Plant & Equipment

Sean Taylor: A firm voice for inclusion and diversity

Sean Taylor has more than 30 years’ experience in the earthmoving industry and joined Komatsu Australia in 2004 as general manager of the company’s construction business.

Since 2011 he has been the managing director and CEO of Komatsu Australia Holdings and Komatsu Australia. He is a global officer of Komatsu Limited, a public company of about 70,000 employees registered on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. He is also a director of Komatsu Forklift Australia, Mineware and Immersive Technologies.

Taylor has a clear focus towards diversity and inclusion, where individual differences are recognised, respected and embraced as an opportunity to learn and enhance capability. He is clearly proud that Komatsu Australia fosters collaboration and inclusion.

What is the key message you are hoping to impart to the audience at the IQA Conference?

The importance of diversity for industrial companies in Australia, in particular gender balance. It seems crazy to me that in Australia, where all companies have to battle for the available talent, industrial companies are only drawing from 50 per cent of the population. The key is to make our businesses more welcoming and attractive to women. This involves leadership to achieve cultural change, but also hard changes in human resources policy around recruitment and things like parental leave and flexible work.

You have more than 30 years’ experience in the earthmoving industry, half of that with Komatsu. With regards to personnel, what were the earthmoving/extractive industries like when you first started? Do you believe these industries have made progress on diversity and inclusion in that period?

{{quote-A:R-W:175-I:2-Q:”One of the founding principles of Komatsu almost 100 years ago was around innovation and the adoption of new technology”-WHO:Sean Taylor, CEO, Komatsu Australia}}I think we really haven’t changed very much in this regard. Sure, we are talking about it, but our industries pride themselves on continuous improvement and operational excellence. We see a problem, we gather the data and we fix it. We haven’t done this in terms of gender balance. I feel that my generation has missed an opportunity and we are just going to pass the problem down to the next unless we get serious.

On the Komatsu website, the company talks about the vision of “people-powered technology” and putting people at the heart of the business. Can you elaborate on what the company is seeking to achieve through this philosophy? Does it contribute to fostering more diversity and inclusion?

People are always at the heart of any business and people love new technology too. One of the founding principles of Komatsu almost 100 years ago was around innovation and the adoption of new technology.

Indeed, we honour that commitment visually in the raised “T” in the Komatsu brand mark. For example, Komatsu is leading the industry in the development and application of autonomous haulage solutions in mining and we are further integrating

3D geospatial machine control and other enabling systems into our machines.

Data connectivity to enable digital analysis and workplace visualisation is also a key focus at Komatsu. The aim is to have more productive, cost-efficient and safer operations across every industry we support, from forestry to construction and, of course, mining and quarrying.

Having said that, what I have come to learn over the years is that actually people are always at the heart of the adoption and application of new technology. This is particularly the case in the application of earthmoving machines, surprisingly even autonomous machines.

The operational interface to machines, whether through an operator in the cab or a controller remotely, remains the key to getting machines to really sing. Indeed, that is one of the reasons Komatsu chose to purchase Immersive Technologies recently. We would like to accelerate this thinking and uptake within the construction and quarrying industries. To do this I think there are probably two main obstacles around people – upskilling and changing tolerance for our existing teams, and, as I have said before, competing for the same talent as the broader economy. Strong diversity and inclusion within our companies are critical for overcoming both obstacles.


Does Komatsu Australia have any data on the make-up of its workforce? For example, how many men and women are in the organisation (eg percentages/ratios), and in what type of roles? How many people in Komatsu Australia’s workforce would be from non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB) or have Indigenous heritage?

Business is measured by numbers, so I do think it is important to have a target to work towards. It isn’t a quota, but if we don’t start moving the needle, what’s the point? We are running at about 14 per cent women in our business and we have an ambition to increase that by 50 per cent to 21 per cent, hopefully by the end of 2021. Obviously, 14 per cent is simply not sustainable if we want to become a stronger business.

Actually, most industrial companies in Australia seem to be around the 10 to 15 per cent mark. This is the status quo. Like any change, getting the first bit of momentum is really the critical issue. I think once we get this rock moving over 20 per cent, let’s say, it will be easier to get to 30 per cent and even 50 per cent in time.

Cultural or national diversity is more difficult to measure, as it relates to how people identify themselves, of course, which can be more subjective. However, it is an area we want to tackle in the future. On the whole, I think NESB diversity in Komatsu is very strong.

It is recognised across industry, and indeed nationally, that we must have a different conversation on Indigenous inclusion. Komatsu is a strong supporter of the Clontarf Foundation [a non-profit organisation that assists in the education and employment of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men] and the Beacon Foundation [a non-profit committed to assisting adolescents with making positive career choices]. Both are working very hard to change the status quo for younger Indigenous citizens.

We are now also considering how, as a company, we can initiate our own Reconciliation Action Plan. What are the first steps to making and embedding real change? Consultation and reflection with people within our business, other companies and the communities within which we work is really important, I think. Eventually, we need to make real change here. For example,

I also lead our business in New Zealand. Of course, we all know the history is very different, but I see the strength of Indigenous inclusion in that country.

Would you like to see more women, and people of ethnic and Indigenous backgrounds, across all facets of Komatsu’s business – from the workshop floor right through to the board room?

Yes, entry level should be a key part of the strategy for industrial companies. I want to consider our apprentice and graduate programs in particular. The ambition here should be a lot higher than our company-wide objective, otherwise we simply cannot move the needle. We are an engineering and technical company at heart, so

STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] qualifications are very important. This applies to our engineers and to our tradespeople. It applies to our experienced operators who can move into application engineering as well.

As the distributor in Australia and New Zealand, we are also the customer interface of Komatsu, so great and productive customer relationships built on trust and respect are very important. We are starting to have some real success; more women are applying for and getting apprenticeships and graduate entry, and more women are moving into sales and sales management roles, and more women are becoming branch and service managers.

Critically, we still need to get more diversity in the most senior roles within our business to claim we are going from the workshop floor all the way to the board room.


What advice do you have for young women and NESB/Indigenous people who are interested in pursuing a career with Komatsu or in the broader extractive industry?

It is a fabulous and rewarding career. In Australia and New Zealand we have great global and local companies you can choose from. The breadth of experiences and knowledge you can gain is actually breathtaking and I would say broader than most other businesses in Australia.

So no matter your interest or qualifications there is almost certainly a role you could aspire to. Our industry is also at the heart of the economy. We are building our countries, we are creating – and we are at the front line in terms of protecting our environment, too. Our entire business and prosperity relies on our ability to innovate and retain the trust of our communities. So, all in all, we are a pretty cool industry.

How significant will technological advances – eg SmartConstruction, Intelligent Machine Control, autonomous haulage systems and hybrid sources – be in fostering more diversity and inclusion, both within Komatsu Australia and the broader extractive industry?

Clearly, it will be very difficult for us to adopt the kind of technological change we are currently experiencing without stronger diversity and inclusion. These changes are different to past advances in our industry, they don’t exclude or advantage one group over another. Also, connectivity is a strong area of innovation right now. That is connecting teams, connecting processes etc to achieve step change in productivity. This is IoT, Industry 4.0, big data, even smartphones. When you think about it, diversity and inclusion with all the people and all of the vast and geographically separated teams is pretty much on the critical path.

What do you believe are Komatsu Australia’s challenges in the coming decade?

Becoming even more relevant to our customers’ operation.

We highlight this with the Japanese concept of “Gemba”, making a difference at the point where real value is created. Of course,

“Gemba” happens in every department, but for us we have to focus everything we do on the difference we can make to our customers’ “Gemba”.

This means we develop, manufacture and deliver the tools our customers need. It means we support those tools to ensure they are working whenever the customer needs them, and increasingly it is about a collaborative relationship to achieve customer and even downstream customer outcomes. Of course, Komatsu has a very strong reputation for quality and reliability. Excellent aftermarket support is simply the base requirement to earn a seat at the table to become what we really want to become. Adoption of innovation and technology and diversity and inclusion are certainly challenges we must overcome.

What do you believe are some of the construction materials industry’s challenges in the next decade?

Probably very similar. How do they remain relevant to their customers? Operational excellence is important. Delivery of materials at the right time, quality and cost to ensure an efficient construction process. As we are involved in the construction application as well, we know that productivity is a critical challenge in projects and we are using our machines and expertise to work with construction customers and large-scale construction projects to solve this. Essentially, there have been no real productivity gains in construction for a long time and cost is blowing out and regulation becoming stricter. A challenge for the construction materials industry then is probably connectivity of the materials supply chain, as well as technical properties of their products to improve construction productivity.

Sean Taylor will deliver his keynote address at the IQA’s annual conference at GMHBA Stadium, Geelong, on Thursday, 3 October.

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