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At the Office

Industry News, Updates & Information

  • Writer's pictureAndrew Olsen

“In the face of fear, step forward”.

A quick personal chat with Warwick Sommer, Executive General Manager – Innovation & Service AMPCONTROL

In a world of business activity that never slows down I took a moment to talk to Warwick and hear some of his story. I was not disappointed; life changing moments, his love and losses. Thank you for sharing Warwick. Happy fishing.

Tell us a favourite quote you like and why...

It’s not a quote I can say is verbatim but has context. When there was the battle to save the Franklin River in Tasmania in the early 1980’s, Bob Brown (Australian politician, medical doctor and environmentalist) led the movement and the proposed dam across the Franklin was ultimately stopped in 1983 after a High Court battle. Bob Brown was under incredible pressure at the time by people who wanted to place economic benefit over the negative environmental legacy the dam would have left forever. This was really the start of environmental activism in Australia. When asked for his favourite quote it was something like “in the face of fear, step forward”. That quote has resonated with me since first hearing it – not because it can be applied to ‘grand’ causes like the Franklin River dam, but because it’s relevant to lots of decisions we make every day, week, month, etc. like a hard conversation at work or a decision to make a change I your life. Best part is when you ‘step forward’ you grow as a person.

I understand you enjoy fishing. How has fishing helped you? Many people don’t understand it so here may be an opportunity to help them understand.

My love of fishing connects 2 aspects of me and my life. My passion is fly fishing – it’s both technically difficult and has taken me to some of the most beautiful places on the planet. Many times I’ve been up a river, looked up and been blown away by how stunning the location is. Everyone needs their equivalent of that experience in their life to help stay grounded and appreciate what’s important.

Tell me about where you grew up and what your family life was like.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a very ‘normal’ family (Mum, Dad, older sister and younger brother) but with a Dad who was passionate about the outdoors. During my early teens we has an eco-tourism business called “Wild Weekends”, which saw us taking guests into the Barrington Tops camping or Myall Lakes canoeing most weekends. I think we had the first commercial tourist licence granted for the Barrington Tops. That was an extremely formative part of growing up for me and I hope I’ve passed a love of the outdoors on to my kids.

How did your parents influence you?

I guess my parents taught me about commitment and support. Once Dad made a decision and committed to it, you’d better get out of his way. Mum was the ‘rock’ in the family that help him achieve what he’d set out to do.

You went off to work in Sydney and then returned to Newcastle? How did that feel returning?

I’ve only physically live away from Newcastle for work for a relatively short time – about 2.5 years since the end of 1993. However, while I was technically based in Newcastle for the 10 years I worked for Patrick Stevedoring, the travel was constant and covered up to 21 ports in Australia and some overseas travel. While I miss the maritime industry, I definitely don’t miss the travel (or the industrial relations!). My reflection here is I ended up making a large number of professional connections with people outside Newcastle and when I “came back” in 2016 after Patrick’s parent company Asciano was sold and split up, I had to start over in the development of a professional network. It was only then that I’ve been able to really get involved in my kids sport and commit to things in the evenings during the week. I’ve always called Newcastle home and now I’m making the most of living and working here. It has to be one of the best cities on the planet.

Who have been your strongest influences in life?

Undoubtedly my Dad. I’ve also worked with some amazing people who how they show up in their role, or the things they’ve taught me, have helped shape who I am today.

What led you to your career?

Interesting question as I feel my career is a mix of bloody hard work and happenstance. I have a degree in Industrial Engineering and a Law degree, plus two post-graduate qualifications. That was the bloody hard work. Two of amazing roles I’ve had have come from job ads in the paper and others from work relationships I’ve made. Maybe that’s the happenstance? Regardless, my education and work experience has opened doors form I’d never have been able to plan.

The underlying premise in Industrial Engineering is improvement, and I hope I’ve both driven improvement in the roles I’ve held and brought my teams along on that journey with me.

How would friends and acquaintances describe you?

Generous, loyal and focused. Hopeful good company too!

What are you most proud of accomplishing?

Seeing my kids (17 and 15 y.o.) growing up and having the love and support of them and my wife Renee.

What would you do differently if you had a chance?

I worked in Sydney for ABB Power Transformers in 1994 and resigned to take a role with Ampcontrol in Newcastle in 1995. When I gave my notice, my boss at ABB offered me a role in Sweden to try and keep me in the business. I often wonder where I’d be now if I’d taken up that offer?

Share with me something about yourself that you want to improve.

Where to start on this one! As trite as it may sound, trying to be a better and more rounded person. It’s easy to lean on your natural propensities but far harder to look at what you don’t do well and making change there.

Share with us a brave moment in your life that was life changing? It may have been one particular incident, the day you left home for uni, deciding to back pack overseas on your own?

My dad died when I was 16. That was a really tough time but one that has helped define who I am.

Describe a scene of your vision for the future;

This one is easy and not work related – I’m building in my mind my perfect cabin on a river in New Zealand where I’ll fish every day, make wooden boats and maybe distil a little whisky for good measure.

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