Lt Gen Ken
Gillespie (Ret) AC DSC CSM
Brickie to Lieutenant General, and along the way soldier, battlefield commander, diplomat, teacher, and corporate leader, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie AC DSC CSM retired as Chief of Australia's Army in July 2011, marking the final chapter of an amazing 43 year career. In 1968, then 16 years old, Ken Gillespie joined the Australian Army as an apprentice bricklayer. The career that followed now must rate as one of the most amazing stories of workplace success in the modern era.
The military identified Gillespie as a potential leader at an early stage and he was sent to the Officer Cadet School at Portsea. He went on to graduate as a young officer in 1972 and was commissioned into the corps of the Royal Australian Engineers.
In the years that immediately followed Gillespie held a range of regimental and staff appointments where he performed a number of instructional, administrative and leadership functions, mainly associated with military engineering. During 1986 and 1987 he was the Australian Exchange Instructor at the Royal School of Military Engineering in the United Kingdom.
In 1989 he raised, and then deployed as the second in command of the 2nd Australian Contingent to the United Nations Transition Assistance Group in Namibia. For his work in Nambia he was awarded the Conspicuous Service Medal.
His leadership training was continued through his various postings. In 1985 he attended the Australian Command and Staff College, Queenscliff. In 1991 he was sent to the Australian Joint Services Staff College where he earned a Graduate Diploma in Strategic Studies. In 1998 he was a member of the Royal College of Defence Studies in the United Kingdom. Command and administrative postings followed and promotions in rank were part of the career process.
The culmination was in 2008 when Lieutenant General was made Chief of Army. He was now CEO of a 48,000 people, $6 billion operating budget, multi profession, output focused enterprise. The General conceived, planned and successfully implemented the largest corporate restructure in some 40 years. He was able to maintain high industry outputs in complex security, fiscal and political environments while implementing a challenging capital reinvestment program.
The General led a major, and successful, savings program while delivering each of the organisation's exacting mission statements plus he led and succeeded in a highly challenging, and public, accountability environment. In the personnel areas General Gillespie implemented major people strategies relating to gender equity, workforce rehabilitation, career and talent management, workforce communication and work place safety. All of these leadership challenges were in an environment where death, injury and grief were present.
For his distinguished service and high order achievements as the Vice Chief of the Defence Force/Chief of Joint Operations and Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Gillespie was advanced to Companion in the Military Division of the Order of Australia in the Australia Day 2011 Honours List.
Lieutenant General Gillespie enjoys the opportunity to share his insights and knowledge in a broad corporate environment. He is a gifted public speaker and is able to pitch his messages at many different levels of management. From apprentice brickie to Lieutenant General is a wonderful achievement and testament to this man's motivation and will to succeed. Lieutenant General Gillespie's leadership is inspiring yet he still maintains the common touch... the brickie is still in his makeup!
Client Comments for Ken Gillespie
Ken Gillespie travels from Australian Capital Territory Australia
- May I thank you most sincerely for your recent contributions to our strategic considerations of CleanStar Ventures and its subsidiaries in Mozambique, Brazil and Australia. Your address to our Board workshop was absolutely first class. The Board particularly enjoyed those extemporaneous moments as well as the more formal aspects of your address.
- Thank you for your recent address to our company with regard to our business plan. As we are a strategic planning and management consultancy with offices in Canberra and Sydney, as well as the United Arab Emirates, we felt that it was important to distinguish the key differences between our operations in these two very different parts of the world. Your discussion was particularly helpful in assisting us to zero in on our Australian consultancy specialising in working with Federal, State and Territory governments. The clear address which you provided brought an insider's knowledge of how Australian public sector systems work, after your many valuable years in the Australian public sector at the highest levels. Thank you also for your relaxed and encouraging style with our people, thus allowing them to interact more positively, and for your outstanding contribution.
- Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie is an amazing leader of people with extensive experience as a leader of one of Australia's largest employers, the Australian Army. In 2010 Ken delivered the Australian Drug Foundation's annual Dame Elisabeth Murdoch Oration. His oration was passionate, honest, brave and demonstrated his leadership skills in dealing with the challenges we all face - how do you change the culture of an organisation to reflect the changes in workforce and society expectations when the expectations and demands from stakeholders keep increasing?
There is much to the Ken Gillespie story that we can all learn from. Ken's leadership balances the 'what' of leadership with his personal values. He is a genuine standout leader in an organisation whose leadership skill is first class. I have seen Ken's work first hand through the people he has led and the respect and commitment to him is something you immediately encounter when you connect with the Australian Army. He has much to offer any organisation on the issue of leadership.
Australian Drug Foundation
- I wish to offer our sincere appreciation for your frank and enlightening talk at the ADCA dinner. Right from your opening White Ribbon Day comments to your closing message that 'at Unit level we need young people to pick up the challenge and change the culture' you had our guests hanging on every word. The fact that you never faulted in your delivery when we experienced the 'black out' was testament to your leadership and professionalism that was remarked on by a number of the guests at the end of the night.
Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia
- Lt. General Gillespie was extremely open, authentic and engaging and it was his honesty and personal reflections that made the discussion so impactful for the audience. Following the discussion, Lt. General Gillespie took the time to answer questions and interact with the guests which was appreciated by all. Everyone found him to be very personable and his insights were not only relevant to the theme but also unique and inspirational. It greatly enriched the program and our participants to have Lt. General Gillespie involved this year.
- It was a pleasure - and often an inspiration - to hear you speak at the many formal and informal Defence functions I covered for The Canberra Times during your tenure as chief of army. You were always concise, to the point and on top of your brief. I particularly enjoyed the way you would often hark back to your own experiences as a junior officer to illuminate your points. This was extremely effective when you were addressing the ADF's future leaders at events at Duntroon and ADFA. I was also struck by the diversity of your personal interests and your ability to draw analogies between military and civil life.
The real key to your success as a communicator, in my view, lay in your passion for your people, for the job you were doing and the core values that have been self-evident throughout your 43-year military career.
If my experience, as a civilian rather than a military professional, is anything to go by there is no doubt what you have to say and the way in which you say it transcends the military environment.
David Ellery, Defence writer, Canberra Times
"The team are professional, friendly and intelligent - they understood what we needed to help meet the brief from our client."
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