Ben Poppy

career profile | national operations manager

I cannot think of a better example of someone with ambition, motivation and willing to get his hands dirty and do the hard yards. These qualities have seen Ben work his way up the ladder and position himself in a senior managers role. Ben was first employed as the Operations Manager SA to the State Manager SA and now the National Operations Manager at IS Australia. Ben’s role includes travelling across Australia and is responsible for the general management of the training services division. What an incredible career journey so far and great story Ben has to tell…

Ben Poppy – National Operations Manager at IS Australia

Brief description of your role:
As the National Operations Manager, Training Services at IS Australia I am responsible for the Training Services Division of IS Australia. IS Australia has Government contracts in the Northern Territory, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. I drive the strategic direction of the Training Services team and am accountable for the overall performance of the division.  I have program managers that assist me operationally to achieve the goals for our organisation. 

So… what do you actually do?
4am alarm goes off – Shower, Brush teeth, shave get dressed etc. 4:20am Leave home (Adelaide) headed for the airport and check voicemail messages from the day before while in the car. 5am Check in my bags ready to board my flight to Cairns via Sydney. 8:30am arrive in Sydney and check phone, facebook and emails. 9am board my flight headed for Cairns. Respond to emails while on the plane. Proof read awards submission and reviewed one of my staffs business development proposals and responded to these people. 12:30pm land in Cairns. 1:00pm dial into a teleconference with staff delivering training in a remote community in the Northern Territory while in a taxi to my meeting. 2:00pm attend meeting with the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet & The Department of Industry to discuss current contract expansion. 3:30pm meet with Managing Director from IS Australia as she is transiting through Cairns on her way back from a remote community in the NT. We discuss many things regarding the operations and mainly financial performance of our current work orders. 6:00pm board my flight headed for Townsville. 8:00pm arrive in Townsville and check in to hotel ready for my 6am flight to Cloncurry (QLD) tomorrow morning for a site visit to our Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) site.

My role does involve a lot of travel however not always to this extent. The good thing with technology we have the ability to conference call and Skype etc. I generally spend most of my time reviewing the operating areas of our business and ensuring KPI’s are being met. If our KPI’s are being met it means we are reaching our financial goals which I am ultimately responsible for. We rely heavily on our staff to perform well and work unsupervised. We have staff spread across the country in areas that I had never heard of.

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How did you get to your position of being?
Going through high school I had no real aspiration to go to Uni or continue with further study, I was living the now. The now was my friends and my after school and weekend job at Maccas. Yep Maccas! This after school job had given me a taste of money and was also something I enjoyed. I enjoyed having the accountability of something that was mine. It was my job and I was responsible for how I performed. In the end I left school as I was offered position in the Trainee Management program at McDonald’s.

After accepting this position at McDonald’s things really started to take shape for me and my aspiration to climb the ladder really kicked in. One thing led to another and I worked my way up to 1st Assistant Manager at McDonald’s. Over my years at McDonald’s I learnt many, many skills that I still use in my career now.

The way things went for me at McDonald’s really did teach me to take opportunities as they present themselves. The last five or six years of my working life I have really just gone with the flow. My personality has never changed, I have always wanted to learn new things and have wanted to take on more as I developed in each role. I have taken jobs that I have hated, I have accepted jobs that have paid less money than the previous… But I have always taken something away from these positions that has enabled me to grow and develop my skills. That has been experience, I love the saying chalk it up to experience.

I was working in the Vocational Education Sector and was really still searching for the perfect role for me. My previous job that I was in was one of those jobs that I didn’t enjoy. It got to the point where I was applying for so many jobs, I didn’t actually know if they were the right jobs for me.

One night about three years ago, I saw an advert for an operations manager for a training organisation from interstate. I read through the job advert on Seek and instantly thought ‘I want this job!’. I really thought I had the skills and the role also offered areas for my development as well so I applied. I got an interview. The interview was the weirdest interview I have ever had. The guy (that didn’t even introduce himself so I had no idea who he was) was talking to me as if I had the job. He was trying to sell the job to me. I walked out of that interview feeling really confused. Long story short, I got the job.

I started my new role with no furniture, no phones, no bathroom and no computers. I saw this as an opportunity to really make this mine. The first 12 months saw manager’s come and go. I remained focused and saw the opportunity that was in front of me. I didn’t get caught up in who I reported to and what my managers did and didn’t know. After approximately nine months and four Managers the Managing Director approached me for the role of State Manager. After seeing so many people come and go I wasn’t sure, I didn’t want to fail. Then I thought, “What have I got to lose?” this is an opportunity for me to show what I’ve got.

This was the best thing I could have done. The SA branch became profitable and we started kicking some real goals. Earlier this month IS Australia created a new role and restructured the senior management team. I have been fortunate enough to gain the National Operations Manager role reporting directly to the managing director.

Over the years I have also done further study to complement the skills that I have learnt on the job.

Have you always wanted to work in the Training / Management area?
Since working at McDonalds I realised that I had a passion for managing people and leading a team to succeed so it was then that I knew that I wanted to work in a management position. I also enjoyed seeing people grow and develop in their roles. Although I haven’t always worked in management positions in all of my past jobs, it is something that I have always aspired to.

What do you love about your role?
Our clients! The main driver for me is seeing others get an opportunity to learn new skills that might take them to the next step of their journey.

I also love how much I am learning, my favorite aspect of my role would be change management, I love leading and guiding a team to do things smarter without affecting quality but increasing the bottom line.

In your current role, what has been your biggest achievement?
Leading a complete start up organisation to an extremely successful profit margin.

Over your career, what has been your ‘love this’ moment?
The moment for me was a day when our training facility was at capacity, there was not a car park left out the front and we had people everywhere. I couldn’t help but remember when we started and didn’t event have a chair in the place. It really showed how far IS Australia has come and what I had achieved since I started working there.

What would be the least favorite aspect of your role?
Airports – with staff located in different geographic regions across the country, I spend a lot of time travelling which means a lot of time in airports – especially when there often aren’t direct flights to where I am going. There are plenty more productive things I could be doing than sitting in an airport. Although with technology it does allow me to keep up to date with my emails and phone calls.

Any advice for anyone aspiring to work in the training industry?
My advice to anyone regardless of what industry they want to pursue, is to take opportunities as they arise. I believe the more you accept challenges the more you learn. I definitely would not be where I am today if I didn’t take opportunities and make the choices I made.

I love the way that Ben has never stopped following his passion, even if it meant taking risks – this shows exactly how you can succeed with a little bit of determination and elbow grease.

Any questions for Ben or working in the training / management area. Please, join the conversation below.  

Find out more about Ben’s career journey here

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