Brooke Bainbridge, Business Development and Digital Acquisition Manager for Australia and New Zealand at bp Castrol, believes in the power of people and visionary leadership. This is her story…

I was born and raised in Warragul, a country town in West Gippsland, Victoria. Warragul is a leafy green oasis haloed by the Strzelecki Ranges and farming properties. It’s a small town that’s just over an hour outside of Melbourne, and it has thrived during COVID-19 and in the years leading up to it.

I’m the eldest of three children and have two younger brothers. Our parents are still both in Warragul where they run their businesses from home, and my siblings have spread out, with one in Gippsland, one on the Sunshine Coast (lucky), and I’m in Melbourne.

Growing up in the country was great; I went to primary and secondary school in Gippsland before leaving home early at 18. I was a quiet child but always loved being outside and playing with the local kids in the neighbourhood – always on bikes, playing sport with the boys in the street or long distance running. My friends and family all lived in town so it was often cups of tea or tennis with my Nan or mucking around and playing sport with friends.

I was always intellectually curious; I loved reading and watching documentaries. I remember being obsessed with learning about history and how things worked, and I’m sure I drove a few people crazy with my never-ending curiosity.

From an early age I had already developed an entrepreneurial streak, and every second weekend I would be selling something to the neighbourhood, sometimes forcing my brothers to come along for a small commission.

At around age 13, I got my first real job, which was waitressing and working as a kitchen hand at my parent’s pub. Then when I was 15, I also started working a second job at an industrial laundry in my hometown. At the laundry I was mostly working with other women and we would be on the machines at 5.30am and finished by 3.30pm, with a 30 minute lunchbreak and two 10 minute breaks throughout the day. This was one of my most valuable experiences as it taught me the meaning of hard work and also cemented the mindset that I was 100 per cent going to university.

Working such a physically intensive job at a young age taught me work ethic and my early work in our family business introduced me to commercial acumen, customer service and relationships. To this day I still love work, getting my hands dirty, strategizing with people and talking to customers. I think the difference between a good business and an amazing business is its people, and its ability to really understand its customer.

Through all of my experiences, I fell in love with business. The customers, sales strategy, and negotiating were things that I thrived on from a very young age, and that I continue to be passionate about.

Today I am working as the Business Development and Digital Acquisition Manager for Australia and New Zealand at bp Castrol. My role really focusses on strategic projects, route to market strategy, partnerships and offers that can take our business to the next level from a macro sense.

I started with bp in procurement and supply chain roles before jumping across to sales, offer development and product management roles in our commercial fuels business. I’ve come to realise that I really love our customers. I love learning what frustrates them, what they value, where we fall short – it motivates me to bring their voice into the business and make sure we are shaping their experience with our brand in bold ways.

My work experience so far has almost always been in the bp commercial fuels business and working with owners or large public organisations. Working at bp has always challenged me and has given me many opportunities, including my new role, which is in a new bp business (Castrol lubricants) and has many differences compared to my time in fuels. My new job skews heavily to the consumer and digital segments, which has really opened my eyes to a whole new world of FMCG – the way customers transact, their loyalty, their expectations and what our customers value and demand from us as a supplier, and how our complex global and domestic supply chains can be equipped to fulfil the task. Coming into the Castrol business, it has actually been really refreshing to be the person in the room who knows nothing and being able to ask all the simple questions – back to the why, why, why?

My career highlights have been recent and mainly centred around transforming our fuel card business. I was under some amazingly supportive leadership at the time that fostered different thinking and allowed me and a few colleagues to transform our business from one that was declining to one that is thriving.

I think back to my last role at bp whereby my entire obsession was surprising and impressing new and existing bp Plus customers. The bp Plus fuel card was growing after a few stagnant years in a very competitive market and my team and I developed a few amazing offers for the transport industry and SME customers (tradies, small business owners etc.). But what really stuck with me was the impact the local site and their staff still had on the success of our business and the way our offers we’re executed and delivered in market.

What became really evident was the power of consistency and banding together as a brand to deliver this amazing offer that ranged from financial institution partners, account software partners and then amazing customer experience at site. We could have had this market-leading offer with a horrible experience at site and we would never see that customer again, but our operators know their customers very well and they know that the way a customer leaves that store is the most important thing.

The past few years have taught me a few things:

  1. The people in your team are everything. The mindset of those people will be the difference between surviving or thriving and it will also be contagious, getting some wins on the board and then feeding off the culture. They will also determine how fun work can be – make sure you enjoy your work and your peers.
  2. Be open to trying and testing new concepts – this could be in head office or in a store, it could be big or small. If they don’t work you stop, but don’t be too scared to make a decision! My career highlights have been when I’ve tried something left field that was a little bold but it worked and I learned a lot of lessons along the way.
  3. Visionary leadership and storytelling as a tool. This one is invaluable. The difference between a leader who can move a tribe of people towards a common goal and get them to see opportunity in a new or different way is inspiring. You need your team to be on the journey with you – you can’t tell them what to do, you need them to believe in the vision of the business and as a collective where you can get – this is powerful.
  4. Mentoring and advocacy. I was never a natural networker, being quite reserved in my early career I would let my work speak for me, but networks and your personal brand and reputation really are everything. I always try to make everyone feel inspired by themselves and what they are capable of. I have spoken at a few open days at universities and the buzz you feel after you get the feedback that you have motivated someone to apply for a course they were scared to apply for, or that they went for a job they were doubting themselves on, or even just speaking up to a manager about something at work, it’s so rewarding and there is no better feeling.

My advice to anyone reading this is to be really cognisant of the young people in their business or those who are looking for more opportunity, responsibility or just for an idea to be heard. In many cases these people would love to hear from you or meet you once a month for a coffee. I know we all get busy, but taking 30 minutes out of your month to genuinely talk and potentially inspire someone is such a gift.

These days, my office companion has grown a lot hairier and she doesn’t like coffee but she does offer great chat! My beautiful Groodle Miller has become my shadow since the onset of COVID-19 and working from home. And if you’re wondering what on earth a Groodle is, she’s a big, lovable cross between a Golden Retriever and a Poodle.

I really value work life balance and find myself trying to prioritise this more and more. I actually get a healthy buzz and motivation from deadlines however I think I’m more strategic when I’m not stressed or trying to multi-task too much. I don’t always get it right but I try to inject some calm into each day where I can. Part of work life balance involves exercise and for me that’s daily and it’s nearly a non-negotiable. Almost every day I get up at 5am to walk or run Miller; grab a coffee and head back home for breakfast and emails. On weekends I love to hike, camp – anything out in nature really with fresh air. Coming from the country I find nature and getting outside of the city my happy place – I’m actually thinking of moving coastal; one of the upsides of COVID-19 is that this isn’t unattainable while working a corporate career anymore.

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of C&I Retailing Magazine.

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