Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular feature on the lives and motivations of our top businesspeople, in their own words.
Ross Taylor, an engineering graduate from the University of Queensland, has been chief executive of Fletcher Building since November 2017. Before that he was head of engineering, services and construction firm UGL in Australia. He was also managing director of engineering and construction services company Tenix and had management roles at property and infrastructure group Lend Lease for more than 20 years.
Dad left early, so it was really my mum who dragged us up. She worked two jobs. She had a teacher’s aide job during the day, and then she’d cream buns at a bakery late in the evenings, twice a week. She worked really hard.
“Spasmodic” was written on one of my school report cards. I had to go and look up what that word meant. But I was able to get away with it by getting reasonable grades and also enjoyed my surfing, golfing and field hockey at the time.
My first steady job was in a garage, part-time before school and after school. It taught me a bit of a work ethic.
I went from doing the petrol pumping to being the chief tyre changer and fitter – they paid me more for that. So, I suddenly was able to associate skill development with better earnings.
I always liked maths and building stuff. Engineering became a logical degree for me to do, just because it was going to marry those desires and likes.
When I joined Lend Lease [in 1988], they provided a lot of opportunities, from running sites, to property development, funds management, international experience. It took me to Melbourne, New South Wales, Singapore, UK. The family moved a lot. After Kathy and I got married, every time we moved we seemed to have a new child. We started getting nervous after four.
I prefer this part of the world. It really was a conscious decision to come back. Our kids are older. We thought, we have to decide where we want them to think of as home, and that was Australia.
The thing that really attracted me to Fletcher is that it’s a really good company, but you can see it got itself in a bit of a mess.
So I started hassling [then Fletcher chair] Ralph Norris. I said, “Come on, when are you going to interview me?” I think he just gave up. I’d known Ralph a bit – not that well, though; I just sort of used all my networks and said, “How do you get hold of Ralph?” I hassled him a bit … but I did go through a proper board process and everything.
There are always things that surprise you positively and negatively. With Fletcher, the obvious one was just the depth of the construction issues. To think it was going to require a billion-dollar write-down, that became quite defining.
My toughest time in the job so far was when we had multiple fatalities back in 2019 – three events where five people died. We have all these escalation protocols, but you have got to lean into it, you've got to get on and deal with it. You can't just go to pieces.
In a crisis, I say try and stay calm. You just don't get reactionary, you don't want to be defined by what's going on around you. You need to think and define it yourself. I think when you get a big decision, take advice.
We do a lot of walking. I love packing a daypack with a thermos of tea, some nice chocolates and a gourmet sandwich or two. Usually, I’ll put a bit of ham, some sundried tomatoes… You’ve got to be careful, because the tomato makes the bread soggy. These are the sort of thoughts I have. I do like to layer and put the tomato between the ham and cheese… You’re getting into weird parts of my personality…
You know, when you’re walking, quite often you get to the top of a peak and you can sit in a really magical place.
I haven’t had a splurge recently, but previous examples would be bribing our children to come on family holidays. What you find is they’ll come with their partners if you pay for it and take them to places they can’t afford yet - that gets their attention. The last big one was the Amazon.
I enjoy golfing with a bunch of mates, so we play a couple of times a year. More recently, Kathy, my wife, is showing signs of wanting to play golf.
When I was living in Singapore, golf was a big part of business, but not so much here. I just play Remuera here and it’s very much a case of you turn up and put your name down – everyone’s very friendly.
I last got out the surfboard a couple of weeks ago. I was in the Coromandel Peninsula at Tairua.
As told to Victoria Young.
This interview has been edited for clarity.