Linda Mellors Chief Operating Officer / Chief Executive Health Services / Mercy Health  / 
Moving Meditation

story / Interview / September 10, 2018

When I entered professional life, coming from an academic environment, I was very worried that I wouldn’t get anywhere. I had this awful anxiety that I would just blend in. I saw all these different personalities and that was a huge learning for me. I had to learn quickly about what motivates people and that their motivators were often different to mine.  In an academic environment, everyone’s driven, everyone’s trying to get their research work done. It’s a more homogeneous group than a typical workplace.

I’m a scientist by background. I went down an academic pathway out of school.  I never knew what I wanted to do, so I actually kept things very broad. I completed degrees in Arts and Science. I majored in Biochemistry and Physiology, but then I also did English Literature and French. I finished with Honours, and completed a PhD in Cardiac Physiology. It was really technical. On my first day, my supervisor gave me a set of screwdrivers and said ‘Pull apart all the equipment, I want you to diagnose every component and then put it all back together!’ I was like, really? Looks expensive! I did things like give myself an electric shock.

At the end of my PhD I knew I didn’t want to continue on with science. Mainly because of the repetition. I really liked thinking about the problem to solve, the statistical testing, coming up with a conclusion, but I didn’t like the repetition of having to do the same test sixteen times.

I had a set of girlfriends who I went to high school with. One of them is a clinician. I said to her ‘I don’t want to be a scientist anymore, I don’t know what to do?’ and she said, ‘Do you know what you’d be good at doing Linda? You’d be good at running hospitals.’ There we are, two girls in our twenties, and I went – ‘Oh yeah. I could do that’. Seriously, I knew nothing! I look back now and I think it’s hilarious. What a stupid conversation we had. She grabbed a napkin from the waiter and started mapping out what I was going to do.

I went and got a job in a hospital as a project officer. I was given a business case to review, which was to build a new facility, relocate to that facility and sell the old one. I’m good at math and saw there was a four million dollar gap in the numbers. They didn’t add up. I went to my boss and said ‘I think the business case is fundamentally flawed.’ She took it to the CEO at the time who then requested I rewrite the business case with everyone on the team reporting to me immediately.

I’d been working in health at that point for a miniscule amount of time, everyone always assumed that I was much older than I was. I used that to my advantage. I did some further business cases and the CEO requested I become the company secretary. I’d never heard of a ‘company secretary’. I still remember thinking ‘I don’t know what that is, but if the CEO’s asked me to do it, it must be important, so I’m going to say yes’.

I started at Mercy Health as Director of Performance, Planning and Strategy. I only did that for a few months, before I started running Mercy Hospital for Women. I’m now also responsible for Werribee Mercy Hospital, Mental Health, Palliative Care and Mercy Health O’Connell Family Centre as well as hospital services in New South Wales. I thought I had everything, until three months ago they asked if I’d take over residential aged care, home and community care, and retirement living which is the same sized portfolio as what I was already running. I’m in my seventh week!

Werribee is seriously under-resourced for health, education and social infrastructure. It doesn’t matter what you look at, it has one of the fastest growing populations in the country. The self-sufficiency at Werribee Mercy Hospital is low, so I knew we needed more facilities. Particularly an Intensive Care Unit. We had the challenge of building four floors on top of a fully functioning hospital. Working with the construction team and consultants around how we could build this and minimise disruption to patients and staff was a big part of the project. It was quite the challenge.

Having children and having people say ‘Oh, should you have such a busy job? You’ve got young children at home.’ I have often said, ‘They’re actually pretty happy and well adjusted, thanks’. If I was home full time, they would not be happy and well adjusted. I’m a much better parent because I work. My husband is a tradie. That has worked really well for us. We are such different people – polar opposites. He starts at the crack of dawn, but is home at 4:30pm every day. We’ve got it working really well.

I’m part of a group of women CEOs and board members. We’ve been working on this program called ‘Not In My Workplace’, which is around protecting women from sexual harassment in their workplaces. We have here a workforce which is primarily female. We’ve got to protect the younger women who are particularly vulnerable. I find that a challenge. We have staff here 24/7. How do we make sure they are safe at work? Hospitals are high pressure environments and you’re dealing with people working in high pressure situations all the time. Patients are also in environments where they can feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, so emotions tend to run high. Just making sure you keep a calm and consistent approach is helpful.

Tap dancing for me is like a moving meditation. I have to concentrate so hard that I can’t think of anything else. I find that my brain hurts more than my body at the end of a tap dancing class, because I’ve really had to concentrate. I also like gardening. I particularly like weeding! It’s another meditation for me. I can weed for hours!

Then I have three beautiful little people who keep me highly entertained and well grounded. We’re in the middle of that really intense family life. Our kids are twelve, ten and eight, so it’s weekend sport, activities on every weeknight – sport, dancing, piano. It’s a really nice part of your life actually where it’s all about family. You know it’ll be gone in a heartbeat.

My parents moved to Australia in 1967, with no family support. My mother didn’t have the benefit of an education because she was a girl and my dad’s dad had died very young, so my dad did his study later in life. My parents were all about education and opportunities for education. And then if you used that education, we’ll do whatever needs to be done to support you around that. I think that’s really lovely. The value of education.

We do the same with our children – How lucky are you to live in a country, where you get to go to school and learn? Do you know there are some children who don’t learn to read? Who don’t get to go to school? I look at our children compared to our generation. We had one family car, one parent working, kids were restricted to the amount of activities we could do. I look at our children and they are so privileged. You know, not everyone lives this way and you have a social obligation to give back.

 

L – R: Werribee Hospital Project Manager Tanya Moscicki, Health Minister Jill Hennessy, Assistant Project Manager Danielle Savio and of course Linda Mellors!

 

A while ago when Danielle walked into her first monthly client report at Werribee Hospital, she was so thrilled to see Linda as the one in charge. Strong, measured and a clear leader, Linda was extremely passionate that her team and the project team deliver the best outcome for Werribee Mercy Hospital. It’s not often that young women have the tenacity to tell their seniors that they are wrong. Something that slowly and surely is changing, but is still ingrained in our social norms. For Linda, it meant that she was recognised early on as someone who had strong convictions, could lead and had a keen understanding of business. And it’s a tenacity that still plays a part in her character today. Linda calls it as she sees it and this makes her a particularly purposeful, resolute and determined figure. We thank her for meeting with us and wish her the best in her latest endeavours! D & J x

 

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