As the saying goes, ‘if you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten’. With that in mind, Winstone Aggregates recently appointed a relative newcomer to the industry, as its new general manager with the idea to bring a different perspective to the company and look at usual business with fresh eyes. By Mary Searle Bell.
Amanda Croft has been in the industry for a few years now and joined Winstone Aggregates three years ago as a commercial manager.
This has allowed her to get to know the business – its people, its drivers, and its vision. And she has always had an interest in making things.
Amanda grew up in Christchurch, attending an all-girls school, where things like engineering weren’t talked about in the long list of possible career options. That didn’t hold her back.
“I went along to the University of Canterbury and knocked on the door to see what they had on offer. I liked science so chose to do chemical and process engineering.
“I really liked the idea of transforming something into something else.”
After graduating, Amanda began her career at Unilever, starting by making washing powder, working across a number of different technologies in her three-and-a-half years there.
“It not only fulfilled my interest in engineering, but it introduced me to the human side of business. There were a lot of new things to deal with, ranging from working with people who had many more years’ experience than me, to working with operators who had English as a second language. It really gave me an appreciation of diversity and what different people can offer.”
When she was in her late 20s, Amanda headed to London to do her OE. There, she got a role with GlaxoSmithKline in an operations finance role.
“While I picked up new skills in operations, I was also introduced to the commercial side of the business. I later changed jobs to work for Tesco, then Woolworths, which gave me exposure to retail business. These experiences gave me a lot of insight into various different business drivers.”
She returned to the Southern Hemisphere after a few years, settling in Sydney, where she worked for Lion for 10 years in a number of different roles, from risk assessment, to planning, to commercial finance, to sales, to supply chain.
“Lion has a fantastic focus on leadership. They believe that a key focus of a business is culture, and 80 percent of a company’s culture is driven by its leadership.”
Around eight years ago, Amanda transferred across to Lion New Zealand as a commercial finance director. After a couple of years she had a ‘where to from here?’ moment.
“I spent a bit of time considering what made me satisfied in a role. I found I enjoyed building teams to drive change, and I preferred creating a tangible product, rather than providing a service.
“And that’s what drew me to WinAggs, it has all of that in spades.
“Our teams are full of great people, from all different walks of life; some with 35-plus years’ experience, others newbies to the industry.
“Within WinAggs there are a lot of opportunities to grow and thrive. And the industry is building the foundations of our communities, which is a great thing. We’re making a tangible difference.”
Amanda joined Winstone Aggregates as a commercial manager, and over the past three years has been involved in a range of different projects from a variety of angles. For the past two years she has been involved in safety on a leadership level and, last year, she also took over the leadership of the company’s lab network.
A few months ago, she was approached about the general manager’s role. Her varied career experience, combined with the knowledge of the industry she had developed, made the role feel like a natural next step for her.
“Having people that are fresh to the industry brings new eyes and new ideas to build on what has already been achieved.”
WinAggs is focused on building a ‘belonging’ culture within the company, which is something that really resonates with Amanda.
“Everyone here is very passionate about what we do, and everyone has different backgrounds. Not feeling like you belong, perhaps because you’re a different gender, culture, or religion to most of those around you, does not bring out the best in people. I want everyone here to feel like they belong here.”
To build a culture of belonging, Amanda says you start by understanding each other’s experiences. Allow people across the business to connect with each other by creating spaces where they each have a voice.
“When people speak up, others may then think, ‘that feels like that for me too’, or ‘oh, I didn’t realise that’.”
To many, Amanda sticks out in the industry simply because she’s female. But being in the gender minority hasn’t fazed her one bit.
“You’ve just got to be yourself. And back yourself; jump in with your boots on.
“I ask a lot of questions. I’ve found that if questions are coming from a place of genuine interest, without any agenda, people are always happy to respond.
“I’m really good at asking the obvious questions. Sometimes I think they sound like stupid questions but they often make us collectively stop and think, and that can lead us to head in a different direction with a better outcome.”
Winstone Aggregates has been focused on the sustainability of its operations for some time now, and this is a direction Amanda says will remain at the top of her agenda, as ‘ensuring the business is sustainable is how it will continue to grow in the world we’re in’.
“It’s important that we engage with our stakeholders at the right level. In the quarrying industry, it’s not so much about looking five years ahead, but 50 to 100 years.
“We’re looking at how we can reduce our carbon emissions, in line with the 2030 targets, and we’re investing significantly in biodiversity, to help minimise the environmental impact of our sites.
“We’re also interested in the circular lifecycle, and we’re looking at different and new technologies in this space.”
Like many in the wider construction industry, Amanda has concerns around finding staff going forward.
“Labour shortage is going to be a real problem. The solution is to recruit people from different places than the usual – if you hire the right type of person, one with drive and an ability to learn, you can them teach them the skills they need for the job.”
Amanda is also keen to help improve the perception and understanding of the industry to the general public.
“People want the best world we can live in and quarries play an important role in that world. How do we educate people to understand the challenges the industry faces to achieve positive outcomes?
“When the National Environmental Standards were introduced, there were some quite significant unintended consequences for the industry. We worked hard to help educate others about what those consequences were. The upcoming RMA reform will be similar. We need to be involved to help avoid this.”
Happy to lead the charge on behalf of Winstone, Amanda says she has learnt a lot from a number of great leaders throughout her career.
“They pushed me out of my comfort zone. But we need to stretch ourselves – whether that’s tackling personal challenges or trying new technologies – this is a key element for growth.
“Now it is my turn to be that leader for others.”