it’s an enormous number in our population, which continues to grow. And then engagement and participation is, is very, very strong. So it is a really good lens into how the team and feeling at any given time.


Graeme Cowan  20:37

What do you think is the best way to plan a day?


Mike Schneider  20:42

You know, what’s the old saying, set your goals in concrete, and you’re plans sand? I think, you know, 2020 has taught us that, you know, many of the things that we anticipated we could do, you know, didn’t happen and things we didn’t think we could achieve, you know, could be achieved. And I think there needs to be flexibility in the day. And equally, there just needs to be time for you not to be busy, you know, one of talking just before we started recording about you know, holidays, I was fortunate that I could have a long break over the summer, the longest of my of my working career and an amazing team that, you know, a really talented skill for them and I could be away and they could run the business incredibly well. It reminded me the importance of time, and it reminded me of the challenge of particularly in the in the operating environment that so many of us are still in now where you know, screen time is a big part of the day, that ability to get outside have fresh air, you know, do some reflection, put mobile devices away for a period of time, you know, it’s funny how they, they encroach on everything, and you just stop listening to people around you and you become absorbed in, in that and you know, in some ways, you’re so incredibly connected, but arguably probably more alone than you’d otherwise be and surround yourself with people that you care about those things are really important and set clear goals for what you want out of the day, and have the courage to sort of go back and look and say, am I achieving the things that I’m achieving? And if not, interrogate the why, you know, am I am I being too ambitious? Am I being unrealistic on what’s practical to achieve, or are there things getting in the way that I need to sit down and work through so that I can be I can be more focused and sometimes it’s, you know, the things eating away at us inside, you know, they jump in your head when you’re trying to solve a problem with jumping ahead when you’re when you’re trying to read a spreadsheet, or p&l or whatever. And that’s where you’ve got to be able to take that time out and have good conversations with the people that can help so that you can message those mental knots out and get back to the things that you know, are helping you enjoy your career and put food on your table and pay your bills.


Graeme Cowan  22:43

What are the important elements of self care to you?


Mike Schneider  22:47

A few different things. I certainly love to exercise and not in not in a sort of, you can probably tell looking at me or not in an over the top way but I like being active I like moving, I like talking, you know, I’ve got a pet dog he’s been an amazing addition to my family and you know being out just watching him happy with the world smiling, you know, for no reason other than he gets to go out in the fresh air and have a walk its a reminder that simple things are great. A timeout is important and time with and family is important. And you know that they are energizing even if it’s you know, a dinner or you’re you know you’re traveling to see them that time is is energizing, and that connectivity is there. So for me there are things that are important. Sleep is incredibly important, you know, and, and a balanced diet, you know, as you sort of learn more and more about what works and what doesn’t work, you know, sticking to you know, healthy food, fresh food, you know, and balancing the sort of eating at home and eating out so that you sort of got some control over what you’re putting in your body. That’s a really important thing as well. But I think that rest peace is just incredibly important.


Graeme Cowan  23:52

Yeah fantastic. What are the things that you do to balance the competing priorities of high performance and having make your environment because there must be always tension between those two?


Mike Schneider  24:08

Yeah, I look, you know, we are absolutely a performance driven organization. And you know, we’re for profit, right we have a shareholder in Wesfarmers who we have an obligation to perform for and they obviously provide for our Wesfarmers shareholders. But I think it comes back to a little bit of my own personal philosophy which is you know, take take the work you do seriously, don’t take yourself seriously and you know be accessible for the team and try and role model the behaviors you want to see in your most senior direct reports and then you know find ways to check positively that those behaviors are being role model to their teams and so on and so forth. I think that honestly pays I talked about in my four H’s you know if things aren’t right, let’s talk about what’s not right what’s going on to make it so you know, get to those root causes. And then you can take steps to drive performance and I think you know, importantly you know, pinching sort of a cricketing analogy, you can only play the ball you’re facing, you can’t play the ball that was bold before and you can’t play play the ball that’s, that’s coming next, or in the next over. You can only play the one shot at a time. And I think as a business, you know, you’re dealing with multiple of those, but you know, living with regret, or not looking at what’s in front of you and worrying about what’s going to come. But they tended to trigger quite negative thoughts. You know, if you think about, you know, anxiety, it’s often worrying about what may or may not happen in the future based on what’s happened in the past. And, you know, being in the moment on things and being informed is important, and being honest, when it’s not right. So you can address it is important, but ultimately, you know, they’re all about taking the work seriously not about taking yourself seriously.


Graeme Cowan  25:44

Bunnings had some disappointment when the expansion to the UK and Ireland didn’t work out. What was that like to manage for you where, you know, obviously, there’s some really hard to decisions to be made around, mainly people, I guess. So what was it like yourself?


Mike Schneider  26:00

Okay, it was really, really hard, probably the most personally taxing period of my career, you know, we were working with people, you know, there were people who come from travel from Australia, to the UK to move their families and their lives to the UK and people that I’ve worked with, for a long time respect enormously, you know, and, you know, as best we could, and in as many cases as we could, you know, bring them back to Australia into into roles that were meaningful, that allow them to take the time out to reflect on their contributions, and then and then move on. And, you know, the thing that I was adamant about, as we sort of work through the process was, you know, we didn’t want to see the business closed down. I think, for me, you know, the idea that over 10,000, people who didn’t ask for, for our business to buy them, but were acquired as a result of the transaction, you know, working really hard to serve customers in stores by product, getting into store through the supply chain. So selling the business as an ongoing venture was important. And we were really lucky to find some really talented UK based leaders who, you know, have done a great job in taking the business back to what it’s been famous for, and in the home wear and garden sector. And, as I understand it, it’s now you know, ready for sale out of private equity. And I think the team that laid it now are doing an amazing job, you know, I think the hardest day of my career so far was standing in Milton Keynes, which is to the north of London, you know, in a room of, of time and say, Look, you know, we’ve, we’ve made the decision to sell the business and, you know, you know, I’m really sorry, it’s not worked out. But, you know, the thing I look back on proudly, is that, whilst there’s been some redundancies and structural changes, the vast majority of that team, you know, chosen to stay with the business, were able to stay and continue to have their livelihood. And to this day, I’ve got incredible friendships with colleagues from the UK. And, you know, in the days when we can travel, it’s lovely to go and see them and catch up and vice versa. And, you know, I think from that, you know, what I’ve learned is that if you’re going to do something, you need to be really clear on on why and then build a team that can solve the problems that need to be solved, because we weren’t short in any way on incredibly talented retail leaders. And the people that went work gave their heart and soul, you know, two or so years that we were there. But, you know, if you’re going to go and play football, send a football team if you’re going on Play netbooks and an apple team and picking the right skills and competencies for the job at hand is important. And that’s been the same here in Australia, New Zealand, you know, one of the areas that we’ve gotten into a little bit later than others has been in the whole digital and online space. And you know, what was clear, when we looked at the skills and competencies of people in Bunnings, there was some skill, but nowhere near enough to do the work that needed to be done. And we embarked on a really ambitious agenda of acquiring people who not only were amazing code writers and digital operators, but they’re really great people, and they fit the Bunnings culture. And that’s been just so good to see how we’ve transformed that part of the business and done it in a way that’s aligned to our brand. It’s done in a way that’s aligned to our culture and look, plenty of mistakes along the way when you’re doing new things. But we’ve also had plenty of fun and, you know, 2020 showed, you know that presence in the digital space was incredibly important for the community who you know, hunkered down for 23 hours a day at home, we’re looking for things to do to stay active physically and as you know, stay active mentally and that’s such an important component of what mental health and mental well being is all about.


Graeme Cowan  29:23

That digital transformation, I guess most organizations really forced to fast track start to do things more quickly in that area. And you’ll know that you have around 30% of your employees that 50 plus and people stereotypically say that, you know, old people can’t learn new tricks. What’s your been your experience with that?


Mike Schneider  29:44

I’ll join that brigade later this year. So I’m passionate in believing that it’s not the case, obviously. But I think you know, what’s been great about our more experienced team members is that you know, they’ve lived these lives before they’ve come many have lived their life before they’ve come to Bunnings in terms of build a successful career as a profession or as a trade, and they’re looking for a second or perhaps a third career, and many have grown, grown up and grown into Bunnings over many, many years. There’s so much knowledge and wisdom there to help our customers with the How to. So even if a customer is buying product online, often they’re coming into the store, you know, for some tips and advice on how to do that. These team members play an incredibly important role in helping our younger team members, you know, get that encyclopedic knowledge of where, you know, every tap and widget in a store is and equally you know, younger team are fantastic at educating, you know, those that are less comfortable with, with online or digital technology to get in and use that and many of the things we do in store now have a real blend between, you know, physical things and digital things, that sort of handheld technology to scan products, process transactions, they’re, you know, very intuitive in the way that they work. And you know, I don’t think I think they’re age agnostic, to be honest, Graeme, I think people can pick them up and, and they sort of plug and play and technology is permeating our life everywhere, you know, mobile devices and things that, you know, when you and I were starting our careers, you know, if you had, if you were lucky enough to have a mobile phone, it was it was analog, and it certainly didn’t do anything other than send or receive, receive a call. So…


Graeme Cowan  29:48

It was very big.


Mike Schneider  30:54

Very big and not much battery life. But mate thank goodness, we’ve gone through a pandemic, with the technology we’ve got, because not sure, you know, how the community would have coped from a connectivity point of view, without it but look it’s not something that presents as an issue, because, you know, we just make sure that our training and our development is, is aligned. And I think the physical retail store environment, you know, has an incredibly exciting future, I think that online sales, you know, over the next decade might get to 10, maybe even 15% of our revenue, but that means a 90 to 85 to 90% of our revenue’s coming from customers coming in store. And that tells us just how important that experience is, and why we want to continue to value it and reward it and actively go out and seek to recruit people who’ve got that experience and can bring that, you know, with the right culture into Bunnings.


Graeme Cowan  32:11

Why do you think that Bunnings is number one rated trusted company in Australia?


Mike Schneider  32:16

Look, you know, the challenge with these surveys is always they tend to move around and you know, often it’s the supermarkets and, and the bigger businesses, I think there’s, you know, I think through COVID, there were so many things in our life, we couldn’t do and you know, as you know, I’m based in in Melbourne, you know, for Melburnians, there was a pretty dark, two and a half, three months of curfews and permits and restrictions on distance, and rings of steel and all sorts of things that, you know, alone can trigger you to not, you know, to feel a little bit unsettled and a bit, you know, anxious, but going to Bunnings in many ways. It’s you know, that that term, third space, you know, we’ve got our home, we’ve got our work, you know, Bunnings is a place I can go to feel safe, it’s a place that feels familiar, you know, the team are giving me a warm welcome, even if it is through a face mask, you know, so there was a sense of normality. You know, this is part of life that I remember when a lot of life has been turned upside down. You know, I think that certainly, that reassurance for the community, you know, was really good, I think, I think the community and government have learned the importance of the products that we sell in our sector, not just for, for emergencies, you know, outside of Victoria, and the 50 stores in Victoria. You know, all other jurisdictions have seen Home Improvement as an essential retail business during other lockdowns most recently, in Perth, partly because it gets pretty urgent if your hot water system breaks or your smoke alarm goes or something’s unsafe on a on a parent or elderly person’s home. But equally important is just that piece about staying active. And I think that, you know, we were able to provide customers with things to do that you can look at and go I painted that room, I planted that garden, I’ve returned this piece of furniture to its former glory, I’ve done some craft and I think the feel good that comes from that is important. And I think equally, you know, we don’t in any way shape or form, you know, actively promote the work we do in the community. But I think that the actions we take in our communities, the things we do locally, whether it’s a local preschool or you know, soccer club or Cricket Club or netball club, the things we do there, they do build trust. And I think people know that there’s a genuine desire to be a part of the communities in which we live in and to help you know, and I think that pays dividends. And I think the final pieces is the most important piece, which is our team. You know, there’s a familiarity to the bindings, red shirt and apron, there’s a familiar face at the paint counter or the tool shop when you go in and that human connection. You know, it’s a really important part of our brand signature, if you like but you know, it’s important part of what our team do to care for their customers.


Graeme Cowan  34:55

What’s been some really important things you’ve learned from other leaders as you come up through the ranks?


Mike Schneider  35:01

It’s a great question. If I look at all the leaders that I’ve worked with over time, I sort of would take it as a bit of a smorgasbord, there’s things I’ve taken from leaders that I, I look to replicate, and you know, passion, enthusiasm, really trying to sort of make sure that when I communicate, I do it in a way that energizes the people around me equally, you know, attention to detail, you know, one on one, just one of my strong memories of the years, I worked at Westpac, you know, was a leader I work for, and, you know, I was promoted into a role to work with him. And, you know, sometimes you get to the next role, and you think somehow works meant to get a bit easier. And I probably, I probably took the foot off the accelerator, and he was pretty quick to sort of put the foot back on it for me and told me that, you know, I needed to apply myself and work harder. So that sense of, of being diligent, and there’s other leaders I’ve worked for, who haven’t made me feel great, who made me feel scared or intimidated, or who made me feel uninspired. And the learning I take from that is that that’s not behavior, I want to be replicating, and we’re human, you know, people who’ve worked with me or known me over my whole career will know that, you know, there have been moments where I would have done with the benefit of hindsight, I would have done things differently. I was spoken differently, I might have helped more. But it’s all part of the learning journey. And I think that’s where being honest with yourself is important, because one of the dangers of leadership roles is that it’s not too hard to tune out the bits that you don’t want to hear and just focus on the good things. And it’s important that you’ve got people around you who, who will speak the truth, regardless of the fact they’re speaking to you, and they care about you enough that they’ll go, you know, can I speak to you for five minutes in private? I heard the way you spoke at this or I saw what you did here and it doesn’t feel like you. They’re checking your Okay, that’s really lovely. But equally, there’s sort of the bumper rails that are pushing you back into making sure you are being the most effective leader that you can be. So yeah, I’ve, I’ve been really privileged. And as I said, so many of those took a chance on me, you know, encouraged me to try something new and, and continue to build my career. And that’s why I love watching and love helping people build fantastic careers in our business. And if it’s not the right company, for them, help them leave on really good terms, but then really help them to find their next role in a way that’s really positive.


Graeme Cowan  37:16

Yeah, have there been any books that have been particularly influential for you?


Mike Schneider  37:22

I’m an avid reader, I actually started my academic career studying to be a high school history and English teacher. So I love autobiographies, I love autobiographies about political leaders, about business leaders. And these a little bit about trying to sort of sort through the things that are going on in the world or things that have happened in the world. I love reading, historical texts. There’s, you know, a lot that goes on today that, you know, has happened in some way, shape or form before, you know. The, I saw a documentary on the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-1919. You know, and they were closing borders, putting people in face masks and sending people home. And here we are 100 years later on, we’re closing borders, putting face masks on and sending people home. So some things do have a habit of repeating. I recently read the Julia Gillard biography. And for me, what really, really shone through in that book was not only her incredible intelligence and humility, but also how much you know, unconscious bias is still in the world when it comes to gender balance and gender equality. And, you know, those, those are really important because they do inform your thinking around what’s my own unconscious bias, whether it’s in relation to gender or in relation to, you know, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or Maori people from New Zealand business, or people from the LGBTQ community. And, you know, we all we all think of ourselves as modern and contemporary and open minded and, you know, read a book like that, and you go, Well, actually, I need to think harder about some of these things. And it’s anything I can read that forces me to think, you know, it’s really, really what sort of lights my fire. And you do need some time to sort of sift through some of this sort of glory hunting and some biographies and particularly autobiographies tend to have but you do you do take really good learnings as well.


Graeme Cowan  39:07

Yeah. What have you done to, I guess, encourage women to come through into leadership, what sort of things they have in place for that?


Mike Schneider  39:21

A variety of things, I think, you know, one of the things that we actively do is track and measure career development for our leaders. We have very robust people planning processes, and that’s something that has been important to me my whole time at Bunnings and many of the things that we do in Bunnings, in fact some of the processes more broadly within the Wesfarmers Group, you know, come from some of the things that I brought and I brought those from Westpac, I didn’t invent them, I just had them had them in my bag of tools from roles I previously had. I’ve got some incredible senior executives around me who are women, my two IC and Chief Operating Officer Debbie Poole, my HR director, who also is a director for our New Zealand business, Jacqui Coombes. Leah Balter is our Director of Digital and Analytics and Maria McCarthy is my Corporate Affairs General Manager, you know, all four of those women report directly to me. Three of them are on our board and they they’re important positive role models for women in our organization. We’re continually challenging ourselves around, you know, access to leave, access to benefits, access to flexible work, and actually really working to make sure that we encourage, you know, men to do some of that as well. You know, one of my great regrets now looking back 20 odd years ago is that my kids were born, you know, it just wasn’t, it wasn’t thought of that, you know, you take time off to spend at home. And you certainly didn’t have parental leave to do it, if you were doing it, it was coming out of annual leave, or, you know, potentially sick leave, if you’re with the kids, and they will crook and you picked up one of their bugs. But I love now that we’ve got, you know, a couple in our business who have kids, and, you know, Dad takes a few months off, then Mum takes a few months off, and they strike a balance, and they’re continuing to build their careers. You know, we’ve got one of their senior female leaders in Queensland, who’s had two children now and is running an area in Bunnings but doing it on a part time basis, she needs to things that four or five years ago, we wouldn’t have contemplated, you know, because it looked hard or difficult. And I think it is one of the benefits of you know, the last 24 or 36 months at workplace flexibility to become an emerging mega trend alongside technology and COVID hit the afterburners on both, you know, jobs in our business that we said couldn’t be done from home, or not, shouldn’t be, but it couldn’t be payroll, because we couldn’t possibly have confidential team member data, you know, sitting on someone’s computer in their lounge room, well, yeah, suddenly, your COVID people need to get paid guess what they’re doing at home and doing it safely and securely. And those sorts of things will only make us a more flexible place to work in the future, we want people to come back to our support center that’s important for the sense of connection and community. But it’ll be in different ways, it’ll be different days of the week, it’ll be different hours. And it won’t be five days, you know, nine to five, and our team members in stores, they enjoy good flexibility to or where they’ve got to be in the store environment to serve their customer, but departments they work in shifts, they work, you know, learning opportunities to present or create the opportunity for, for a flexible, you know, career in our stores, if that’s what a team member wants to do.


Graeme Cowan  42:16

When you think of your career today, what’s something that you feel really proud about?


Mike Schneider  42:22

I think, you know, I’m really pleased that as a business we got moving on our digital agenda, I’m really, really proud of that. I’m really proud that we’ve you know, championed different programs for team members that needed a stronger voice. And we were just touching on, on gender balance and women in leadership, you know, I worked to make sure we had the funding for a program called Grow My Career, which is specifically targeted to women in our business, who want to build a career with Bunnings, and finding ways for them to understand more about themselves more about their own networks, but also how to sort of successfully build, build their career, but above everything, I’m just proud that we’re able to create jobs for people to do you know, and we play a unique role in our, in our domestic economy, we employ, you know, we employ 55,000 people, or there abouts across Australia and New Zealand, we have 800,000 small businesses who have accounts with us, and we’re helping them finance and manage the cash flow of their businesses, they support communities through trades and small businesses. And we’ve got 1000s of people who come into our stores or manufacturing products for our stores, through our supply and supply chain network. So I think the ability to create and sustain those jobs, you know, it’s a huge responsibility, but it’s an incredible privilege. And to me, you know, in 2020, we hired 8000, more team members. A fantastic thing we were able to give opportunities to people from industry sectors that couldn’t work, you know, pilots and flight crew and ground crew and baggage handlers from the travel industry, people out of tourism, people out of sporting clubs, when codes were shut down, or clubs had to downsize. And, you know, that’s been really lovely to be able to do it. And obviously, you know, it comes because customers have needed to get to us to get those products. And there’s been a commercial benefit for the business in that and those saw our full year results last August would see that. But the benefit of that commercial strength is the opportunity to actually go out and bring more people in and create opportunities for them. And hopefully over the months ahead, you know, we lose some of those team members for the right reasons that they’re getting back into a cockpit of a plane or they’re getting your bags onto the conveyor belt or going back to the footy club or the sports club. Because if that’s what their passion is, that’s what we’ll be happy to see them do. But if they find a new passion for home improvement, then I’m pretty certain we’re going to keep some pretty amazing people as well.


Graeme Cowan  44:40

I love some of the fun things that I heard about your culture and this concept of challenge accepted. Can you just explain how that applies and plays out?


Mike Schneider  44:49

It was a campaign we’ve been running through COVID so you know, I touched earlier on the community work we do and the signature element of that is the community barbecue and that raises 10s of millions of dollars for small community groups around the country and in New Zealand every year. And in COVID, you know, we weren’t able to do that for months on end and whilst we were able to help groups that, you know, had their barbecue within, you know, within a few weeks of not being able to do it, you know, we were left with sort of the quandary of how could our team members at a local level, do things that are meaningful, and we were doing one of our live streams a little bit like, you know, like this, you know, to our team talking about it. And one of the young coordinators in one of our stores was a bit skeptical about whether or not we were, we will live to air and in the questions he posted, if you guys are live to air will mark drop and give us 10 push ups, I had to think about it for a minute, more, not about actually doing them or whether I could do 10, or how I was going to gracefully get out of it at five, but I managed to get through the 10. And, you know, we sort of from that one of our comms team, you know, said, you know, wonder if we did this as a as a theme throughout the year, so you would challenge the sector on the pushups, we did Challenge accepted on some dancing, we did Challenge accepted on battle of the bands. And what we would have is this enormous groundswell of activity and energy from the team. So I was really motivating for them. And you know, at a time when people are doing it tough, doing things that are fun, brought a lot of camaraderie to the team across the business. And then, you know, our team would vote on who they felt were the best ones and those teams would then win money to actually donate to community groups of their choice in a local community. So we sort of found a little ecosystem we could create to create a bit of happiness for our team have a bit of fun and a healthy rivalry, but also do good for the community. And it’s amazing how innovative our team are, you know, and there’s no way I think, you know, sitting there thinking about a communications, that I’d have even contemplated something like that. So again, it’s, it’s a willingness to, to listen to our team and put things in place. And, you know, when they work really well, like that, you know, it becomes, you know, becomes something that will we’ll stick with for some time to come, I’m sure.


Graeme Cowan  46:54

Yeah, I love the story of, you know, a whole store employees or team members or doing it once, you know, like, all over Australia, so wonderful message.


Mike Schneider  47:06

Yeah, we got some fantastically talented team out there as well, that’s for sure. Not just in selling home improvement, but some singers and dancers, not me, but….


Graeme Cowan  47:16

What advice would you give to a new Bunnings manager, you know, work well in the store seems to have a lot of the right qualities, but suddenly they get this promotion, suddenly they’re responsible for other people. What advice would yours be to them?


Mike Schneider  47:32

A couple of different things, you know, be as authentic as you can, you know, and the easiest way to sort of litmus test that is, you know, am I am I similar in my style and mannerisms and communication, when I come to work as I am when I’m when I’m at home, or I’m, I’m out with friends at a at a park or, you know, over dinner or something like that. And I think if you’re starkly different between the two, and there’s there is a work version of ourselves and a personal version, but the more that they’re harmonized, I think the closer you are the authentic, most authentic version of yourself. Be prepared to make mistakes and take chances, be willing to apologize when you get it wrong. I think one of the greatest weaknesses in that I ever seen leaders are the leaders that get things wrong, and then don’t say sorry, I think we’re human, we will make mistakes, we should say, sorry. You know, and that’s something I’ve learned, you know, early, we’re talking about, you know, what you learn and don’t learn from leaders, you know, I’ve worked for leaders who just won’t apologize if they get things wrong, they just apology is a sign of weakness. That’s the greatest, you know, misnomer I think I’ve heard in leadership, admitting you get things wrong and putting them right is, is an incredibly important part of building trust and building credibility. And having a bit of daring and trying things is an indication that there is an ambition to see things done better, or to grow your career or help make things better for people. And I think I’d circle back to the, you know, to the helpfulness that, you know, they’re in the role they’re in because someone’s taken a chance on them, I should do that, I should pay that forward. And that that adage of treat other people, the way you want the people in your life you care about to be treated, you know, they be sort of the sort of little, you know, post it notes that I’d be passing on to so if you if you do those things, well, you’re going to have a lot of fun being a leader and you’re going to grow and you’re going to lead some amazing people and learn from them, and they’ll learn from you.


Graeme Cowan  49:12

We’ve just got a couple of minutes left, but one question I’d be really interested to know, to get your thoughts on you mentioned you love to read autobiographies. Did you have a choice of anyone living or dead to share a table, a meal with? Who would you choose?


Mike Schneider  49:26

Oh, it’s a big list and lots of different lots of different people that I’d want to spend time with. I think it would come back to people like Nelson Mandela or people like Mother Teresa, and I don’t I don’t say that from a religious point of view. I just say it from a genuine desire to, to help and the humility that comes with anything. There’s just this, this desire to help you know, I’ve been trained to talk to Winston Churchill, you know, someone who played such a vital role in in the stoicism of the British people through the Second World War and, you know, the challenges that they faced through the blitz and things like that, you know, to be unceremoniously dumped effectively, the second the war ended, he was he was voted out of office. I think that will be really fascinating. You know, I think Bob Hawke, you know, the incredible things he did for the trade union movement, I think trade unions have such an important role to play in our economy and in making sure that that, you know, the vulnerable are looked after and supported and the work he did was incredible in his intellect. You know, and he’s larrikin charm. You know, I think there’s lots of different things. And it’s always hard to say just one person, but I think it’d be a pretty if I could get everyone I wanted, it would be a pretty interesting dinner party


Graeme Cowan  50:41

It certainly sounds like it. In my third book, it was international book and I interviewed Alastair Campbell, who was Tony Blair’s chief adviser. And I also interviewed Patrick Kennedy, of the Kennedy fame, the nephew of JFK. And I asked them, if they thought in this in today’s world, if Winston Churchill would be elected, or in the US, would Abraham Lincoln be elected? And the sad thing they said was, they didn’t think so they really didn’t think so. Because they were, they were quite eccentric the both of them but extraordinarily effective. Yeah, I think it’s a bit of a sad indication that sound bites and looks and feels, you know, those two people achieve amazing things but it was quite sad to hear that both….


Mike Schneider  51:31

You know, Churchill was uh, you know, did nothing I’m saying about him that that’s not well, well documented. You know, he had lifelong issues with the tax office in the UK, and he had a lifelong problem with, with alcohol. Both of those things in today’s media cycle would be, you know, I’m sure there’ll be headlines like outrage and fury, I read some of those things. And I worry for our community, because I worry that you know, they trigger people in different ways. But also, I also stop and wonder how accurate are those adjectives? Adjectives are describing words. And, you know, there’s a couple of publications that seem to use words like outrage and fury on every second headline, and I don’t know about you, Graeme, but I don’t have the energy or the time to be that furious at that many things. I think leadership, particularly public service, leadership is hard. And people that do that as a vocation, I think are incredibly courageous to do so whether you whether you believe, you know, version of politics or another, I think there is a real, a real courage in it. And it is really difficult because the people, the people writing the people affected. And ironically, when media personalities flame out, which occasionally happens, it’s interesting to sort of watch the industry in the main take care of its own. Yeah, and not hold them to the same scrutiny that others do. And I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve worked hard as a leader of a larger company to sort of stay well clear of media is there’s plenty of opportunities to sort of get out there and build a profile as a leader. And, you know, I’m much happier at my local coffee shop owner on a Saturday morning, and you know, in my thongs and T shirt and shorts with my dog and my partner, or my kids, having a coffee or having breakfast, and no one knowing, you know, no one other than the people that know me knowing what I do for a day job. And I think that fame in 2021, and in the future will be an even higher tightrope to walk on. And it’s been perhaps in the past.


Graeme Cowan  53:24

Yeah, very much. If you could go back to your 18 year old self, when I think you were working as a casual in a retail store in Chatswood, in Sydney. Yep. Know what, you know, now, what advice would you give yourself back then?


Mike Schneider  53:40

So it’s an incredibly hard question to answer. I think, you know, the thing I would, I would say to myself, because I think I’ve lived this is say yes to the opportunities that present themselves and be willing, you know, to take a chance, you know, I’ve changed companies, changed jobs, change places that I’ve lived, I’ve lived in the city, I’ve lived in the country, I’ve lived in four different capital cities across Australia, and I’ve worked quite a bit in the UK and Europe and New Zealand. And, you know, if I’d said note all the opportunities as they came up, you know, chances are, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. But more important, I wouldn’t have had the experiences and met the people that I’ve met. And as you gain a few years and a few grey hairs, you learned that not every answer has to be Yes, I’ll give that a go you become a little bit more circumspect. But, you know, it’s one of the one of the things that I challenge, you know, high potential young leaders in our business to do is you know, while life allows them to do it, get out and travel get out and explore get out and take some opportunities because, you know, as you and I both know, life is precious and life can be short. There are amazing people whose lives are cut short for a whole range of reasons and you know, comes back to the that that last point, probably a good one to sort of wrap up on is you know, you want to be happy you want to you want to get where you’re going and look back and go Yeah, that’s been a that’s been a good ride, so my encouragement for myself would be to take those chances and have a go.


Graeme Cowan  55:04

Wonderful advice and it’s been a real pleasure talking with you, Mike. I think


Mike Schneider  55:08

I can’t believe how fast the time’s gone Graeme


Graeme Cowan  55:11

Which is a great signa and you know, I think you’ve really demonstrated in a very practical sense how you do juggle the tension between a culture of fear and culture of high performance. But I think it’s very hard to have a culture of high performance without care. You know, a lot of the research shows that as well.


Mike Schneider  55:29



Graeme Cowan  55:29

I really appreciate your time and it’s been wonderful to catch up with you today.


Mike Schneider  55:33

Yeah, I look forward to catching up with you again. Thanks again, Graeme.


Graeme Cowan  55:37

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