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March 25, 2022

Life in the fast lane

Most days, Les Wade is up at dawn for a swim in his beloved Shellharbour Ocean pool before starting the day's work.

"It puts me on a good frame of mind to start the day, especially that early because you've got the whole day ahead of you," Les explains.

As the saying goes, there must be something in the water as Les has notched up 26 years working for SCE, most recently as SCE's Group Maintenance Manager, playing a leading hand in purchasing facilities and equipment, including trucks, loaders, cars, fuel, and all the maintenance that goes with it.

"We also have a maintenance contract with South32, Scrap Handling & Shipping and service other pieces of equipment for Bluescope."

Reflecting on his time at SCE Les says working in a fast-paced, diverse organisation now is a lot different from his early days.

"When I first started, it was straightforward. We had internal works and didn't get involved in the business up North at all. But over the years, my role has progressed to being involved in all the different parts of the business."

"I was in a maintenance role when I first started, then simultaneously took on an operational role. I looked after the Wongawilli coal washing emplacement then Rooty Hill Steel Mill at the same time as maintenance."

Involved in business at Whyalla and the Hunter Valley, Les also helped start up the business at Westcliff, Ship loading, and the Scrap handling contract.



With such a broad role, Les realised he needed to surround himself with a good team, now totalling over 20 people under his leadership and mentoring.

"My two supervisors, Matt Kynezos and Jason Moscrop, came through the ranks, starting their apprenticeship at SCE before progressing to tradesperson then supervisor. We also built the truck workshop and the plant workshops together.

"I let Matt and Jason run their shows. They look after the day-to-day arrangements. I only get involved if there's a problem they can't handle.

"The truck shop is easier to maintain because staff turnover is minimal. The plant shop is a different story because there are so many opportunities for plant mechanics. We don't keep them that long, which is a challenge at times and especially now."


At the forefront of change

The role has given Les a bird's eye view of SCE's growth throughout his career and has seen him at the forefront of many significant changes.

"We started a lot of the jobs from scratch. We purchased the ship loading equipment from overseas. We implemented and increased output tonnages on ships, which Bluescope welcomed—implemented Westcliff and stockpiling from zero, bringing in all the required machinery.

"We also took over run-down scrap handling machinery, which was almost at the end of its life, and kept those machines going for another nine years."

Les believes many initiatives may not have been possible if SCE was not a family-owned company, providing a point of difference in speed to market.

"If you have an idea and think it will work, they will accept it and run with it. Whereas in public companies, it can take months of board meetings to agree to something."

"Being a family-owned company makes a big difference. It's a very personal company. I have worked for public companies before, and they don't have the same close contact."

Les foresees even more change and challenges on the horizon. 

"The shift to electronically controlled units these days is a significant push. The mechanical side of things is still the same, but everything else is controlled electronically. All the fitters must come up to speed with that.

"I think we will see some significant change in the next ten years. There's a considerable push in electronic and hydrogen-powered equipment, especially with a real push on climate change.


Changing of guard

With plans to retire at the end of the year, Les is already planning for his successor

"I'll oversee the transition of Jordan Daly into my position. Jordan has been with the company for several years with experience in Plant and Equipment.

“He has two guys in Matt and Jason with plenty of experience running the Plant and Truck workshops, so he should have no qualms there.

"I hope the company keeps growing like it has done while I have been here; it's never stopped."

After a working life in the fast lane, it's hard to see Les slowing down anytime soon, but he plans to take advantage of more downtime with wife Jenny, their children, and grandchildren.

"A little bit of surfing if the wind and swell are right. Some travel plans with short local trips down the coast, Tasmania and New Zealand South Island."

 And no doubt continuing to tear up and down the local pool.