We recently took a family trip to Wonthaggi, a picturesque, heritage town by the seaside in the Bass Coast Shire of Gippsland. It’s not a place you’d imagine to be one of most significant sites in this state’s history, but behind the calm exterior, there is a fascinating story of seized opportunity.
First a little lesson about coal; Victoria actually hosts 430 billion tonnes of it, a significant proportion of the world’s brown coal endowment. It was black coal though, the highest grade of coal, which enabled the Wonthaggi mine to rise to the occasion at a time of desperate energy need.
A strike in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales from 1909-1910 disrupted coal supplies to Victoria. At the time the state relied solely on the Hunter Valley for stable supply, especially to serve its growing steam railways, so this was a complete disaster.
In a move that in many ways saved the Victorian economy, the State Government acted quickly to begin mining operations in Wonthaggi, where rich coal deposits had been discovered.
It was risky, but it was a gamble the State Government had to take. And despite the fact that the mine became renowned as one of the largest and most dangerous collieries in Australia, it paid off.
When the mine closed in 1968 after 59 years in operation, the Wonthaggi State Coal Mine had produced almost 17 million tonnes of coal for Victoria’s industries and railways. Production peaked at almost 2500 tonnes per day.
Of course, this success came with major issues as well. Coal mining was fraught with danger; the work was back breaking and the conditions were horrendous. Union action was rife across the years and the tragic death of 13 miners in 1937 resulted in a successful national campaign to improve conditions for all Australian miners. Over the course of 59 years, more than 80 men died.
Throughout it all, the State Coal Mine continued to provide a resource strapped Victoria with a constant flow of much needed coal, all because of a moment of seized opportunity.
My visit to Wonthaggi had me contemplating how businesses look at opportunity. Many of my clients work with me to keep track of latent opportunities, recognise gaps in the market and devise strategies to act.
Change is only possible when good leaders respond strategically to their circumstances – seize an opportunity, lead their businesses and engage people on the journey.
Does your organisation have the capacity to quickly seize opportunities? And on the other hand, where are the chinks in your armour that others might exploit?