Graham Mason, Head of Media, Communications & Government Relations, Optus Stadium
She has worked at the happiest place in the world – now she’s working at the most beautiful Stadium in the world. For Optus Stadium’s new General Manager People & Culture, Michelle McBain, it’s been an interesting path that led her back to Australia. And she has some great advice that we can all take on board when it comes to work / life balance.
You worked at Disney in a variety of roles and locations – how was that?
Amazing. I initially moved to Sydney from London and headed up HR Australia and NZ for Disney. I commuted between Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland for nearly two years. Then I was offered a job in London as the European HR Director for Media Networks. After that I moved into marketing which is when I worked with Disney Parks and was later in charge of franchise management for marketing. Then I was offered a role in the US but I said no, I’m moving back to Australia.
Why leave Disney, who does that?
I had become a workaholic and I eventually made a decision that life is more than just work. I needed a fuller life. The rest of your life becomes secondary in all capacities, your health and fitness doesn’t exist, your relationships don’t exist, your friendships, your family, everything suffers. That was a huge learning for me. I never switched off. It was a tough decision to leave, but the right one. Having an amazing career and working in a great place is so rewarding but you have to balance it.
Your favourite Disney moment?
It was at Anaheim. We had a conference that day and went out to enjoy the parade at the end of the night. I could see these two little girls dressed in Princess outfits. One of them looked around the corner and could see that the Princess float was coming. She was so overwhelmed and excited. It gave me goose bumps, it still does.
Favourite Disney character?
I know it’s really traditional, but Mickey. I had a lot of hugs with Mickey.
In the tv series Utopia, Rob Sitch’s character exclaims, “who (expletive) let HR in the building?” How do you combat that reputation?
I love Utopia, but that is the reputation of HR. I’ve heard people also say it stands for Human Remains! There’s two types of HR people – police and others. I am firmly in the others. How do you change that HR perception? One, you accept that perception is out there and, two, be active in changing it. HR is about Humans so first HR people need to become more human, it’s about being more personable. A lot of HR people feel they had to be a different person at work, from the one at home. I never have. Although I do curb my craziness a little bit … so far at least.
How do you unwind, I’ve heard you hike?
Yes, hiking is a passion of mine. (Michelle has hiked on every continent except Antarctica).
The best place?
Patagonia in South America. I got lock jaw from just going wow all of the time. Patagonia is pure beauty.
Have you ever been nervous hiking?
Not hiking. But to get to a lot of these places, there are some interesting roads. Once in Peru – on the way to Machu Pichu – I had to sit on the other side of the car because when you looked out the other side, there was just a drop. The tyres would have been less than a metre from the edge. It was terrifying, but awesome.
Living overseas, you must have been to some great venues?
I was lucky enough to see a Rugby World Cup match at Twickenham. I’ve been to Wembley – that’s amazing. Madison Square Gardens was also very cool. But I have to say it’s hard to beat Optus Stadium.
With your Head of People & Culture hat on, what’s your advice for everyone?
Everything is about boundaries, it’s also about finding out what means the most to you. People find it very difficult to prioritise themselves – you will always put yourself last. Something else is always more important than you and that is just human nature. However, you so often hear people speaking about their beautiful families so that’s the time they need to prioritise. Work out with your family or friends, whoever it is, and agree on those times you’re not going to miss and stick to it. Life is about balance but it’s about finding the balance that is right for you. What will my headstone say – I wrote a lot or reports, I attended a lot of meetings, I made the most of every moment I had . . . what do you want that to say? It’s your choice. Decide what it is then make it happen.