The Connection Between Holly Ransom & Sam Walsh

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Holly Ransom, CEO of consulting group Emergent, non-executive director of Port Adelaide Football Club and co-chair of the 2014 G20 Youth Summit, is mentored by Sam Walsh, newly retired global CEO of Rio Tinto Group.

Holly: “I met Sam at Government House in 2011 on the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. At 21, I was probably the youngest person in the room and Sam was one of the only men there. It was like our eyes locked in sympathy with each other! He introduced himself as Sam and we had a long chat. When he gave me his card at the end, I was like, ‘Oh, you’re that Sam.’ I’m used to people at his level making a big deal about themselves.

About six months later, he offered me a job as a business analyst at Rio Tinto. His first question was, ‘Where do you want to go and what do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to drive change in the world and one day be at the helm of a large-scale organisation that can do that.’ He said, ‘Whatever we can do to help you, that’s what we’re here for.’

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It was the start of an incredible relationship and friendship. I’ve grown enormously from conversations we’ve had around leadership, decision-making and resilience. He’s a philosopher and a deep thinker. His views on the world have definitely informed my own.

Since I left Rio Tinto in 2013, we’ve met up all over the world. I stayed with Sam’s family in London last year and we WhatsApp each other all the time and send photos. He’s ridiculous. He’ll send me photos saying, ‘I’m at dinner with the Chinese president’ and I’m going, ‘How good are you!’

He routinely asks, ‘How’s your love life?’ I tell him he needs to keep scouting for me. The only thing we disagree on is sport, which I happen to live and breathe and he believes has to be suffered through.

Sam’s mentoring is the single-biggest contributor to my growth and development as a person and as a leader. I’ve come to understand that leaders like Sam get to where they are because people helped, advised and supported them. So whenever they come across people they genuinely believe are going to pay it forward, they’re going to mentor them. I’d encourage everyone to do it.

He’s made me lift the ceiling on what I’m capable of. Having someone in your corner like that changes the game.” 

Sam: “I call Holly a human dynamo. She really pushes herself and delivers amazing things. Her intellect, empathy, drive and energy are endless.

Our ‘mentoring’ discussions were very broad but it was a two-way street. She helped me understand the younger generation: what they value and how they operate, the importance of the internet and communication, WhatsApp, texting and everything else. It’s important for an executive to understand all the different subgroups within the business because all require slightly different things.

In the past year I’ve spoken at Harvard Business School, Tsinghua University in Beijing, The University of Melbourne and London Business School. Holly helps me focus my comments so they’re relevant and interesting to those groups. It’s been very, very helpful. She does a wonderful job of bridging the generations but she’s also setting the agenda for her generation. Being on a show like [ABC TV’s] Q&A is stepping into the deep end. Holly thrives on that sort of thing.

When she stayed with my wife, Leanne, and I in London, we decided to go for a walk in Hyde Park. As we got to Royal Albert Hall, we saw three guys who looked lost. I said, ‘Can I help you?’ After I gave them directions, they said, ‘Oh, you’re Australian; we’re Australian, too! Oh, and you’re that lady from Q&A!’ I was expecting them to say, ‘You’re that bloke from Rio Tinto!’

Holly is a driven individual. The best advice I can give her is to have a plan for what you’re striving for. You need to manage your career, have values and ethics and stand up for what you believe in. Above all, whatever you’re doing, add value. Don’t be a caretaker or a maintainer.

I do see a bit of my 25-year-old self in Holly – the sense of purpose, drive, energy and intellect. To become a CEO, you have to be a little different, have a different focus and believe in yourself. Holly has certainly got all that, with good reason.

I’ve often said to people, ‘Meet the future prime minister of Australia.’ If she set her heart to it, she could achieve it.” 

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