Pilot of the people

Perth Airport CEO Brad Geatches chose blue skies over coal mines.
Perth Airport CEO Brad Geatches chose blue skies over coal mines.

The Inglewood father of three girls, the youngest only nine months old, opted for a business career shortly after going underground.

‘We’ve unbroken lineage back to the tin mines in Cornwall, so as you grew up you were immersed in the coal industry and it naturally followed you took a job in the industry,’ he said.

‘My grandfather took it quite badly. He was in his early 80s by then and for me to have left the industry and broken that family connection, I distinctly remember some months where he was reasonably remote as a result of it.’

After six years’ studying commerce, he was told to return underground by his first boss.

‘My career in the coal industry was a very unfortunate period. I was personally involved in a number of serious underground accidents at a time when the industry was just coming to grips with employee safety,’ he said.

‘It was at the time a low-margin business, highly dependent on team work and productivity and I learnt a lot of lessons during that formative time about leadership.’

Mr Geatches was made general manager of the worst performing mine, which had lost $40.25 million in four years. In little under the same time, it became the most profitable mine in the company.

He went on to become CEO of Powercoal and then Cairns Port Authority before taking the helm at Perth Airport in March 2007.

Described by his employees as ‘down to earth’, Mr Geatches (51) eats lunch in the break room and, until recently, worked in a cubicle before he was dragged ‘kicking and screaming’ into a corner office, which he calls ‘the dog box’.

‘I spent the first six years of my life showering with 120 men’